Black Mayors: Shaping American Public Life
with Phyllis Dickerson of the African American Mayors Association
From mitigating climate change and to furthering racial justice, mayors play a critical role in influencing American public life.
Phyllis Dickerson, Chief Executive Officer of the African American Mayors Association, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the role Black mayors play — and how their leadership advances action on key issues impacting communities.
February 07, 2022
Anderson: Maynard Jackson, Lottie Shackelford, and Tom Bradley, all former Black mayors who broke barriers in cities with deeply rooted histories of racism and inequality, opening political doors for those who serve today. But more than 50 years after Cleveland voters made Carl Stokes the first African-American mayor of a major U.S. city, what's changed in American electoral politics? Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. From mitigating climate change to furthering racial justice, mayors play a critical role in our communities. Joining me to discuss the evolution and the emergence of Black mayors and what their leadership brings to American public life is Phyllis Dickerson. She is the chief executive officer of the African American Mayors Association. And, Phyllis, thanks for being here.
Dickerson: Thank you, Tetiana, for having me.
Anderson: So, why is it so important to have a leadership group specifically for Black mayors? I mean, what are some of the specific concerns that they are dealing with?
Dickerson: So, we have the opportunity through AAMA to advocate for policy, to share best practices. In cities like Houston, Mayor Turner, who is president of AAMA, is dealing with voting rights issues. Mayor Frank Scott Jr., he's putting into place, like, community schools to deal with issues as it relates to education and providing wraparound services. And then in cities like in the District here, Mayor Bowser, she provided Home for the Holidays, which actually gave permanent housing to 422 families and individuals within the District.
Anderson: In 2021, New York City elected Eric Adams as only the second Black mayor in that city's history, and 30 years since the last one. How significant was that, in your view?
Dickerson: That is very significant. It's unfortunate that we are still talking about the first Black mayor, like in Pittsburgh and even in Durham. But what I want to say for Eric Adams, why that was so important, of the top four cities by population in the U.S., AAMA, which is our Black mayors, represent three of those cities. And so it's New York, Chicago, and Houston for us. The only city that we do not have a Black mayor currently of the top four is Los Angeles.
Anderson: So, Phyllis, explain to us how politics at the local level, the mayoral level is really different than politics at the national level. I mean, it's often said that local politicians really affect governance at every level. What's your take on that?
Dickerson: So as you know, on the local level, we go to the grocery store and the church, and so we actually see and hear our constituents. New York is a prime example, with new elected Mayor Eric Adams, who has the ability and is looking at the opportunity for noncitizens to be able to vote on a local level. That will be significant for his city. In other cities, you see people doing, like, policy against no-knock warrants, chokeholds, ban the box. Those kinds of things are significant policies on a local level and are change-makers for local government. You know, we saw riots in our cities, and Black mayors came out and said -- you know, some Black mayors marched with protesters and others heard their voice of re-allocation of funding and things like that, and YIP, which is youth intervention and prevention programs, or PIT programs and things like that. And so we have the -- Black mayors have the ability to manage their budgets. Strong mayors have the ability to manage their budgets, re-allocate funding, and where we need it most, in our youth and in our YIP programs or in our prevention and intervention programs, or providing social services when it's a mental health issue instead of providing police enforcement in that particular situation. So, those are -- those are the kind of policies.
Anderson: And I know one of the areas that you do also focus on is sustainability of Black-owned businesses, particularly in the tech and the innovation space. Why is that so important and how are you supporting efforts to make sure that these businesses succeed?
Dickerson: So, as you know, in most cities, we have an economic development piece, but small business is so important in our cities. They are -- They are the foundation of who we are. All of our businesses, whether they're large or small now, they started out -- everybody started out small, and now -- and they just happen to grow. It's just, you know, it was a great idea that grew. And they provide, you know, stabilization in your cities because they're able to afford housing for their families and things like that. And so they do, you know -- many cities do smart city conferences and things like that, and they help with putting together plans for them, business plans and things like that. So, and then even the financing.
Anderson: So, a lot of pieces that they're involved in. And, Phyllis, I know that people are going to want to know more about your organization. So, what's the website? Where can they go?
Dickerson: So, we ask that you come visit our website. It's ourmayors.org. That's where you can look at our policy issues, see who's a member of our organization and things like that.
Anderson: Phyllis Dickerson of the African American Mayors Association, thank you so much for joining us.
Dickerson: Thank you so much for having me again, Tetiana.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, just log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.