Rendezvous with Ginger-it-Up
Meet the First Asian American and the Youngest Woman to Serve on the City Council.
Councilwoman Dimple Ajmera was born in India and achieved fame, glory and success in the United States of America and made the whole Indian community and the nation proud with her achievements.
She couldn’t even speak in English when she moved to United States 16 years back and today she has been creating waves in the US with her community services and devotion towards her work.
She has been a high-flier because of her cultural roots and her ability to adapt herself to a new milieu.
Councilwoman Ajmera was unanimously elected by the Charlotte City Council to fill the District 5 seat, vacated by State Representative John Autry. In this role, Ajmera is committed to promoting safe neighborhoods, economic opportunities, and accessible transportation through her work on the mayor-appointed Economic Development and Housing & Neighborhood Development council committees.
Her leadership in bringing infrastructure improvements, jobs and stability to the former Eastland Mall site is a particular priority. She is also an active member of the Environment and Transportation & Planning committees.
Prior to her election as Councilwoman, Ajmera was twice appointed to the Board of Commissioners for the Charlotte Housing Authority (CHA), and served on the CHA Board for more than two years to advocate for affordable housing and supporting services for our most vulnerable population.
Before devoting herself full-time to serving the needs of her constituents in East Charlotte, Councilwoman Ajmera worked at TIAA, a Fortune 100 financial services organization and many other MNCs on Senior Level roles.
Ajmera gives the credit for her accomplishments to her parents, who instilled in her the values of hard work, education, and giving back to the community. She recalls: “Growing up, I saw my parents work long and hard to provide for our family. But they always found the time and means to assist others, including supporting students to pursue higher education, working at local charities, and helping families in need during natural disasters.”
Ajmera has the proud distinction of being the first Asian-American, and the youngest woman to serve on the Charlotte City Council.
The team Ginger-it-Up feels honored to have Councilwoman Dimple Ajmera as our Rendezvous guest. Inspite of having a very busy schedule, she agreed to answer my questions and share the inspiration with the readers of Ginger-it-Up. A very warm welcome to Dimple Ajmera on Ginger-it-Up and my high regards and gratitude to you Dimple. I would also like to thank Carlina for the interview coordination and all her support.
Mani: Please tell us a bit about yourself?
Dimple: I am a woman with who’s breaking through the glass ceiling in order to break down the barriers to economic mobility in Charlotte.
Mani: What were you doing before being appointed as City Council representative?
Dimple: Prior to my election as Councilwoman, I was twice appointed to the Board of Commissioners for the Charlotte Housing Authority (CHA), and served on the CHA Board for more than two years to advocate for affordable housing and supporting services for our most vulnerable population. I was also working as a change manager at TIAA, a Fortune 100 financial services organization. During my six-year tenure there, I was awarded the Champion Award for Excellence several times for leading large-scale asset management and financial application projects.
Mani: What motivated you to quit from your corporate job at TIAA and serve on the City Council?
Dimple: In order to devote myself full-time to serving the needs of my constituents in East Charlotte, I made the tough decision to leave my position as Change Manager at TIAA. I truly enjoyed this position, and it was difficult to let go of, but I wanted to put all of my energy into representing my district and ensuring that not only are their needs are addressed, but also that they are provided with avenues for economic opportunity. One of my most firm beliefs is that our economic system should be fair, fulfill everyone’s basic needs, and should offer opportunity to everyone regardless of their socio-economic status.
Mani: What are the major issues you identified in your work zone in Charlotte?
Dimple: Charlotte is ranked 50 out of 50 for economic mobility. According to a Harvard University and UC Berkeley study, the probability that a child born into the bottom fifth of incomes here will rise to the top fifth in her lifetime is just 4.4 percent.
That’s why I’m working so hard to bring jobs and stability to Charlotte through the redevelopment of Eastland Mall site and other economic development initiatives. I’m really focused on setting individuals, small businesses, and the broader community on a path to advancement and progress.
Another way I serve is allowing all to contribute to our wonderful Queen City by developing infrastructure, like roads and bridges that transport Charlotteans to our most productive spaces. If we’re stuck in traffic, how are we going to make progress?
I’m also striving to ensure Charlotte neighborhoods are safe neighborhoods. This helps make the Queen City a welcoming and comfortable place that allows individuals, families, and organizations to drive progress in their communities.
One of the ways I engage this work is through the mayor-appointed Economic Development and Housing & Neighborhood Development council committees, as well as the Transportation & Planning Committee.
Mani: You came to the U.S. at 16 not speaking English. Now you are on the City Council. You have been living the ‘American Dream’. Please tell us about your struggles and hardship that you faced in the initial years and how did you and your family cope up with those?
Dimple: My story is, in some ways, the story of the American dream. Yet, it has never been easy: my family and I have worked tirelessly to achieve success. My parents applied for visas when I was born, but the process is slow. We waited for many years before we were allowed to come to America. We arrived with very little money and had to find a way to make it in this foreign country. For me, the first step was enrolling at Southern High School as a senior. While all my classmates were preparing for prom and finding that perfect dress, I was learning English and trying to pass the English exit exam. The subsidized lunch program helped me sustain myself as I studied, the after-school program occupied me while my parents worked. Most of all, my teachers and counselors served as my support system, and with their help and a lot of hard work, I made it to USC. American higher education was crucial to my success.
Mani: You have been working hard and giving back to the community in all possible ways you could. Our community does so much for us. In today’s time, people are keeping so busy in their own lives, they hardly think about serving the community. How can we encourage the young generation to play their part when it comes to giving back to the society?
Dimple: I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to ensure teens have access to higher education. As students take higher-level classes, they tend to become more aware of community issues. This leads them to seek volunteer opportunities and other civic engagement avenues. That’s why I founded Tansen Ajmera scholarships– to give students the chance to learn beyond high school, preparing them to enter the working world and do their share to make the world a better place.
It’s also true that many young people already have an interest in community issues and they just need an opportunity to get invested. When I attended a Muslim Solidarity Rally in Charlotte on February 4th, I met several Davidson College students who had come out to protest the Muslim Ban. One of these students who spoke during the open mic session seemed to have a passion for activism and immigrant rights. I approached her after the event and gave her my business card. Now she works as my political director and public relations manager, polishing my speeches, maintaining my social media presence, and accompanying me to community gatherings. I have recently met three other middle and high school students who have a clear desire to make a difference, and so I’ve begun mentoring them. As we adults invest in our young people with our time, we are really investing in the future.
Mani: Tell us something about your family and how do they contribute in your success?
Dimple: I couldn’t do anything without them—they’re my support system and they’ve been there for me every step of the way.
Mani: You founded Tansen Ajmera Scholarships in honor of your father. Tell us something about this?
Dimple: When my father passed away unexpectedly four years ago, I was devastated. I I wondered, “How could he be gone so quickly? How could I live up to and live out his legacy?” He was such a charitable man, helping families in need and students pursuing higher education through his philanthropy as well as serving as a board member for charities. His death made me think about what was important in life, and one thing that stood out to me most was public service. I was doing some soul-searching and it shook me to the core that Charlotte was facing issues and I wasn’t being part of the solution. I wanted to change that. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and bring more economic opportunity to my community. So, I founded Tansen Ajmera scholarships to provide young people with a chance to move forward in their education. Upward mobility is a huge issue in our nation. I also knew I could use my leadership abilities and my experience as a public servant. So I sought the Council appointment.
Mani: What are your hobbies?
Dimple: I enjoy dancing and singing, adventure sports ranging from jet-skiing to sky-diving, and going to local fairs and festivals celebrating diverse cultures.
Mani: In the race of life, we come across many people who underestimate our talent and work. Have you ever faced such a situation in your life? How do you cope with such people?
Dimple: I always tell young people, “let your work speak for you.” Age really is just a number. All you have to do is prove yourself. Show the “under estimators” that you really do know your field, or that you’re a fast learner. Show them you’re a leader who can find creative solutions to problems. Show them that you’re someone they can always count on.
Mani: What are your plans for future?
Dimple: I decided not to run for my District 5 seat again this next election cycle for two main reasons. First, I wanted to provide an opportunity for rising community members to take on new leadership on the Council. Secondly, many incumbents on the City Council have been re-elected in the past and the Council does not want to appear to be locked in a cycle where their current representatives guaranteed their seat in the next term. So, when I was appointed to fill John Autry’s seat, I promised the Council I would not run in District 5 after finishing this term.
When Vi Lyles decided to run for mayor, it created a vacancy in our Democratic At Large slate. I had not originally planned to run at large, but my constituents and community leaders strongly encouraged me to do so. Many of them reached out to me, saying they wanted me to continue representing them, as well as other Charlotteans, in our municipal government. I listened, and I am excited to have the chance to continue to serve as a voice for the people.
Mani: Would you like to explore this 11-month term as an opportunity to dip your toes in the political waters to see if you’d like to dive in for a swim?
Dimple: I don’t know if I’d say “dip my toes in the political waters.” I’ve really plunged into pool, so to speak! After I was appointed, I took on the Eastland Mall redevelopment project, which had not been touched by the Council in a few years. In four months, I have pushed the city to hire a consulting firm and develop a new vision for the site. I have worked with community leaders to bring the UniverSoul Circus to Charlotte as part of my plan to attract interest to Eastland and make East Charlotte a destination point. The circus drew more than 27,000 visitors to the area, providing an opportunity for community bonding as well as boosting the local economy.
I have also formed the Eastland Advisory Committee, and personally met with many developers to recruit them to provide feedback on potential challenges for the site in a forum occurred last week. We brought over 35 development companies to provide and they expressed concerns about infrastructure, mentioning connectivity and walkability challenges. Additionally, they discussed the regulatory barriers developers face in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. This was the first time we brought the private sector to provide feedback on development challenges.
We also held discussions with business leaders and community members at the Local Business Open House.
Jacobs Engineering Group will be presenting the developers’ feedback and recommendations to the Economic Development Committee at the meeting on June 8th, and to the entire council later in the month. It’ll be a great opportunity for the City to spread jobs and opportunities in all parts of Charlotte, and to address real community needs around economic mobility and good paying jobs. To read more about the developers’ concerns and the city’s next steps, read this Charlotte Business Journal article. I want to thank the Council for their careful consideration of the redevelopment plans and their approval of Phase One. I eagerly anticipate their decision about phase two, with the hopes that they’ll choose to continue our plan that’s working towards a redevelopment solution, providing economic opportunity to this part of our amazing Queen City.
Just recently, we had a tactical urbanism event at the former Eastland site. The event focused on short-term activities we can do to keep the community involved in and informed about the site while we continue to work on the long-term development plan. Local artists, food vendors, and musicians attracted many residents and city storytelling booths allowed them to provide their valuable insight about Eastland. Overall, we had a great turn-out and were met with enthusiasm from the local neighborhoods.
In the coming years, I will continue to advocate for economic opportunity for all Charlotteans wherever I’m serving. This year, I’m excited to advocate from my District 5 seat as I finish out the term and as I run at large.
Mani: If given a chance, what is that one thing you would like to change in the community and why?
Dimple: I would level the playing field. And that would mean removing the systemic barriers that work against communities of color.
Mani: What are your favorite three dishes/recipes?
Dimple: 1) Noodles with Indian Masala 2) Khichdi made by my Mom’s hands 3) Handvo- it’s a regional soul food.
Mani: Do you have a favorite mantra/quote that keeps you inspired?
Dimple: “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” –Howard Zinn.
Mani: What message would you like to give to our young readers who aspire to work in the City Council?
Dimple: In a time filled with economic and societal fluctuation, it is important to be prepared for change. Higher education provides students with valuable career skills such as leadership, interpersonal communication, self-advocacy, professionalism, formal writing, cooperation, prioritization, and independence. Developing these key abilities allows students flexibility as they face various factors influencing their career trajectory. People with college degrees have learned how communicate well, manage their time efficiently, and market themselves effectively, which makes them qualified for administrative positions. A college degree will help prepare you be a government leader. If your family has financial concerns, remember that there is federal and often institutional need-based aid available. If you work hard in high school, if you have a special talent, or if you really serve your community, you can earn a merit-based scholarship as well.
Scholarships aside, community service and civic engagement are so important. There are so many appointment opportunities on local civic community boards and commissions that are extremely valuable to our city-county government. Be aware of and get involved with your neighborhood and community organizations! The nucleus of any strong local government begins at the street level.
You can also get affiliated with a party. There are party leadership positions available in groups like Young Democrats, as well as in your local precinct and even your district!
Mani: Thank you so much for your valuable time Dimple. It was a pleasure speaking to you and knowing more about you. Team ginger-it-Up is truly honored to have you as our Rendezvous guest!
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