In July, 31-year-old community developer Aja Brown was sworn into office as the new mayor of Compton, the Los Angeles suburb best known as the place that put gangsta rap on the map. Now, as the youngest mayor in the city’s history, Aja has plans to transform the crime-ridden area by focusing on urban planning and economic development.
The University of Southern California grad recently sat down for an in-depth interview Vogue where she introduced herself to the world, discussed her deep roots in the city and shared her plans for change. Check out highlights from that conversation below.
On her upbringing:
Mayor Aja Brown, 31, sworn into office July 2, 2013, may be a somewhat recent resident, but she has deep roots in Compton. Her own mother, Brenda Jackson, fled the city in her twenties. Jackson’s mother, Aja’s maternal grandmother, Lena Young—there’s no way to write this sentence without its stark reality—was brutally murdered in a violent home invasion rape and robbery in Compton in the 1970s. The case is still unsolved.
As Aja explains it in her quiet, remarkably understated way, “It’s a sore spot.” And then she adds, “My mother left immediately. It was just too sad . . .”
On turing the city’s finances around:
“I’ve always been calm,” Brown explains, “and I’m very good in a crisis.”
That’s probably a good thing since shortly before she took office, Compton was forty million dollars in debt and on the brink of insolvency. “It’s really only twenty million,” Mayor Brown explains, as if it’s water off her back. “There were a lot of duplications on the books.” I’m not sure what this means, but Compton has a history of corruption. In fact, her opponent, former Mayor Omar Bradley, whom she handily defeated in a runoff, was facing corruption charges at the time of the election. Brown adds, “We have a very fiscally conservative accountant now. We’ve managed to restructure the debt, reduce the interest on our bank loans, and right now we have a budget surplus.”
On how she met her husband:
Mayor Brown and her husband, Van Brown, are a California love story themselves (or a setup for a movie). It was late at night. She stopped for gas on her way home. She couldn’t get the pump to work. He was working as the station attendant. (They’d met before when they were kids; he was a friend of her cousin.) He pretended he couldn’t hear her through the glass and invited her in while he, according to her, then “pretended” to fix the problem. He printed out a blank piece of paper from the cash register and asked her for her number. She told him it looked like he’d done that before. He called her five times the next day (and paged her six) and she went out with him. Two weeks later, he told her he thought she should stop seeing anyone else because he was going to marry her. That was fourteen years ago. She was seventeen. They’ve been together ever since.
On Compton’s biggest problem:
Compton’s biggest problem, Mayor Brown says, is the California prison early release plan that was created to reduce prison-overcrowding (and which was recently upheld by the Supreme Court). “It just hasn’t been very well thought out,” she explains. “There aren’t any training programs on a state level and people are getting released from prison and coming home and committing crimes again.” Having said that, she adds, “the crime rate is down in Compton 60 percent over the last ten years.”
On meeting President Obama one day:
I asked her if President Obama called to congratulate her as well. She answered in that understated way she has, slight California accent with a half a beat between the words, “He did not.” But then she hesitated and added, “There’s still time”—that slight smile again—“I think he might someday.”
Compton is known as the birthplace of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, The Game and Kendrick Lamar, but the city produces more than just rappers. Check out five other celebs born or raised in the CPT here!