America’s Black Mayors Gather in Atlanta for Annual AAMA Conference

Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam (above, center) was one of several mayors that spoke to the media during the opening press conference of the African American Mayors Association conference in Atlanta on April 24, 2024. Photo by Kerri Phox/The Atlanta Voice

by Donnell Suggs | The mayor of Tracy, California, looked around the grand ballroom inside the Omni Atlanta Hotel and smiled. She was 2,200 miles away from the city she is leading, but felt right at home at the same time. “I love the connectivity,” said Nancy Young.

The first Black mayor and female mayor in the history of the northern California city of just under 100,000 residents, Young is no stranger to Atlanta, her son attended Morehouse College some years back, so she knew she was definitely returning to Atlanta for this special occasion. “And I have been talking to other mayors in California about coming to the conference too,” she said.

Asked what she is looking to accomplish while she is in town and among dozens of other Black mayors from cities both big (Atlanta, New York City, Memphis, and St. Louis, to name a few) and small (Palmetto, Georgia, Miramar, Florida, and Earle, Arkansas, pop. 1,800) Young said she wanted to learn more about how to get larger businesses to connect with and invest in smaller businesses. Tracy, located in San Joaquin County, is 60 miles east of major tech hub San Francisco and 60 miles west of agribusiness and food manufacturing giant Sacramento. Tracy’s population is just under 6% Black, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.

“I’m trying to find out new ideas and new ways to bring back home to our residents,” said Young, who is in the fourth year of her first term as mayor. She served the city council for a decade before running for mayor.

The African American Mayors Association Conference (AAMA) is taking place in Atlanta this week at the Omni Atlanta Hotel at Centennial Park. Black mayors from across the country gathered in the heart of downtown Atlanta to exchange ideas, fellowship and in the words of Mount Vernon, New York Mayor and AAMA President Shawn Patterson Howard, to be in “the only place where you are going to see this collection of mayors.”

Some of the speakers at this year’s conference have been making national news, including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, the first and only female mayor in the city’s history, were also on hand. Former Phoenix Suns star and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former AAMA president, was also in attendance.

The State of Our City opening press conference took place Wednesday, April 24 with current Patterson Howard, incoming AAMA President and Montgomery (AL) Mayor Steven Reed, Little Rock (AR) Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. and Miramar (FL) Mayor Wayne Messam all taking turns speaking on the behalves of American cities that are being led by Black men and women.

Following the press conference, Palmetto (GA) Mayor Teresa Thomas-Smith, that city’s first Black and female leader, said she was at the conference to “tap into what my peers have already been doing around the country.”

Thomas-Smith, an Atlanta native and graduate of Benjamin E. Mays High School, was elected on Nov. 7, 2023 and said she brought Atlanta-style politics to that town of just over 5,000 residents for that election.

“I ran a campaign like I was running for governor,” she said.

The first Black and Black female mayor in the history of Jonesboro, Georgia was also in attendance Wednesday night. Dr. Donya L. Sartor, a longtime educator and former Jonesboro city council member, was elected on the same day as Thomas-Smith. This is her first AAMA and said it could not be taking place in a better location.

“It’s coming full-circle with Maynard Jackson being so pivotal,” Sartor explained. “With all of the different local and national elections coming up, this is an opportunity for all of us to fellowship and share ideas.”

Jackson’s time as the first Black mayor of Atlanta was an ever-present theme throughout the opening press conference and will be through the week, according to Patterson Howard.

“You can’t move into the future until you understand the past and how the foundation was laid,” she explained. “Atlanta is who it is because of his vision.”

Little Rock (AR) mayor Frank Scott, Jr. said he and his fellow mayors are in Atlanta to revive, reset and resurrect.

Montgomery (AL) Mayor Steven Reed said the purpose of the conference is to bring change to their respective cities. “It’s about working hard to bring about the types of change all of the residents of our cities want to see,” he said. “We are here today to reset.”

There were several panels planned for the four-day conference that will take place through Saturday that include discussion topics ranging from social policy and justice to protecting our democracy via civic engagement.

There is also a community town hall scheduled for Saturday morning inside the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College that will include former Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and National Urban League President and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial.

On Wednesday, Memphis Mayor Paul Young and St. Louis Mayor, Tishaura Jones, spoke about efforts to combat and reduce violence in their respective cities. Jones, who is in the third year of her first term as mayor, said homicides are down by 40%. She credited a three-pronged plan that is taking place in St. Louis: prevention, intervention and enforcement.

“We are not defunding the police, we are recruiting police,” Jones said.

Miramar (FL) Mayor Wayne Messam, one of the scheduled speakers for the opening press conference, spoke about how DEI has been used to disregard and disrespect certain Black mayors around America. “DEI is the new boogeyman and it’s impacting us all. As AAMA, we must stay vigilant and stay focussed.”

There are 641 Black mayors in the United States, according to data provided by the AAMA.


America’s Black mayors gather in Atlanta for annual AAMA conference

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