"Legislative Barbershop" creates rare dialogue about poverty issues

Birmingham, AL – On Wednesday, March 10, elected officials in Alabama's State House will have an opportunity to interact casually, yet directly with Alabamians living at or below the poverty line about issues important to them at the 4th Annual Legislative Barbershop.

Organized by Alabama's top poverty fighting organization, the Community Action Association of Alabama (CAAA), the "Legislative Barbershop" is one of Alabama's most innovative and personable methods for citizens to interact with elected officials. Everyone that attends the event, including elected officials, may receive free haircuts or manicures provided by certified barbers and cosmetologists from Central Alabama.

"Some of the most honest conversations about life and current events take place in barbershops and salons," says CAAA Executive Director, Lukata Mjumbe. "It's the one place where people of all different backgrounds and levels in life feel comfortable enough to say what is on their minds and engage in conversations with the person in the chair next to them.

"With this in mind, we create a barbershop-like atmosphere in the State House to allow regular citizens to feel comfortable addressing their representatives. Unlike lobbying activities, there is no formal agenda, no deployment of certain resources and no gifting to buy the loyalty of the elected officials. It's simply an opportunity for real conversations to take place in a comfortable and familiar atmosphere. We also give the citizens information about the community action agencies in their area so they'll know what agency to call when they have certain needs."

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor reported a national unemployment rate of 9.8%, including an abnormally high rate of 16% unemployment for African Americans. According to a November 2009 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, Alabama's 2008 poverty rate was 15.9%

"Put those stats together and you get a glimpse of the poverty and needs that Alabama's poorest counties are facing," says Mjumbe, "The Fourth Annual Legislative Barbershop is one of many tools we are using in our war on poverty."

The event will take place inside the Alabama State House Lobby from 9:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m..