Black mayors from across the country recently gathered in the District to meet with federal and congressional leaders and learn about opportunities and programs designed to help their cities face a laundry list of challenges, many of which they collectively share.
For three days, April 27-29, the African American Mayors Association (AAMA) met, marking the first time they’ve gathered in person since the coronavirus pandemic started in March 2020.
The Washington Hilton in Northwest served as the site of the event which had scores of mayors in attendance.
“Over the past year, we have watched communities struggle with uncertain healthcare options, unprecedented gun violence, historic natural disasters, crumbling infrastructure and an aggressive targeting of immigrants, among other troubling trends,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the outgoing president of the association.
“Despite federal inaction to protect some of our most vulnerable community members, mayors have converted national and local leaders to develop innovative solutions to these challenges and create new opportunities,” he said.
The AAMA consists of Black mayors who preside over cities that range in populations as high as more than eight million in New York City to several thousands in villages and small towns. The organization’s headquarters sits in Ward 8’s Navy Yard in Southeast.
“Our organization represents 500 mayors,” Turner said. “One-third of all cities (in the U.S.) are led by African-American mayors. [We] represent everyone and we want to make sure that people thrive.”
Mayors who attended the conference included: Eric Adams, New York City; Lori Lightfoot, Chicago; Randall Woodfin, Birmingham; Steven Reed, Montgomery; LaToya Cantrell, New Orleans; Brandon Scott, Baltimore; Andre Dickens, Atlanta; and incoming president and Little Rock, Arkansas Mayor Frank Scott. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser hosted a reception for her colleagues on April 27.
Biden administration Cabinet officials including Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra spoke during the conference.
Fudge, a former mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, addressed the audience during a luncheon on April 28 and encouraged the mayors to continue their work.
“It’s not easy being a mayor, especially a Black mayor,” Fudge said. “As Blacks, we find a way to make a way out of no way. Being a mayor is not for the faint of heart. You cannot go to church or to the grocery store without someone telling you, their problems.”
Fudge said the Biden administration wants to help cities confront problems like homelessness.
“Even though Blacks make up 13% of the country’s population, we are 40% of the homeless,” she said. “Black women are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population. We are putting in federal dollars to help you with your homeless people and we are investing more in helping people to become homeowners.”
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo pointed to efforts to double the size of the Minority Business Development Agency which promotes the growth of businesses of color. Raimondo also said closing the digital divide has become a priority for the Biden Administration.
“You need the Internet,” she said. “It’s not a luxury but a necessity. Thirty million people don’t have access to the Internet and we want to close that gap. We are working to make it inexpensive, too. We want carriers to offer plans to people at a rate of between $10 and $30 per month.”
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) also delivered remarks at the conference.
And in addition to assuming the helm of the AAMA, Scott said he attended the conference to learn more about the latest developments regarding public safety.
“Public safety is a priority,” Scott said. “We are committed to supporting the police departments in our cities. However, we don’t believe a lock them up approach works. We think a holistic approach works best along with prevention and intervention.”
Mount Vernon, N.Y. Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard said Black maternal heath has become an issue that mayors must address. She said the increasing rate of Black mothers dying while in the birthing process is “very disparaging.”
“This is not about class but about race,” Patterson-Howard said. “The doctors are not listening to what we Black women have to say. Too many Black women are losing their lives. America is not a Third World country, yet some of those countries are beating us as far as having lower deaths.”
St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Melvin Carter said the conference had many productive moments and he liked the opportunity to network among his colleagues.
“Connecting with Cabinet members and the federal delegation was very important to me,” Carter said. “But I really enjoyed meeting leaders from all over the country.”