Zainab Baloch for City Council: Elevating Raleigh’s Marginalized Voices
When I first met Zainab Baloch, working together as colleagues at a City of Raleigh Parks & Recreation Summer Camp, I didn’t know I was meeting a superhero — but I did know I was meeting someone special.
One night, working late and sitting in the quiet office while the basketball league played in Optimist Community Center’s gymnasium, she and I began talking about our mutual desire to save the world. I told her about my non-profit background. She told me a story from her teenage years, about when she began combating gang violence in her high school.
She organized a hip hop step show to raise awareness, bring students together, educate my classmates, and bolster diversity. “I worked with InterAct of Wake County, and it introduced me to the lasting impact of grassroots organizing,” she said. Even as a high school student, she discovered she could change the world. This sense of being empowered to make the world a better place has kept her involved in community organizing ever since.
A Raleigh Organizer and Do-Gooder
Since then, says Baloch, “I’ve worked a lot in Southeast Raleigh, which is a very loving, engaging, hard-working community. I was on the board of the first-ever Interfaith Abraham Habitat Build. Faith groups worked alongside other community members to build quality, affordable homes for our most vulnerable families.”
She also worked as director of the Triangle Health Fair, promoting health awareness in under-served communities, and acted as program director of the Light House Project.
She’s passionately engaged in all of this hands-on work, believing in the ability of individuals to make a huge difference in their community. However, she explains, “It is difficult to create sustainable change when there are policies that create barriers to our communities. I firmly believe that when one of us struggles, we all struggle. I decided to run for Raleigh City Council because I want to help elevate the voices of the marginalized and bring their issues and concerns to the table.”
What Does Baloch Love about Raleigh? Festivals? Downtown Hotspots?
“Raleigh is my hometown and while I’ve enjoyed traveling to different places,I have yet to find a city I love more than Raleigh. There is so much that comes to mind when I think of Raleigh, but the thing that sticks out the most to me about this city is its diversity,” she shares.
When she worked in the City of Raleigh’s Youth Programs, Baloch could often be founding teaching basketball to kids; at the risk of sounding like Leslie Knope, she’s still passionate about Raleigh’s parks. “I want future generations to be able to continue enjoying our city like I did. I love seeing new playgrounds and activities for kids. Laurel Hills opened a new playground, accessible to all children, that feels like a mini-amusement park!”
She still loves playing basketball, and she bleeds Wolfpack red. “I have cried, yelled, and laughed at many basketball games. The ups and downs do take a toll on my heart, but I think I was born to be a Wolfpack fan, because no matter how hard we fall – we always bounce back!” #Resilience
As for festivals — she’s a huge fan of the International Festival, which breaks down cultural barriers and brings people together right in the heart of downtown Raleigh. And she’s thrilled to see Hopscotch bringing big name musicians alongside local acts in downtown Raleigh.
Addressing Equitable Development in Raleigh
Baloch acknowledges that Raleigh is a growing city, attractive to developers. There’s big money to be made in developing downtown. Despite Raleigh’s diverse population and booming growth, “not all citizens have access to the resources they need to prosper.”
Baloch’s term in City Council would put an emphasis on providing access to sustainable housing, public transportation, and income mobility. “Ideally, I would like to push for the legislature to adopt inclusionary zoning mandates. However, in the present environment, I would push for the city to sponsor and subsidize more development of access to housing to meet specific needs, such as seniors, people with disabilities, college students and low incomes. The city should invest in creating sustainable ‘green affordable housing,’ which would pay off in the long run.”
“I would make sure to remind everyone that the city’s financial decisions has a human value to it. You can’t put a pricetag on a human being.”
A Diverse City Needs a Diverse Council
Baloch believes our City Council is not representative of the enormous diversity in Raleigh. “A homogenous society is no longer the ‘norm,” she says, “Diversity is the new normal.” The diversity of our city produces a wide range of skills, experiences, and perspectives to the conversation. It broadens our conversations, which can cause conflicts, but also growth. However, the city needs to put more focus on providing food and transportation options to certain communities.
For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers Southeast Raleigh a food desert. The city has attracted many developers to downtown – why aren’t we able to attract a grocery store to southeast Raleigh?
“I would want to work with developers and businesses to establish grocery stores in this area to ensure residents have access to nutritious foods. If we go a step further, I would like to partner with local farmers to set up smaller neighborhood stores providing nutritious food.”
Protecting and Empowering Marginalized Communities
Despite being born and raised in Raleigh, and working hard to organize and benefit her home city, Baloch has experienced marginalization. “I am not sure how to explain to people who tell me to go back to my country that the only country I have ever called home is America. It got to the point where we had to start carrying pepper spray.”
This Raleigh Native and Raleigh community organizer, who has devoted so much time and energy to helping people, has even faced backlash from daring to run for Raleigh City Council while being Muslim. This is all the more reason we need diversity in our local politics.
“Raleigh prides itself on being a welcoming city for all. If we are committed to that vision, our city should be a safe zone for immigrants. I am committed to keeping families together by making Raleigh a #SafeZone city to protect our residents.”
Wolfpack or Carolina?
“My blood bleeds Wolfpack red,” she shares. “Even though, I am finishing my Master in Public Administration at UNC-CH, my heart and loyalty lies 100% with the Wolfpack. I have cried, yelled, and laughed at many basketball games. I will say that the ups and downs of the deal do take a toll on my heart. But, I think I was born to be a Wolfpack fan, because no matter how hard we fall – we always bounce back.
Just like Raleigh.