Mayors discuss leadership challenges of the 21st century

Civic Engagement

SUMMARY: Former and current mayors Karen Freeman-Wilson, Sharon Weston Broome, Tishaura Jones and Deanna Reed share their experiences and offer messages of hope for the future.

By Kristen Essex, editorial assistant

On Wednesday, Feb. 16, JMU honored Black History Month by hosting a panel of Black female current and former mayors. Karen Freeman-Wilson, Sharon Weston Broome, Tishaura Jones and Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed discussed the challenges of 21st-century leadership during a virtual Madison Vision Series event.  

The idea for the event was cultivated by JMU’s Sisters in Session and Furious Flower Poetry Center executive director Joanne V. Gabbin, who mentored a young Freeman-Wilson before she became mayor of her hometown of Gary, Indiana.

The panel’s four trail-blazing women — who made history as their respective cities’ first African American female mayors — discussed their journeys as community leaders as well as the challenges of being a Black woman in positions of leadership. 

“My path to mayor wasn’t an easy one,” said Jones, who was sworn in as mayor of St. Louis, Missouri, in 2021 after eight years as city treasurer and two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives. 

Reed agreed, saying before she was appointed mayor of Harrisonburg in 2017, “the leadership didn’t reflect the city that it served.” 

Weston Broome, mayor-president of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and East Baton Rouge Parish, said while there are geographic differences among the four women, they all come from shared experiences.  

According to Freeman-Wilson, who currently serves as president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, the “connectivity of African American women as sisters” has the power to inspire young Black girls in search of role models. 

The conversation also touched on the COVID-19 pandemic, crisis leadership, social justice, mentorship and public service.  

“Public service is not for the faint of heart,” Weston Broome said. 

Following the panel discussion, audience members submitted questions to the panelists.  

The dialogue concluded with JMU President Jonathan R. Alger thanking the speakers for their uplifting words and messages of hope. He reminded listeners of the power of touching the lives of those around us. 

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Published: Friday, February 18, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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