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The Future of the Mighty Mississippi is at a Crossroads

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On May 1, Gabriel Dickerson, 20, made history as the youngest Black man to be sworn into city council in Cairo, Illinois.

Dubbed the “Ghost Town” of Southern, Cairo has been plagued with economic hardship since the 1960s. Deteriorated shops and boarded-up businesses flood the city’s downtown area due to years of financial struggle.

On Monday, Gabriel Dickerson promised to help fix some of the longstanding issues that have impacted the community.

“We do have people that want to help Cairo,” Dickerson said, according to WPSD Local. “But the main problem for so many years before is that we’re not doing anything in the city to help ourselves. So you know, that’s why we ran for office originally because we decided that, like I said, we want to make a difference.”

A brief history of Cairo, Illinois.

According to Atlas Obscura, in the mid-1960s protests erupted throughout Cairo after the police allegedly murdered a young Black soldier on leave in the city. The incident prompted riots and years of racial unrest. Many businesses that brought resources and vitality to the community were forced to board up their shops. Since then, the population of Cairo has declined drastically. In the 1980s, around 6,000 people were living in the town. Now, around 1,733 people live in the area.

As the economy continues to bounce back from the rough economic tides caused by COVID, Cairo has been faced with more issues. Housing insecurity is a big problem for residents. Gabriel Dickerson vowed to address the issue under his new position.

In addition to Cairo, 26-year-old Romello Orr was also sworn into council on Monday. The young entrepreneur told WPSD Local that he was excited to step up and combat some of the issues holding Cairo back from achieving greatness. And he wants more young people to join in on developing a new community for residents.

“I was seeing Cairo do a backslide, we’ve, we were losing more than we were gaining,” said Orr. “My thought process is if we don’t get enough younger people in the equation for people to change how the scope of how this thing is going, it’s not going to change at all.”

Orr is following in his father’s footsteps of advocacy. His father, who passed in September, previously served on the city council. He is excited to be continuing his father’s legacy.


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