A cornucopia of culture: A conversation with Clarkston Mayor Beverly BurksBetween 2015 and 2019, Clarkston resettled the highest number of refugees per capita in the nation, according to WABE. (Credit: Kelly Jordan)
Beverly Burks was sworn in as mayor of the City of Clarkston in November of last year – her birthday – and for her, it was a gift.
This was Burks’ second time running for the city’s chief seat, and, determined to serve her community, she campaigned while finishing cancer treatment.
“I think that experience helped me to say, you know, life isn’t promised,” Burks said. “Those things that you want to do, do them. And I wanted to serve my community.”
Clarkston is known as the most diverse square mile in America, commonly called the “Ellis Island of the South.”
The city is home to only about 13,000 people but hosts folks from 50 different countries that cover six continents, with about 218 refugees moving to Clarkston each year, according to WABE.
That’s one thing Burks loves about her city, and her goal is to foster a healthy and sustainable community that will last for years to come.
“We’re making sure we’re doing everything to support our residents,” Burks said. “Making the city a place where people can grow from generation to generation and love to be here.”
One component of this, Burks said, is a trusting relationship between the community and its police officers.
“I’m always a firm believer that police should be guardians, not warriors,” she said.
Burks describes her strategy as “community policing.” The idea is that when police officers get involved in communal events, like kids’ sports games or local festivals, the relationship between residents and law enforcement will strengthen, hopefully avoiding misunderstandings and, potentially, tragedy.
Another integral piece of a healthy community, Burks said, is affordable housing. Housing costs are skyrocketing throughout metro Atlanta, and as Clarkston undergoes a zoning rewrite, Burks wants to ensure that her residents are getting the support they need.
But having affordable units isn’t the only step, she said. Helping residents build good credit and understand their financial options is imperative, too, and resources are available through the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
“Just building a house is often not enough to ensure that people have access to the house. Affordable housing is just a part of the component,” Burks said. “It’s very important that we think about [what the development] is going to do to our city, not just today, but decades down the road.”
Ultimately, Burks hopes her work has a lasting impact on the Clarkston community, as she works to shape the city into a place where people will want to live and visit for years to come.
For anyone in the area, Burks invites you to come see the “cornucopia of different communities coming together.”