By Ben Dimapindan
Price School of Public Policy alumna Aja Brown said that one of her favorite things about being a student at USC was “the expectation to do well and make a difference.” Now, she has the opportunity to turn that expectation into reality — as the newly elected mayor of the City of Compton.
Brown, who earned a bachelor’s degree in ’04 and master of planning in ’05 from USC Price, claimed the city’s top seat by winning a June 4 runoff election over former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley. Brown captured 63.5 percent of the votes to Bradley’s 36.4 percent.
“My vision for our community,” Brown said, “is to turn the page from Compton’s negative image and usher in a new era of pragmatic leadership, community partnership and restoration that is built on economic development, sustainability, youth development and strategic growth.”
Given Brown’s extensive work in each of those areas, she is well-positioned to help the city achieve that goal. Brown’s career spans a decade of public-sector service in urban planning and community development.
From 2009 to 2011, she was the project manager of Compton’s Community Redevelopment Agency. Prior to that, she held posts that included planning commissioner for the City of Pasadena, senior administrative analyst and senior planner for the City of Inglewood and economic development analyst for the City of Gardena. In 2011, she co-founded the Urban Vision Community Development Corporation, a Compton-based nonprofit focusing on community economic development and youth development.
“I have always believed that there is a huge need for urban planning professionals in civic leadership,” she noted. “As an urban planner, I have always chosen to serve in communities that I believed were up and coming and where I could make the largest impact.”
Brown explained that her educational experiences at the Price School greatly influenced her career as a planning practitioner.
“The in-depth training that I received – from the foundation of American cities by pioneers such as Daniel Burnham, the importance of green space in urban communities through the study of Frederick Law Olmsted, to the history of Los Angeles – truly inspired me to… make a contribution to the future of the cities that I’ve served,” she said.
In addition, one faculty member she found especially inspiring was Professor David Sloane, who taught the undergraduate course “The Urban Context for Policy and Planning,” which offers students an overview of the urban planning and public policy fields.
Sloane noted that Brown had “a vibrant presence” as well as an ability to articulate her ideas in front of her peers — qualities indicative of an emerging leader at USC and beyond.
“We have had students do remarkable things, and Aja is one of those stories,” he said. “Our students want to make a difference in the world. They often come to us already knowing that they want to make the change. Many of them, though, are searching for the tools to start, and that is what Price does so well for them, especially the undergrads.”
Sloane added, “We provide them with a place to learn about their personal strengths, to expand their ideas about the world, and to start developing the skills and knowledge that will allow them, like Aja, to start the process of change, in their neighborhoods, cities, nation and the world.”
According to Brown, one of the key lessons she learned at USC Price was the importance of teamwork.
“Nearly every course requires group work, which really instilled in me the power of partnerships,” she said.
As mayor, Brown said she looks forward to teaming up with her fellow council members and residents to revitalize the city by “creating coalitions that move Compton forward.”
“I am excited about the opportunity to… bring good governance, community partnership and resources to my community in a new way.”
Brown pointed out that, initially, she was motivated to run for mayor to help address the needs of her community.
“There are a vast number of concerned citizens, neighborhood groups, organizations, churches, educators, businesses, etc. that are committed to improving our community,” she said.
“I felt honored that the residents of Compton imparted their trust in my leadership and ability to chart the course for our city’s future.”