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Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins on the Future of Virginia & Local Government

By Mare Ahmed

Wednesday, September 20th, 2023

Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins is the youngest person on the Alexandria City Council in Virginia. Gaskins was inspired to run for the position in Fall 2020, wanting to bring her Public Health and Urban Planning expertise to the council. She was raised in Pittsburgh by her mother, who struggled with multiple health conditions. Gaskins realized how our environment impacts our health. She wants to use her role as a public servant to ensure that people have access to safe housing for the greater well-being for the people of her district.

When I asked her what a day in her life looks like, Councilwoman Gaskins said, “no two days are the same.” Some days include legislative work, attending public hearings, or attending community walks. The city council position in Alexandria is part-time, so she is also a Senior Program Director at the Melville Charitable Trust, where she works on efforts to end homelessness. Between her work on the city council, the Charitable Trust, running a full-time consulting business, and being a mother of two children, the councilwoman has her hands full. However, what she always makes time for is learning. Staying informed, reading, and researching are essential to her work.

One of the initiatives that Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins is most excited about is expanding the summer youth employment program for 14-18-year-olds. The program allows students to get exposure and mentorship. Over 300 people applied for the program, which only had 150 spots available. Gaskins recognized the need to expand this opportunity to more young people, so she set out to successfully secure funding for 80 more participants. She facilitated a $10,000 donation from AT&T, and Comcast donated laptops for the high school seniors and those who received awards that summer.

Councilwoman Gaskins advises young people, “Never let anyone tell you you are too young or that your voice doesn’t matter.” We all have a unique perspective, and that is valuable. She encourages people to get involved in their city’s politics and shares the variety of ways to get involved — people can come to public hearings, serve on a board, or attend social events.

Virginia is coming up on a consequential election. I asked Councilwoman Gaskins where she thinks the state is headed and what her hopes are for the state. She confidently responded, “It’s the same answer for both [questions]:-, the state regaining a democratic majority.” She is concerned that otherwise, the commonwealth is at risk of reversing the progress made with housing investment or abortion. Gaskins emphasizes how important it is for people to get to the polls and encourage their neighbors to vote. Local government has the most direct impact on our day-to-day lives.

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