By Olivia Anderson | firstname.lastname@example.org
At 25, Meronne Teklu has worked as a tech consultant, nonprofit manager and advisory board member. She’s also launched her first campaign for Alexandria City Council.
Teklu said she doesn’t view her age as a drawback but rather as an opportunity to bring a fresh, multigenerational lens to the council.
“As residents of this community, we have an opportunity to serve at all levels. I don’t think it matters what your age is, gender identification, race identification, class — we all have that opportunity,” Teklu said. “I definitely don’t think [my age] is a negative thing; it’s more so ensuring that we have varying representation and perspectives that we bring.”
Although she was born in Alexandria and currently lives in the West End, Teklu grew up down the road in Springfield, having graduated from West Springfield High School. She said that, despite this, Alexandria always felt like home.
“A lot of my family, a lot of my community in terms of the Ethiopian American diaspora that lives here — it’s really a hub for us and for our small businesses that I frequent often,” Teklu, whose immigrant parents moved to Alexandria following the downfall of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, said. “I’m excited to be a part of it, and I’m excited to do what I can to help our local economy.”
Teklu currently works as a technology management consultant in Northern Virginia, where she aids clients from the public service to government sectors in designing and launching digital products. Teklu said this technology background helps her bring an innovative, “future-forward lens” to the table — something she feels is a principal ingredient in moving the needle toward data-driven, long-term change.
Her experience also includes mentoring students of immigrant backgrounds at the D.C. nonprofit IEA Councils on Higher Education as well as an advisory position on the Wegene Ethiopian Foundation, a nonprofit organization cofounded by her mother that focuses on poverty alleviation support in Ethiopia through fundraising and identification of vulnerable populations.
Teklu received a bachelor’s degree in Africana studies with a focus on computer science from the College of William & Mary. During her time there, Teklu and several peers created a media project called The Real William & Mary that published videos tackling issues related to inclusion on campus and centering minority student voices. The project’s aim was to foster conversations about ways to develop a diverse office and support programs like Pacific Islander and Asian studies.
The project spread through social media like wildfire, eventually capturing the attention of the community race relations task force and culminating in a newly implemented freshman year required course at William & Mary that examines social inequities in America.
“That only happens when you’re able to show others who are not part of your immediate community issue that, ‘Here are the perspectives. Here’s what we can do.’ And maybe that doesn’t happen immediately, maybe that’s a one month or two month or five year effort, but I think it’s amazing,” Teklu said.
Teklu said this experience not only played a role in demonstrating how perseverance leads to tangible social change — “I live and breathe the intersections of race, class and gender on policy and our general American history,” she said — but also in igniting her passion for equity.
Teklu said her primary goal is to connect Alexandria’s marginalized and underrepresented communities with city leadership. For Teklu, this demographic ranges from the voices of minority, low income and young people.
“I’m here to elevate those communities [through an] emphasis on equity,” Teklu said. “I’m approaching things from the lens of, ‘How can we be better for all of our communities, not just one particular one?’ How we can elevate diverse minority perspectives within that is something I’m very passionate about.”
According to Teklu, one crucial issue plaguing the city is its longstanding housing affordability crisis. With equity placed squarely at the heart of her campaign, Teklu said she always wants to support minority and immigrant tenants – especially during COVID-19 when many “disproportionately affected communities of color” cannot pay rent and need city support in eviction protection.
And it’s not just housing that COVID-19 has impacted, Teklu said. Another topic of interest for Teklu is lifting up the city’s youth, not only from an educational standpoint in schools but also through emotional and social support during the pandemic.
“We know it’s been quite isolating, so ensuring that they’re set up to thrive will be equally as important for council to work [on] with the School Board and the private school community as well,” Teklu said.
Although Teklu acknowledged that she plans to do “more digging” regarding the controversial proposed stream restoration at Taylor Run, she emphasized the importance of listening to grassroots organizations and environmental advocacy groups regarding the best path forward.
She also noted that while many arguments surrounding flooding in Alexandria are pointed at over-densification and development, she believes the root is more of an environmental issue.
“We know that we have a ways to go in ensuring that the city of Alexandria meets our environmental sustainability goals, and I think investing in long-term mitigation strategies against flooding will be key,” Teklu said.
Whether it’s rebuilding the local economy, supporting environmental justice, providing COVID-19 relief or investing in public modernization efforts, Teklu said the notion of equity for all should serve as a “north star” in every action City Council takes.
“I really do feel like Alexandria coming out of this pandemic has an opportunity to reimagine what it is to be a community and to be advocates of change,” Teklu said. “We have a lot of momentum to reimagine what it looks like to operate as a city, to incorporate technology and incorporate the perspective of young people in that – and to push for equity for all. That’s something that is very exciting to me.”