Samantha DeGrasse said running for public office is not in her comfort zone, but for the teacher, nonprofit founder and mother, putting her hat in the ring for Franklin alderman in Ward 3 is one way she hopes to serve the diverse needs of the place she lives, works and plays.
DeGrasse is one of three candidates running for the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen in Ward 3, which covers Franklin’s southernmost areas including Berry Farms, the historic Natchez community and Columbia Avenue. Current Ward 3 Alderman Scott Speedy is not running for reelection in the fall, so a new member will soon be elected to take his place on the city’s budget management and policymaking body.
DeGrasse hopes to be an approachable listening ear for the community, something she said is more important than ever following the tumult of 2020.
“Being a mom, being a teacher, having my nonprofit all here, I listen to people. I listen to my community. I listen to my neighbors,” she said. “We just need to listen. That’s something that we, I think, if anything should have learned during the pandemic, during race riots, during everything that we’ve experienced. … I think that’s lacking.”
DeGrasse has lived in Franklin for over 12 years and is currently a special education teacher’s assistant at Moore Elementary School. In 2018, after starting to have frequent “girl time” conversations with her teenage daughter (the younger of her two children), DeGrasse founded the nonprofit Build Her A Bridge, which offers mentorship groups and programs for teen girls to talk about life, relationships, faith, school and more in a “judgement-free zone.”
DeGrasse has also pursued community involvement as part of the African American Heritage Society, the art council board at Battle Ground Academy, the Williamson County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and formerly the Arts Council of Williamson County. She also completed the city’s Citizens Government Academy a few years ago.
She said she believes serving a diverse group of girls through her nonprofit has prepared her to recognize and listen to the diverse needs of people in Ward 3.
“In Ward 3 alone, we have the area of south Franklin, which is like Lockwood Glen area and Ladd Park, which are the newer areas. The homes are like $500,000-plus. And then we have sort of that Natchez area, where that’s a whole different economic background,” she said.
Recognizing the economic diversity of the area, affordability is a big focus for her, particularly when it comes to housing.
“Everyone flocks here. We have a great downtown area, low property tax, low crime, great schools — of course, that’s why everyone wants to move here,” she said. “But then, if you don’t fit into a certain income bracket, you almost get turned off, turned away, and you just simply can’t afford it. Or you’re doing everything you can to be here, and you’re just eating cans of beans and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so you can afford to be here, and I just want to change that.”
DeGrasse said that “Franklin really thrives on bringing people here” and that affordable housing is a good way to do that. She noted that many teachers don’t get paid enough to live in the city, and veterans and older residents also often can’t find affordable residences, but allowing people to live affordably will create a “cycle” of economic vitality.
“Once you bring people in, they’re spending money on local business, larger businesses, and that’s what we want,” she said.
She also said that sidewalks and bike lanes are high on her list of priorities for her ward, adding that if people live near where they work and can take alternative modes of transportation to work, that cuts down on traffic.
“Because there’s so many people here, our roads and infrastructure can’t fit what the demand is,” she said. “Our roads are not going to be able to function like that anymore, so if we were to create more bike lanes and create more sidewalks, people would actually be able to bike to work, and it would be better for the environment.”
Returning to the diversity of needs, she mentioned that some of the more newly developed areas have more multimodal infrastructure, but she wants to place attention on some of the older neighborhoods as well.
“There are sidewalks here that are leading from certain parts of Carothers Parkway all the way on down to Long Lane, and I think that’s great, but that’s just one example because, again, this is newer,” she said.
DeGrasse shared that, if elected, she hopes to have an open door to the community, encouraging people to communicate with their elected officials when they have an issue or concern rather than turning to social media.
“Once you get involved, you’ll find the beauty in Franklin of why people come here and why people believe in it so much, but there’s always room for improvement,” she said. “I just think … we all can benefit from listening to one another rather than just, if you have a different opinion than someone else, then they’re wrong and you’re right; they have a target on your back. It doesn’t need to be that way.”
DeGrasse believes that listening to one another and working together is the way forward for Franklin, and she hopes to work towards that goal in City Hall.
“We can be better together. We can all work together. It doesn’t have to be red versus blue or black versus white. We can all work together, and that’s what makes Franklin thrive, and that’s what makes Franklin great is there are so many different people that live here,” she said. “We don’t have to be Franklin divided; we can be Franklin united. Ooh, I like that.”