Black women set to account for one-third of Memphis-area county commission

The Shelby County Commission board has 13 members, and only six Black women have served on it over the past six decades.

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Black women changemakers are set to account for nearly one-third of a Memphis-area county commission for the first time ever.

As reported by The Commercial Appeal, the Shelby County Commission board is made up of 13 members, and only six Black women have served on it over the past six decades. The next board will be the most diverse it has ever been, with at least four — possibly five — Black women serving simultaneously. 

Erika Sugarmon (left) and Miska Clay Bibbs (right) are two of the Black women recently elected to serve on the Shelby County Commission. (Photo: Twitter)

Last Tuesday, May 3, voters in the Democratic primaries helped make history when they pushed five Black women to advance to the general election. They included Shante Avant, Miska Clay Bibbs, Henri Brooks, Britney Thornton and Erika Sugarmon. Brooks is the only one who will face off against a Republican opponent in the August general election. 

Sugarmon, Clay Bibbs and Thornton have no challengers, so they will take the seats representing Districts 12, 11 and 10 respectively, per the report. 

“So many times the policies are written, they’re exclusive,” Sugarmon said. “As a commissioner of a district, I want to make sure I’m inclusive of those who have been marginalized, the working class, minoritized and disadvantaged. My hope is that on the commission we can be very intentional and reflect our constituents that we serve.”

Sugarmon focused her campaign on reaching Black women over the age of 50, and they made sure to turn up at the polls. Per the report, this demographic “made up about 67% of the voting block in her district.”

“I think it speaks volumes about where we are as a community,”  said current school board member Clay Bibbs. “The fact that Black women actually carried the votes so we are actually representative of what happens in our community, that makes me excited about what we can do as a commission.”

Brooks will face independent candidate Shirelle-Dakota Brown, another Black woman, in the race for District 7. 

Tami Sawyer is currently the only Black woman — and the sixth Black woman ever — to serve on the commission.  She did not seek re-election but made sure to vocalize her support for the Black women running for election. 

“This is in a county that’s majority Black & majority women,” she posted on social media on election night. “If these projections hold, we go from 6 to 11 overnight. Black women will have broad representation for the first time ever. I’m in tears.”

“I’m committed to accountability, transparency and equity, and that could be applicable to applicable county-wide,” said Brooks, who previously served on the commission and as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, The Commercial Appeal reports. 

“I’m wanting to be a part of the solutions that are needed to make it better,” she continued. “When I was on the county commission, I found that there was no oversight of the performance results of county-funded agencies and divisions, and they just were not performing. We didn’t know how they work, because there was no oversight. And I think that’s really important because we are giving them taxpayers dollars.”

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