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Big city Black mayors: On media, mental health

four Black mayors
Brandon Johnson (mayor, Chicago), Sylvester Turner (mayor, Houston), Marc Morial (NUL President & CEO Marc Morial and former mayor of New Orleans), Karen Bass (mayor, LA) and Eric Adams (mayor, NY) during a July 28, 2023 NUL Convention panel in Houston, TX. Credit: Jimmie Aggison

By Aswad Walker

Recently, four Black mayors, leaders of the nation’s four largest cities, participated in a panel discussion during the 2023 National Urban League Convention held in Houston. Mayors Eric Adams (New York), Karen Bass (Los Angeles), Brandon Johnson (Chicago) and Sylvester Turner (Houston) discussed several topics during the conversation facilitated by NUL President and CEO Marc Morial, the former mayor of New Orleans.

Here is part two of their conversation, focusing on mainstream media, mental health and more.


TURNER: What I would certainly recommend to every mayor, and especially mayors of color, is that you have to have your own effective communication team. In every one of my 23 departments, we have public information officers that report up to my communication team. I view every one of those PIOs as a reporter in their department working for my communication team. And what I’ve said to my communication team, if this paper or this television can do a better job of telling our story than my communication team, then we are missing the mark.” So, what I’ve said to my communication team, no one knows our story better than us. Do not rely on the newspaper or television stations to tell our story.


ADAMS: We have to shift the dynamic and no longer be held captive by the media. We must do direct-to-consumer communication to show what we are doing every day. Because if you were to pick up the tabloids, you would think all of us are failing, when we have so many successes.


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BASS: Marc, you and I worked diligently, so hard on the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, and after Floyd was killed, I remember looking at a hundred officer-involved death shootings and otherwise, and I would say 30% to 40% of them were mental health. It was a mental health crisis because we shredded the mental health system. We allow people to deteriorate into violence, committing a crime, and then they wind up with police encounters. So, we have to address these issues that result in really negative encounters with police while we hold police officers accountable



TURNER: We put together this One Safe Houston strategy; holistic. We are providing the support to police that they need. I want them to go to work, and I want them to go home safely. So, we provide them with the support that they need. We’re also investing in technology. We’re doing all that. Our reentry program, we have 12,000 to 13,000 thousand people yearly that are coming out of our state criminal justice system, coming back into Houston, Harris County. So, we’ve put together a reentry program because they need jobs and they need housing. And if you don’t provide those things for them, they’re gonna end up on your streets.


JOHNSON: When you grow up and you’ve experienced the eighties, and you hear from your father, your grandfather, your uncles and aunts, about a time of promise and hope. And Chicago is rich in legacy. So, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Chairman Fred [Hampton], who said “Healthcare for all.” He said Every child should eat before they go to school. And that comes up in the Black Panther Party ideology and movement that was birthed on the west side of Chicago where I live. And when I think about, of course, the time that Dr. King spent on the west side of Chicago, he understood the importance of the civil rights movement and the labor rights movement, and understanding that that coalition had enormous potential.


ADAMS: You have athletes that won’t play in New York City because our media is hard. What I think is imperative for Black people in general, but specifically for Black men, we are so afraid of getting the title that can destroy our lives. If you get the title of Angry Black Man, you will not raise up in corporate society. You will not raise up in Hollywood. You’ll not raise up on the sports team. You’ll not raise up in politics. Because of our fear of “That’s an angry Black man,” we hold it all inside. And holding that stress inside manifests itself through heart disease, hypertension, all sorts of illnesses… Listen, the media must critique us… But there’s a difference between doing a proper analysis of what you have done, and being intentionally destructive. So, what I always do, I’m not holding in my anger. I’m going to let you know how I feel at the moment. And I’m not gonna go to a thesaurus to find the proper terminology to make you feel comfortable in how you made me feel uncomfortable. I’m gonna explain to you what I feel in this moment, and then I’m gonna move on, because I got city to run… with a $106 billion budget.



JOHNSON: My older brother is an ancestor now. He had an addiction and died unhoused. One of the things he would always say to me growing up, “If you’re in a fight and you’re ducking, you’re losing that fight.” He said, “Swing.” So, in this moment. It almost doesn’t matter what I do, they’re not gonna like it. “They” are these forces that still do not like the results of the Civil War. These are individuals who want a rematch. So, there’s not much you can say to them. What I’m inspired by though is that the election that (elected me) was a multicultural intergenerational movement. And 27,000 new voters voted in April that did not vote in February; all of them under the age of 34. I won by 26,532 votes. So, the youth energy is alive and we’re bringing people together.

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