I still remember the day I discovered Hyattsville. A rainy evening in May many years ago, I navigated unfamiliar streets only to find this unique space, a mix of buildings and soil, that promised to be everything I wanted in the DC area. We were looking for a house and unbeknownst to me, I found home.
Closing day was a week before Christmas in December 2009. The rain from May was now fresh snow and a minor, though substantial, prelude to Snowmaggedon in 2010. We were young and so were our children and filled with the joy of being first-time homeowners. This home was bare: no furniture, no pictures on the wall, unpacked just enough to have the pots and pans needed to make a fine enough Christmas meal, and a magnet I was eager to place on my new refrigerator that read, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”
When I moved to Hyattsville, I could not have imagined that this small, beautiful, and complicated place would take me on such a thrilling journey. A contentious council meeting on public access television led to a burning question on the local listserv which led to afternoon tea at a neighbor’s (Robert Croslin’s) home to the start of a blog to chronicle local events and later the crazy idea to run for city council. In March 2011, I decided to run against a nearly 30-year incumbent to represent the residents of Ward 1. All I knew was that I wanted to make a difference and I felt that I could make a difference. More than anything, though, I ran because I wanted to and I was perfectly okay with losing.
I knocked on doors of people who had never voted in a local election before. I listened to potential voters with as many great ideas as they had complaints. Running for office forced this introvert to step outside her comfort zone time and time again to sell an idea that Hyattsville is a wonderful place to live, but that it could be better if we included more voices in our decision-making and paid attention to the things that nurture people and community. We won that race and May 3, 2011 was the beginning of an unwitting political career, this phase of which I am bringing to an end on December 31st of this year.
It has been the honor of my lifetime to serve the residents of the City of Hyattsville. This job has challenged me, humbled me, and even smothered me, but I have learned so much and am immensely proud of what we have accomplished together. Over the past nine years, we have become well-respected among our peer municipalities because of our organizational stability, stellar programs and services, progressive policies, and our real — emotional and financial — investment in our community. We invest in youth and young adults more than ever before. Critical infrastructure and facility projects are completed or in progress. Our parks and public spaces are more welcoming, inviting, and attractive. We have nurtured a culture of service. We have expanded democracy to all residents and are moving swiftly forward to fairer elections. We have created more ways for residents to be involved in the way their government and city is run. Then, in the middle of it all, we have continued to support the community as we navigate a global pandemic. We set higher standards for how we will serve the community and you expect more from us because of it. We have demonstrated what we can do, and you continue to urge us to do better.
Running for office wasn’t a selfless endeavor for me. Selfishly, I wanted to help create a community that my children would always be able to return to no matter their age or how much money they made. Hyattsville needed to be a place that they felt cared for them and saved space for them no matter what. On a walk with my son to commemorate the birthday of Ahmaud Arbery, I asked him if he felt safe and he said, “yes, I feel safe in Hyattsville, but not everywhere else.” The duality of that pride and pain was paralyzing.
As you can imagine, the events this summer have taken a toll on me. I know first-hand what it feels like to be in a position of power, yet feel the seemingly necessary constraints of consensus and compromise. I understand quite intimately the fears of raising Black children in this world. For me, it is not just the fear of losing a son to police violence. It is also the fear of raising a daughter who may one day know that same fear and feel compelled to save an ungrateful world because of it. This is the cycle I pray will end.
It is no longer enough for me to create an enclave when I am raising my beautiful Black children to believe that the world is their oyster. In June, I helped found a new political organization, Our Black Party, to help pass policies at every level of government that will improve the quality of life for Black people in this country. The only boundaries for that vision are those of these united states. That vision does not restrict the possibilities for my children or your children. That vision helps create the just world that we’ve been too disenchanted to believe was possible. I believe in it and I believe in Our Black Party and that belief alone is enough for me to pour my energy into bringing it to life.
I can only do so much, though. Leading this city as its mayor for the last nearly six years has been, indeed, the best job I never knew I wanted. Unfortunately, I must let go to make room for the work I feel pulled toward. Because I care so deeply about this city and its future, I know it deserves more than what I am able to give. They say a marker for leadership is how well others are empowered and trusted to lead and we have done that here. We have a phenomenal administrative team and staff and many council members who are just as committed to progressive policymaking as they are to good governance. I trust them to press forward with a progressive vision for the City’s future that includes all of us and I trust Council President Kevin Ward and Council Vice President Carrianna Suiter to shepherd that vision.
Although I am passing the baton sooner than planned to nurture the growth of Our Black Party, this is not abandonment for greener pastures. I am not leaving Hyattsville nor am I leaving Hyattsville behind in a pile of ashes on a trail of ambition. Instead, it is Hyattsville, and what I have seen as possible for communities like ours that is the fire that pushes me and blazes a trail forward.
Thank you for the opportunity to lead.
Thank you for trusting me.
Thank you for standing with me.
And, above all, thank you for giving me more reasons to believe we cannot fail.