Newly elected African-American mayors bolster the war on unemployment

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“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The recent elections of Alvin Brown as Jacksonville, Flor­ida’s first African-American mayor and Michael Hancock as Denver’s second Black mayor, provide much needed new hope and leadership in the war on unemployment. Both Brown and Hancock have strong Urban League roots and both have made job creation in their cities job number one.

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On May 19, Alvin Brown, a former president of the Greater Washington Urban League Guild, shook up the political establishment of Florida’s largest city when he won election as Jacksonville’s first African-American mayor. Mayor-elect Brown’s long arc to City Hall began in the working class neighborhoods of Jacksonville, where he was raised by a devoted mother and grandmother who worked two jobs to raise him and his siblings. He worked as a meat cutter at the local Winn Dixie while attending Jacksonville State University. Hard times almost derailed his college aspirations until a Jacksonville pastor co-signed for a loan to keep him in school.

Brown earned his B.S. and M.B.A. from Jacksonville State and completed post-graduate study at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He served as a senior urban affairs advisor for both President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. As executive director of the White House Community Empowerment Board, he managed a $4 billion initiative to create jobs in urban America. Upon winning the election, Brown said, “My first priority is jobs. We must invest in the inner-city and create public-private partnerships.”

Denver Mayor-elect, Michael Hancock, credits his background as the former President of the Denver Urban League and his two-terms as president of the Denver City Council with inspiring his run for City Hall. He won a run-off election on June 6 and becomes the second African-American mayor in the history of the Mile High City. Wellington Webb was the first, serving from 1991-2003.

Hancock had a tough childhood. Growing up, he and his nine siblings experienced periods of homelessness. A brother died of AIDS. A sister was killed by an estranged boyfriend. Through it all, Hancock has always been a leader, both in his family and in the Denver community. He attended college in Nebraska, returning home every summer to work in Mayor Frederico Pena’s office. After graduation he earned his Master’s in public administration from The University of Colorado-Denver.

Hancock started his career in the 1990’s, holding down two jobs at the Denver Housing Authority and the National Civic League. He joined Metro Denver’s Urban League affiliate in 1995 and in 1999, at the age of 29, became the youngest Urban League president in America.

When asked about his priorities as Mayor, Hancock answered, “Growing jobs, without question. Everything we do will be about the sustainability of jobs in this city. Nothing’s more important…”

Alvin Brown and Michael Hancock know what it means to beat the odds. They are also both committed to creating good jobs so that more Americans like them have the chance to realize their dreams. We congratulate them on their victories and wish them all the best.

(Marc H. Morial is the president and CEO National Urban League.)

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