WSSU student looks to “stand up” for East Ward

by Keith Barber

Derwin Montgomery, a senior at Winston- Salem State University, has compiled a list of achievements that would impress any future employer. But Montgomery does not aspire to work for a Fortune 500 company. Rather, he hopes his first job out of college is representing the people of the East Ward of Winston-Salem on city council. Montgomery, a native of Hopkins, SC, faces Democratic incumbent Joycelyn Johnson, who is seeking her fifth term on the council, as well as challengers Harold Lee Hairston and Donald L. Scales in the Sept. 15 primary. In three short years, Montgomery has garnered a number of honors and distinctions while attending the historically black university. A Deans Scholar, Montgomery is working toward his political science degree. He serves as the first vice president of the NAACP’s Youth & College Division and a mentor for at-risk youth. A youth minister at Calvary Baptist Church, Montgomery plans on enrolling at Wake Forest University next fall and entering the dual degree program for the law school and divinity school. The city of Winston-Salem recognized Montgomery for his outstanding community service earlier this year. He was named one of the inaugural recipients of the Martin Luther King Young Dreamers Award. Montgomery addresses a host of issues in his campaign platform, including economic development, youth and education, housing and public safety, senior citizens and environmental issues. If elected, Montgomery said he will sharpen the city council’s focus on supporting small business ownership by creating a small business incubator. Montgomery said he will also work toward attracting businesses to the East Ward, raise awareness of city programs designed to spur small business ownership, and help ensure city contracts go to area and minority-owned businesses.

Montgomery said the people of the East Ward need a representative who will work hard to bring amenities, such as retail shops, into the area. “When we bring new businesses into the city, residents want to know why we’re putting them in this area and not in the East Ward,” Montgomery said. “If we have a new Wal-Mart come in, people want to know what was the planning that put the Wal-Mart on Peters Creek [Parkway] rather than MLK [Boulevard]. If there’s nobody that stands up and says, ‘We want it,’ then that needs to change.” In the area of education, Montgomery proposes the creation of a “Twin City Collegiate Council,” composed of students from the area’s colleges and universities, and a task force on youth violence and school safety. Montgomery said he will be a strong advocate for area nonprofits that work with young people, like Goodwill Industries, the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Urban League. Public safety is an issue that affects all residents of Winston-Salem, including students at Winston-Salem State, Montgomery said. When a crime occurs on campus, it makes students aware that they are part of a larger city, and they need a voice in city politics. “They need to understand that [Winston-Salem] is their home for the next four years,” Montgomery said. “That’s the point I want to get across. If they get that realization, that becomes ownership of where you are. Then it’s easier to get them to understand, ‘This guy really wants to represent me.’” To get his point across, Montgomery said he plans on speaking with the 2,100 students who live on campus in the coming weeks about his candidacy. On Aug. 15, Montgomery led a voter registration drive for incoming freshmen at the school. On Sept. 5, Montgomery will organize a march to the polls where he will lead students to the Forsyth County Board of Elections to participate in early voting. Montgomery is confident that if he can persuade 50 percent of the 2,100 students that live on campus to cast their ballot for him, he can defeat Johnson. In the 2005 municipal election, Johnson defeated Harold Lee Hairston by a margin of 322-169. “East Ward residents have the opportunity to not only vote in new blood on the council, but they have the opportunity to vote in new ideas because with youth comes a different view of the issues we face,” Montgomery said. He quickly added that all members of city council should be lauded for their efforts to make the city a better place but entrenched incumbency doesn’t help move the city forward. “We’re in a new age, and with the new age you need to change,” Montgomery said. “I’m not saying that older people can’t change with it, but you have to make conscious effort to change with it. If you don’t, you’ll be left behind.”