Jibreel Ali comes from a family of political leaders. The executive director of 1Community1Orlando is a vocal and engaged leader of the West Orlando community. He attended Jones High School, where he met his wife, and they’re expecting their fourth child. He has also served as president of the Spring Lake Manor Neighborhood Association and vice president of the West Lakes Economic Opportunities Council. Ali is running with six other candidates for the Orlando District 5 commission seat.
Orlando-Rising: Your grandmother is Mable Butler, the first elected black woman in Orlando history and your mother-in-law is long-term Orange County School Board member Kathleen “Kat” Gordon. How did these two strong female role models influence you?
Jibreel Ali: “Knowing good leaders is one thing, having them in your family is life changing.”
Normally when a grandson goes to visit his grandmother, she doesn’t have a street named after her. I was 4 years old when I witnessed my grandmother being sworn in as a city commissioner under Bill Frederick in 1984 and 10 years old in 1990 to see her sworn in as county commissioner. With my grandmother being out of office for so many years, it is amazing to see how her name continues to carry weight. Her work more than her name is still revered and respected by so many in our community. As I canvass and tell my personal story as well as my plans for this community as commissioner, her name invariably comes up as she continues to make hearts smile and ears listen, even in her retirement. She has been a major source for shaping my philosophy of service and as well as encouraging me to be an authentic and genuine leader while creating my own name.
Before I knew who Kathleen “Kat” Gordon was, I told her daughter, Stacey, she would be my wife in 1997 when we attended Jones High School. Like her daughter, Stacey has a powerful voice and a caring heart. My mother-in-law has been a school board member for nearly 17 years. Her courageous ambition, power, and drive to help children are unmatched. Now 20 years later, her daughter and I have three children and a loving marriage of seven years. Some may suggest that my grandmother and mother-in-law set this covenant up. However, my family dynamic is not a political arrangement but one of shared values and experiences. Many may not know that Gordon and Butler were not politically homogeneous over the years. Mable recently told Kat … “Well, I guess our DNA has hooked up.” They both laughed and hugged and the rest is history.
Kat Gordon has built nearly every school in her district by using the half-cent sales tax to ensure our community schools and students are 21st Century ready. I was so proud this year to walk my son into school at Rock Lake Elementary. The school was on the chopping block and under her leadership, it not only stayed but is brand-new. Thirty years ago my father walked me into Rock Lake Elementary, and now I walk my boys there. For my boys to know their grandmother is responsible for making their school better brings our family joy. I am honored and encouraged by their story and what each has contributed. As the next city commissioner of District 5, they not only have endorsed me as a candidate but have continued to shape my understanding of the history of our great city. They encourage me to have an appreciation for government and how policies and procedures work, and most importantly the residents who have put their lives into the community as well. We are in this together, so with both of those giants, you know District 5 will be in safe trust hands with Ali.
O-R: As executive director of 1Community1Orlando, you’ve been an active leader in the community. Tell us how your experience will translate into politics?
Ali: “Being a leader is great but having results is better.” As a leader, if you don’t expect results why lead? 1Community1Orlando was born in response to the outcry of residents who believe our children, particularly on the west side need to be guided and prepared for the challenges and opportunities ahead. The mission of 1Community1Orlando is to empower and to engage residents with resources and opportunities that exist within Orange County and Orlando. Last summer, Orlando city government and residents across the country responded to the tragedy of Pulse nightclub by ensuring the victims had the resources and help it needed to deal with a horrific incident the likes our city has never known. Around the same time, elected officials and community leaders were hosting job fairs where nearly 1000 kids showed up, but only a few dozen youth were hired. My heart goes out to any person or community afflicted by violence and despair, yet thousands of black youth are suffering from the lack of opportunity in my area, and 1Community1Orlando was a beta test, a first showing to prove to Orlando how we can address this concern head-on. The ability to connect with residents, the youth, nonprofits, OCPS, community, and neighborhood associations across Orlando has given me a greater understanding and ability to tackle these issues as a city commissioner.
O-R: You’ve also served as president of Spring Lake Manor Neighborhood Association. What have you done to improve your neighborhood and District 5?
Ali: “Before anyone can lead a district I believe they should be a champion in their community.” As president of Spring Lake Manor, (a community within Rock Lake) my priorities were to encourage and foster better neighborhood interaction and involvement. Under my leadership, we brought back National Night Out; we created a Neighborhood Newsletter and a social media space for our neighborhood. We did several community projects, like hosting a ” District 5 City Commissioner Candidate Forum”, cleanup projects like “Green Up Springdale Park,” and even created the first ever traffic container art project in District 5 on the corner of Rock Lake Drive and Tampa Avenue with the help of students from Rock Lake Elementary and Jones High School. We were awarded by the Orlando Police Department as the Neighborhood Watch group of the year in 2015.
To deal with the new development of Wawa (1200 Colonial Dr.) that was being built in our backyard and understand the impending growth of our area, I conducted a traffic study on Arlington Street (the main east to west corridor of the neighborhood) to gain some perspective of the traffic concerns of residents and found that we have had a 50 percent increase in traffic volume due to the new Wawa. This insight is key to long-term urban planning and traffic models that affect residents and business in the area. I was nominated by the residents of Spring Lake Manor Neighborhood Association to represent the community as a board member of the West Lakes Economic Opportunity Council (WLEOC), which represents a collection of neighborhood associations that sit in the shadows of Camping World Stadium. As vice president of the WLEOC, our involvement will be critical in the development of the affordable housing units on Orange Center Blvd called Pendana at West Lakes opening next spring.
O-R: As a husband and father of three, what are your main priorities for the future of your family?
Ali: “Family Matters” Family is the most important aspect of any individual, and I am so excited to be preparing for two victories, a victory in November as City Commissioner and a new addition to our family by way of a baby in May. These are exciting times for my family, and I believe in community. I want to create spaces for families in the district by improving our parks and community centers. I want to expand programs like Parramore Kidz Zone to other neighborhoods, make Lake Lorna Doone the “Lake Eola of the west-side” and make it easier to provide down payment assistance to working-class families. Like any other parent, I want the best for our children. My parents gave me an opportunity, and that is why I am running to give residents a better opportunity to be champions in their own capacity.
O-R: What do you hope to achieve, if elected?
Ali: “Results Matter” As the next city commissioner, I would like to ensure that all neighborhoods have active and functional homeowners and neighborhood associations to begin the process of building our bench of leaders for years to come. I will promote civic engagement and begin to resolve neighborhood concerns more collaboratively. Under my leadership, we will see more minorities hired in the Orlando Police Department. I will work to increase funding for the Citizen Observer Program while reducing the age restriction down to 18 to help attract younger minorities to get involved in law enforcement. My plan is to offer stipends for those involved in the Citizen Observer Program and housing vouchers for hired officers to promote more inclusive community policing initiatives. In addition to ensuring neighborhoods are functional and promoting better police and community relationships, I am proposing the largest vitalization package District 5 has ever seen. I would like to raise capital by working with the large companies in the region, nonprofits, and those in the faith-based communities similarly to how Orlando responded to the Pulse tragedy. By raising just 10 percent of the resources raised by the OneOrlando Fund, we can begin to prepare our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow while helping the residents of today. I want to install business incubators in West Orlando to help encourage the entrepreneurial spirit untapped in District 5, as well as work with the business community to attract companies to the district. As the next city commissioner, we can revitalize our community by tapping into the talents within our community and ensuring they have an opportunity to be a part of Orlando’s growth and not be left behind.