We already know that Black women are bosses — at the helm of wherever they choose to go. And they carry with them all the determination, grit and grace that it takes to get the job done.
At the municipal level, Black women are continuing to break barriers and their leadership skills have been tested and tried– and they’re passing with flying colors because they stay fly, even under pressure.
For Eastpointe Mayor Monique Owens, elected in 2019, leading means thriving daily in her role as the city’s first Black female mayor.
“My first year was as a mayor, a woman and African American … then the pandemic came,” Owens, 36 and mother to high school-age twin daughters, said. She added that being a mayor can be difficult on multiple levels regardless of age, gender or tenure — not to speak of leading during a worldwide health crisis. “At that time, surviving the pandemic… it was challenging.”
Owens, a former member of Detroit’s Police Department and an 11-year Wayne County Sheriff’s deputy who also served on Eastpointe’s City Council, said that she led during a time of significant civil unrest last year.
That is when she met the pandemic and social justice movements head on thinking of ways to help her community and those hungry and hurting.
“I was trying to find the resources in being a new mayor and help people with food and assistance,” she said, adding that she partnered with different organizations to make sure those in need received help. Also, that protestors were kept safe and had food from nearby restaurants. “(I was) able to do things that most mayors are not able to do in many terms that I was able to do in a year.”
Owens said looking ahead she hopes to bring new opportunities to the city of about 32,000 residents, of which about 40 percent are Black.
This includes looking to create a scholarship for local high schoolers, bring in a Boys and Girls Club and develop a transportation hub on Eight Mile Road and Gratiot through federal partnerships to help residents travel with ease and safety.
“A lot of people have problems getting back and forth to work … and getting their kids to school,” she said, adding that she is also working on bringing more businesses, especially minority- and women-owned, to the city. “(I am) letting them know they have the support of the mayor and residents — whatever they need here to make it happen.”
Owens said even in her work she still has to fend off naysayers. Some come in the forms of people who follow her around and attack her work and character, which she described as a “witch hunt.” Owens shrugs it off and says there’s work to be done and she’s above it all.
“(This is the) first time there is a mayor who is a woman of color,” she said, adding that she credits God for helping her through challenging moments. “(I am) coming into that space and making change. Of course, I’m going to deal with adversity and push back.”
She said that at the end of the day people elected her to “turn this city around” and with their help, they can continue to use their voice and actions and tune in by watching City Council meetings, paying attention to local politics and policies and help push the city forward.
“See what is going on and see where your tax money is going,” she said. “Understand how the government works.”
Owens added that when she meets residents, some are amazed to know that the city has a Black mayor because they stopped being involved in local elections a long time ago.
“(They then) get interested when they see someone of color in power,” she said. “I am working and doing the best I can do to be a voice of the people — not just African American but all people, all races. How do I do that? One day at a time.”
Westland Councilwoman Tasha Green takes it a day at a time, too, by digging deep and using positive affirmations along her political journey. Some of those can be found on her Facebook page, such as “Know that your voice matters and that you are in the right room.” Or “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” -Proverbs 21:15
Green, a long-time Westland resident, was elected to City Council on November 7, 2017. She was the first Black woman elected in the city.
Green wears a lot of hats as a certified small business owner, internationally accredited property manager, licensed real estate broker, licensed abatement contractor and more. She is also a Wayne County Reserve Sheriff’s deputy.
Green said that currently she is gearing up for her run for re-election this year.
“My first term ends in 2021 and I look forward to continuing to work for my community,” she said, adding that since being elected she is passionate about making diverse changes in the city.
“The city of Westland has never had much racial diversity as it relates to positions of authority or influence. (Since elected) I have been very vocal about the need for inclusion and equality in our government and city operations,” Green said.
Currently, Westland has less than 5 percent racial diversity in its police and fire departments. Green added that of the mayor’s current 19-member administration there are no Blacks, while the city population of about over 80,000 people has on average a minority population of 25 to 30 percent.
But Green is on the move to help fix that, and she made strides as of last year. One of her proudest moments as a city councilwoman happened last year. A resolution she put forward which declares racism a public health crisis was passed, which required implementation of the city’s very first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission (DEI).
“Although there was little to no representation for people of color before I was elected, I’m happy that my contribution thus far has ensured that this will no longer be the case in Westland,” she said, adding that residents keep her going.
“The best part of the job for me is getting random phone calls and emails from Westland residents who offer words of appreciation and encouragement for the job I’m doing on their behalf. My path has not been one that I would say is easy by any means, so it means a lot to know that my constituents believe in me and want me to keep on keeping on,” Green said, adding that she has encountered lows, too, from local leaders who try to silence her, especially during City Council meetings.
“What’s most important is that change has never come easily and being the first Black person in any seat will come with its challenges. Knowing this, I continue to hold my head up and press on realizing that being in this position is bigger than me and all involved parties,” Green said. “I’m pretty confident that the imprint I will leave on my city is one of fearless courage and the importance to stand up for what you believe in and what you know to be just, even if you have to stand alone.”
Green said that developing thick skin is important on this journey. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t or won’t accomplish something, and … work your butt off. What is for you, is for you,” she said. “Don’t get distracted by people who don’t support you because, in the end, they will have the privilege of watching you rise.”
And oh, how she rose. Green told The Michigan Chronicle how she had her first and only child at 19 years old and she experienced periods of living in “lack.”
“I knew that wasn’t where I was meant to be long term,” she said, adding that she was also on public assistance at one point in her life. “I remember what it was like to need help but be viewed as lazy when that couldn’t be further from the truth. I remember working full time during the day, with a baby on my hip, and taking college classes at night.”
On February 3, Green was busy helping pass out food to those in need.
“When people say they need a helping hand I identify with what that is because I lived it,” she said. “You can’t truly identify with the needs of the people if you’ve never been in need. I was able to rise due to my relationship with God, the village I was blessed to have, and a determination to be successful by any means necessary. That was a powerful recipe for success.”