For the past few months, advocates and activists have been calling for different approaches to solving Rochester’s problems. One of their proposed solutions is to consider changing the default response from law enforcement to social workers.
“I am a social worker,” said Miquel Powell. “By nature, what I’m always looking to do is put myself in the best position to do the greatest good.”
Powell, 39, said his experience as a social worker specializing in drug and alcohol counseling makes him qualified to serve on City Council. In early January, he said he would run for one of five at-large seats.
All at-large seats are up for election this year. Loretta Scott, Malik Evans, Mitch Gruber, Willie Lightfoot and Miguel Melendez are the at-large councilmembers.
Powell grew up on Scio Street and lives on Alexander Street. He said an at-large seat would best suit his desire to serve all residents.
He said events following the in-custody deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Daniel Prude in Rochester, and the calls for social workers to bring about change, led to his decision to run.
“Being a City Council member, you’re directly involved with a lot of decisions that directly impact citizens’ everyday lives,” he said. “When I look at the city of Rochester, some of the things that happened, I’m not happy with it. If you want to invoke change one of the best things you can do is run for office.”
Powell said that social workers take a humanistic approach, use evidence-based practices and “put the most vulnerable people first.”
Powell said one example of how a social worker could influence the conversation is around evictions. He said he listened to a recent City Council meeting and “it seemed like they were advocating for landlords. We have to put tenants first and then look at rent. Social workers look at those types of injustices and try to hash it out, and then we can look at other rights as well.”
He also gave police reform and affordable housing as other areas where he could apply a social worker’s background.
Powell said his time in prison also uniquely qualifies him for City Council.
“Last year we had 300 people shot, over 50 homicides,” said Powell, who as a 21-year-old was sentenced to seven years for a shooting. He was released when he was 27.
“I understand that culture,” he said. “I understand what could lead a person to get to that point. What happens with that kind of understanding, it goes to the community and you come up with solutions of how can you address this issue.”
Powell had been selected to serve on the Police Accountability Board. He resigned because of a conflict with his academic schedule at SUNY Brockport, where he is pursuing a master’s in social work.
He said election to City Council would not conflict with his studies. He said that if he were elected, he would delay completing the degree or try to finish the requirements online.