Getting a chance to ask mayoral candidates questions doesn’t come often but for six Atlanta Public School (APS) students, their opportunity came Monday.

With this being the only forum dedicated to education and only three mayoral candidates were in attendance. Antonio Brown, Andre Dickens and Sharon Gay sat before students and families to talk about the pressing matters effecting the community.

Walking into the auditorium at the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Learning and Leadership, the six students sat at a table just before the front row of the attendees.

Before everything kicked off, Carver Early College’s Zakai Beck was available for conversation and said that this event was a testament to youth being able to talk to politicians.

“Not only are we the future, they kinda hold the city accountable for what’s going to happen,” Beck said. “If anything doesn’t go well, we’re looking at the candidates and we’re looking at why did it happen this way. What could have prevented it from happening this way?”

Beck didn’t go into details as to what was going to be asked during the panel but he says his questions were planned around the state of the neighborhoods and the state of his own community.

“I am an Atlanta native,” Beck said. “I understand what it’s like to live here. Our streets aren’t the best, we have potholes, we have abandoned buildings, we have our education system that could do with a little bit more tweaking. I’m looking for opportunities for our city. What are we going to do to better our city for the natives?” 

APS Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring thanked the students who came out during their day off from school.

After Midtown High School’s choir sung the Star-Spangled Banner, Dr. Herring gave her opening remarks while also acknowledging that former mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore were not in attendance.

Both Reed and Moore had a scheduling conflict that affected their availability to attend the event.

“Today was a powerful example of power,” Herring said. “The power of our voice, power of the vote and the power of youth and of course the power of politics. We’re bringing all of those together. I say that in the space that we recognize here in APS that our scholars are well poised to not only be aware of what’s happening in our city but to have questions about it. Because this is APS, not only are their questions relevant, it’s an opportunity to hear from one of the most critical seats in our state.”

Fox 5 Atlanta’s Deidre Dukes was the moderator of the event.

The student’s questions ranged from political background questions to how to mitigate crime in the Atlanta area. Even questions about getting the Atlanta Police Department (APD) and Atlanta Public Schools Police Department (APSPD) to work together were asked. The three mayoral candidates had a number of questions to answer about the schools and where the students were at about safety for not just themselves, but everyone else around them.

Each candidate had two minutes to answer each question.

At the end of the two-hour-long debate, the students representing six APS schools took photos with the candidates. 

“The people who are here are stuck in a cycle of intergenerational poverty,” Allison Hunter, a student at South Atlanta High School. “I think it’s important that we have those tough conversations, that we have that transparency. For me, it was a great opportunity to hear for ourselves and be able to hold them accountable to that stake.”

Hunter continued, “I feel like there’s not enough policy makers asking students for their perspective or their opinions and including their voice. Data is one thing but to hinder a student’s voice is another and for us to have this opportunity to do that was just great for me.”

The other three students on the panel were Milan Capoor – North Atlanta High School, Claudia Haspel – Maynard H. Jackson High School, King Walker – Booker T. Washington High School and DeCarlos McKinney from B.E.S.T. Academy. 


(From L-R) King Walker, DeCarlos McKinney, Milan Capoor, Antonio Brown, Sharon Gay, Andre Dickens, Zakai Beck, Claudia Haspel and Allison Hunter stand together for photos after the event. (Photo Credit: Darius Goodman)