5 Under 40: Weston Stroud
Weston Stroud, 26
Transit Planner, Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority
Tell us about your job, and why you chose your career field.
Transit planning is an interdisciplinary field that entails aspects from maintaining regulations set forth by the Federal Transit Administration to engaging various Macon-Bibb communities to inform MTA’s decision-making process. Transit planning, when done properly, creates a sustainable, equitable system that considers those with disabilities, communities commonly disenfranchised, women, limited English proficiency communities and everyone in between. I chose the urban planning field while in college at our nation’s first school dedicated to environmental science and forestry, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. There I learned about the effects of gentrification, redlining, racist covenants, environmental justice, land use policy, urban renewal, slum busting and a slew of case studies. Through my years in college, I saw racial and environmental movements taking place and I found myself squarely in the middle of the conversation.
During my senior year, I had the opportunity to do an internship with the Macon-Bibb Planning and Zoning office. While I was there, I gained perspective about municipal government processes, community outreach and urban design in a way that no college course could provide. The public hearings and meetings with the mayor were much different than classroom simulations. In college, we did a case study on the effects of Interstate 81 being built through the heart of Syracuse’s black community and how that created one of the highest concentrated minority poverty areas in the nation. When I came home and learned that Interstate 75 did the same thing to Pleasant Hill and when the Mapping Inequality study came out in 2016 and showed Macon as the most redlined city in America, I realized that I, as a black man, need to be in the planning field to make a difference in my community in a way outside of marching and protesting.
Tell us about your activities in the community, especially what you are most excited about.
Recently, I have been working on rehabilitating a historically black community in downtown Macon. I love history because it informs us of where we are and inspires us about where we can go. Greenwood Bottom has a rich history and one of the key pieces of that history is Henry McNeal Turner, who Greater Turner Tabernacle AME Church is named after. Turner is one of the churches located in the Greenwood Bottom neighborhood. In order to build up this community you have to have a catalyst, and, in my opinion, I think economic catalysts are the most sustainable models for community building. Last summer, I was awarded a $5,000 grant for the Emerging City Champions program administered by 880 Cities and funded by the Knight Foundation to start a food truck park in the Greenwood Bottom area. We have also installed the Black Lives Matter mural in the area, thanks to crowd funding organized by Spark Macon with some additional funds from the Knight Foundation. Through the process of working with community partners and residents we have also been awarded $18,000 through the Downtown Challenge Grant. With the additional funding, $3,000 will go toward setting up a neighborhood association for Greenwood Bottom and $15,000 will go toward erecting a mural on the oldest operating business in Greenwood, which is Harrell and Son’s Barbershop.
As you look to the future, what are your professional and personal goals?
In 2020, I created my own business so I can serve as an example of the entrepreneurial spirit I want to encourage among young people in the area. I eventually want my business, the Geneva Company LLC, to acquire property in historically black neighborhoods across America and revitalize these communities through social entrepreneurialism. Greenwood Bottom was an economic hub of black Macon, in particular the Tybee Community, prior to integration. Greenwood Bottom was an epicenter for black Macon, so I am excited to see Daude Harrell and Brandon Harris, who were raised in Harrell’s and Sons barbershop, buying and renovating spaces in the area to create opportunities for small businesses to come back to Greenwood Bottom. As I learn from them and dig deeper into African -American history, I hope to grow my business to follow in their footsteps.
What are you personally committed to accomplishing in Macon and why?
I am dedicated to seeing Greenwood Bottom restored to its glory because Macon needs to learn to love black history and black people. The Greenwood Bottom movement is about empowering the community. Appreciating black history means appreciating a broader narrative of events and expanding the scope of understanding. All people should be able to appreciate black history and culture. It is our shared story here in Macon. I am committed to teaching the community about our local black history that is less well known. When Macon can see its own residents set a goal and work tirelessly to achieve said goal, the next generation of youth are inspired and the next entrepreneur, urbanist or activist is encouraged to know that it’s possible to make a positive change.
Right now, what is the best thing going on in Macon?
The best thing going on in Macon is the renewed investment in downtown by people of diverse backgrounds. When people see diverse businesses coming to downtown, the stability of the community is stronger. To reference my environmental background, diversity in ecological terms increases the resiliency of a population. We need diversity to ensure resiliency and attain stability.
What have you learned about yourself or people during 2020?
2020 was the year of the pivot. This year showed us that remaining nimble is most important in these times. Policing has to change, personal protection equipment is now a wardrobe accessory, and our economy is more unpredictable than Macon weather. Remaining nimble and shifting with the times is key following this global reset. We have to reevaluate how we rebuild our sense of community following the pandemic and an open-air food truck park was an idea that came out of this situation we find ourselves in.
What is your vision for our community?
My vision for this community is to see people of all ages and backgrounds embrace a culture of collaboration.
What needs to change to encourage continued progress in our city?
I would love to see CEOs, government leaders and community leaders step away from their desks and get up and close to the communities they serve or to the demographics they hope to reach. The average person will not go to most public meetings, so leaders hosting these meetings cannot effectively lead using the same tactics. Being on the ground in plain clothes makes you relatable and personable, and that is what this city needs most. People need people, so remaining humble and not leading with social status or position is what can help our city prosper.
What would be a missed opportunity in Macon?
We are missing an opportunity now by not recognizing the black history that black intellects from Macon have contributed to our country. Henry McNeal Turner was the first black post master, the first black chaplain in the United States Colored Troop and a Ga. House of Representatives member who took over 500 African-Americans back to Africa after the reconstruction era when Jim Crow laws were enacted. John Oliver Killens was nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes and co-founded The Harlem Writers Guild, which helped organize black writers like Maya Angelou to use their voice to support various civil rights and liberation movements. William S. Scarborough was the first African-American member of the Modern Language Association, which created the MLA format we use for research papers.
When you talk about Macon to people who don’t live here, what do you tell them?
I tell people that Macon is central figure in American culture. From music to politics, Macon has been influential in the development in the culture.
What does it mean to be a good leader?
A good leader remains humble and does not lead with social status or position. A great leader puts the people before themselves. The best leaders I know are willing to sacrifice and go the extra mile that most people won’t.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement was losing an election. I learned so much about myself in that moment because less than a month after the election I won the ECC grant that got me back in the community and forced me to set up my business. The process was the achievement, because of the growth that came from defeat. I learned that the position does not make the person and meaningful work happens in the trenches. After winning the ECC grant, I met so many people who are doing amazing work to protect and uplift our community! The love that people have for Macon is unreal. There is a huge silent majority who love Macon and want to see the city improve, and knowing that people in the community believe in my ability to deliver is so humbling.
What are three qualities that got you where you are today?
Passion, intentionality and listening.