Newly appointed 29th Ward Alderman Deborah Graham was welcomed to the community by business and civic leaders on Saturday. Sponsored by Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th), the Austin Chamber of Commerce and Malcolm Crawford, president of the African American Business Networking Association, Inc., the event was held at the Sankofa Cultural Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave. A number of local clergy, business and political leaders attended.

Rep. Ford said he would certainly miss Graham in Springfield but that she is experienced enough to handle the 29th Ward. He said the ward will be in good hands under her leadership.

Camille Lilly, who was named to replace Graham as state rep, said, “We are here to celebrate our new alderman in Austin and thank her for taking charge.”

Graham thanked everyone and said, “I’m ready to do the job. I’ve been in office 30 days. My first week on the job there were three gunshot deaths. I hit the ground running, meeting with principals, police officers and trying to get my arms around the things in our community. I won’t tell you that I’m a stranger to what has happened to our area, but I can tell you from this seat it is magnified. I am a resident of the 29th Ward, just like you are. For you Bible readers and people on a spiritual plane, this title gives you access to the services the city has to offer. It gives us access. My relationship with Springfield gives us access to what is happening in Springfield. I plan to bring all of that experience to the [alderman’s] seat. I pledge to work really hard for the businesses here, and I’d like to be very much a part of the development of Chicago Avenue.

“I’m aware there is a TIF district here, so I’m going to be putting my arms around it and working with you guys. I’m one person who is going to work to bring this issue to fruition. The person who has been birthing this has been in labor a long time. But the thing about a birth is the struggle to bring that baby forth. When it’s here, everybody is proud of the newborn baby. I see development slowly happening down Chicago Avenue, and we want to put our best foot forward in utilizing our relationship to bring that baby forth. And I’m ready to put it on the shoulders God has given me to bear the burden of the 29th Ward and to change our families’ feeling that nothing is happening here.

“We need to restore the hope of our community. I know this isn’t going to be a cakewalk, but I’m prepared. I grew up at Washington Boulevard and Lavergne. I lived out of the community maybe a year and a half. That is when I ran from my home in the middle of the night. I’m a survivor of domestic violence; I lived in a shelter for eight months. My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was a kid. I know the trials and tribulations of living with a person who is challenged with a mental illness. I learned to shoulder difficulty early in life.

“So I’m here to tell you that I pledge my support to the businesses of the Austin community, to our residents in the Austin community, all of our children.

When asked what she would focus on immediately, Graham replied, “That’s a hard question. I’ve been in office 30 days and already been pulled from every side. Education is really important; safety is really important, I don’t know if I can label just one thing. Of course, violence has taken over the city of Chicago, and we really need to take every precaution to be safe.”