WOMEN ON THE FRONTLINES: America’s Black Female Mayors: Navigating Dual Crises of COVID-19 and Protests

“I am the mayor, but I’m a Black woman first. I am angry. I am hurt. I am frustrated. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. I don’t want to see one more black man die at the hands of law enforcement.”
San Francisco Mayor, London Breed at a rally on the steps of San Francisco City Hall

The number of Black women governing our largest (and many other) cities has been growing over the last several years. These women are making strides in areas where Black women have long been absent. “Black women have always been leading and we have been the defenders of our homes, our communities and our nation,” said Glynda Carr, the President and CEO of Higher Heights. “Our leadership was built for this moment and our unique experiences as Black women, not only as Americans, has provided the type of trusted leadership that can help move this country forward.”

Right now, Mayors are leading during an unprecedented moment of challenge as protests against police brutality overlap with the coronavirus pandemic and economic collapse.  It is a challenging time to lead any city. 

Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms – has been a bold and brave leader through COVID-19 and the protests in Atlanta.  As COVID-19 cases rose (with higher rates among Black and Hispanic people as in most cities), Bottoms boldly and vocally defied premature re-opening orders by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp at the end of April. Bottoms said she planned to continue using her voice to encourage people to stay home – “Follow the data, look at the science, listen to the health care professionals and use your common sense,” she warned. She received support and praise for her sound judgment and action, but received a racist, hateful text because of her action as well. Her response – she tweeted a quote from Audre Lorde that says, “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” (Essence.com, 4/23/2020)   Lovely Warren, Mayor of Rochester, NY notes that despite gaining prominence, she and her colleagues, still face unique challenges of racism and stereotypes. 

Mayor Bottoms also received support for her strong remarks and swift action on police brutality during the protests – “I am a mother to four black children in America, one of whom is 18 years old,” Bottoms said, “When I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother…Use of excessive force is never acceptable,” she told reporters.  Days later, she acted boldly, quickly firing two police officers and placing three others on desk duty over excessive use of force during a protest arrest involving two college students.

Mayor Bottoms and her husband recently tested positive for COVID-19, and one of their children was asymptomatic as well. She announced this via Twitter the evening she found out, stating, “COVID-19 has literally hit home. I have NO symptoms and have tested positive.”  As of this writing – over a week after their initial diagnosis – they fortunately have had no underlying conditions.  Bottoms also recently required masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19, and has received support from Atlanta residents, business owners and some elected officials for her continued action. But, had opposition from the state’s Governor again on this issue.

Interesting Articles & Data:

https://theconversation.com/americas-black-female-mayors-face-dual-crises-of-covid-19-and-protests-but-these-women-are-used-to-uphill-battles-140415

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/california/articles/2020-06-02/black-female-mayors-in-spotlight-amid-protests-and-pandemic

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/06/14/opinion/coronavirus-police-brutality-california.amp.html

https://cawp.rutgers.edu/women-color-elective-office-2019 

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