Seat At The Table: Macomb County’s Black Community Needs Black Representation

In 1970, Macomb County, according to the U.S. Census, had a population of 625,309, of which African Americans accounted for just 1%. The county, it appeared, didn’t want to lay out a welcome mat for African Americans and was slow to embrace inclusion and diversity on a grand scale.

50 years later, Macomb County has evolved, to a certain extent. The estimated number of residents living in the county is 880,325, with Black people making up 12% of the population. Yet, does the growth of Black residents in the county correlate with Blacks elected to political offices in greater numbers?

“People that have been in charge for so long, they don’t want to give up that power,” Joel Rutherford, chair of the Official Democratic Black Caucus of Macomb County said in a radio interview on WDET earlier this year. “Macomb County has changed drastically, but you don’t see that change reflected in elected officials.”

Yet, there are changes in the county’s political arena that are encouraging. In the upcoming Nov. 3 election, seven African Americans are running for office in Macomb County. They are Michelle Nard for Macomb County Board of Commissioners, District 1; Antoinette Wallace for Macomb County Board of Commissioners, District 9; Olu Jabari for State Representative, 33rd District; Laurita Bledsoe for Macomb Township Trustee; Tammy T. Patton for Clinton Township Trustee; Y. Michelle Wilson-Merriwether for Chesterfield Township Trustee, and Rhonda Warner for Harrison Township Trustee.

In addition, Dr. Wanda Goodnough, won a seat on the Mount Clemens City Commission in a special August 4 election.

“Mount Clemens and surrounding cities are increasingly becoming more and more diverse as it pertains to the many different populations,” said Goodnough. “We are living in a time when African Americans and all other races should take a look at what they want the political slate to look like.”

Other candidates have similar sentiments.

“As Blacks continue to increase in population within Macomb County, it is essential to have voices that represent the needs of the community,” said Wilson-Merriwether, a 17-year resident of Chesterfield Township. “As a resident, I understand uniquely the challenges. My understanding will enable me to quickly develop solutions and plans of actions that will lead to sustainable growth and development for the township.”

Tammy T. Patton agrees on the importance of diverse voices of representation. “Without African Americans being represented in different departments or having seats at the table to help make decisions, Clinton Township and the County will not receive fair representation of a large demographic,” said Patton. “I believe diversity and inclusion will continue to become a growing force in the years to come and I look forward to being a part of those conversations within the Township.”

Macomb County, Michigan’s third most populous county, is comprised of 27 cities, townships and villages with a little more than 105,000 African Americans calling it home.

“The African American community wants to be represented and it is important that they and all others feel represented,” said Antoinette Wallace, who, if elected to the Macomb County Board of Commissioners (District 9), vows to advocate for kids and better schools by partnering with local government and businesses to improve children’s education. “Representation matters!”

Michelle Nard, who has lived in Macomb County for 18 years and has worked there for almost three decades, feels she has much to offer as a Macomb County Commissioner (District 1).

“Having representation that recognizes the importance of building and welcoming the diversity of a growing community will prove to be important to the economic growth of Macomb County and the cities within,” said Nard, who offers voters an extensive background in finance, with the ability and desire to serve all people, regardless of their backgrounds and demographics. “We are growing. We are here to live, work and thrive. Having a seat at the table enhances the process.”

A seat at the table is vitally important to all seven candidates.

“It is extremely important that we have a seat at the table to make sure our voices are heard and our needs as a community are met,” said Rhonda Warner, who states that she will give voice to all residents who previously haven’t had their voices heard by Clinton Township officials. “Black Macomb County residents are overwhelmingly underrepresented, or in many cases, unrepresented in their local governments.”

Laurita Bledsoe adds. “As Macomb County becomes more diverse, we need representation that will address the changes with equity, equality, and void of the poison of systemic racism,” said Bledsoe, who states if elected, she will demand transparency and accountability on every level. “I will bring freshness and a much-needed change to our transforming community.”

Community advocate and organizational developer Rhonda Powell, who was born and raised in Mount Clemens, knows the intricacies and history of the political machine in Macomb County. She also knows the significance and importance of the election on Nov. 3.

“This is an historic run for the seven Black candidates,” said Powell, a former Macomb County director, who oversaw the county’s Health and Community Services Department, and was the first African American to ever serve as a ‘director’ in Macomb County government. “It is the highest number of Black candidates to ever run for political offices in the county at the same time and the most to make it past the primary election.”

Powell, the founder and vice-chair of Metro Equity Collaborative, a nonprofit organization in Macomb County working to build advocacy and power in civic, economic, education and social justice circles, expressed her hopes that the seven candidates running will be victorious.

Historically, Powell said, there have been Black pioneers elected to political offices in Macomb County, including the late Bobby Hill, the first and only Black member of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners. He served from 1990 to 2006. In addition, Lee Williams in the early 1970s was the first African American to serve on the Mount Clemens City Council.

In 2019, history was made in the City of Eastpointe, when Monique Owens was elected as the municipality’s first Black mayor, which also made her the first Black mayor of any city in Macomb County. Two years earlier, Owens served as Eastpointe’s first Black council member. The city, with a population of about 32,000, is about 30% Black.

While African Americans seeking elected political offices in Macomb County have come a long way since 1970, they understand to be victorious in any election, votes must come from more than Black voters; votes must also come from all segments of the population.


“In order to bridge the gap between all people, we must improve relationships, collaborations and partnerships throughout the County of Macomb,” said Jabari, whose platform for state representative (33rd District) is to serve all ethnicities in the county. “No matter what you like, remembering what matters most is the entire human race.”



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