As the recently elected mayor of Chicago, Brandon Johnson arrived at Austin’s New Life Holiness Church, 5440 W. Gladys St., just as a church choir was about to finish up a song.
Without missing a beat, the choir kept singing as church officials and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-7) led the mayor up to the stage, and people stood to clap and capture his arrival on their phones.
“Let’s give him another, another, another round of applause, absolutely,” Davis exclaimed as the song concluded.
He and other community leaders organized the May 20 event to give Austinites a chance to celebrate Johnson’s election and to encourage West Siders to stay involved in politics and turn out for elections in 2024.
Johnson said that, while he seeks to represent all of Chicago, the West Side will always be important to him and that his efforts will require support from the community. Local community leaders in attendance said they thought Johnson would prove to be more accessible and looked forward to the changes he would bring.
In his speech at the event, Davis said his purpose was two-fold – to give Austinites who couldn’t make the May 15 inauguration ceremony a chance to celebrate their neighbor’s ascension to City Hall, and to rally the community to support Johnson in the challenging times ahead.
“Some folks couldn’t get to the 12,000 [person] stadium event the other day,” he said. “We decided we wanted to do something a little different. We knew we have a great mayor, but we also know that no mayor can change all those things they need to change by themselves.”
After Johnson arrived, Davis introduced him as a change agent for the city, urging him to stay true to his past record.
“We demand nothing but that you be Brandon,” he said. “Pledge to make every effort you can make to turn this city upside down.”
Throughout the event, Davis emphasized the importance of voting in the upcoming 2024 presidential election, specially mentioning that voters shouldn’t overlook General Assembly and judicial races. He brought out Illinois Supreme Court Justice Joy Cunningham to speak about her experience and the importance of electing Black candidates. She was appointed to replace retired Justice Anne Burke effective Dec. 1, 2022, and will be facing her first election in 2024 for a chance to serve out the remainder of Burke’s term, which will expire in 2028.
“I can tell you – several cases that came before the court I’m certain would’ve been [decided] differently if I wasn’t there,” Cunningham said. “Mayor, I’m going to be praying for you every night, because you have a big job.”
Before Johnson took his turn at the mic, officials honored Joe Grier, a long-time employee at Victory, a trophy and award plaque manufacturer based in North Austin. Grier turned 98 earlier this month. Davis touted the fact that his age doesn’t stop him from sometimes working seven days a week.
“We want to just present him with this plaque as a recognition of his own longevity, of his own tenacity, and even inspiration, ” he said.
While Grier didn’t directly comment on Johnson’s election, he said that “God kept me alive to see many things during my life.”
“I am a happy person,” he reflected. “I stay happy. I turn adversity into happiness.”
Johnson praised Davis as a leader whose “leadership will certainly live on longer than the brother who just had his 89th birthday,” before turning his attention to the crowd in the pews.
“Thank you all for being the best side of the City of Chicago,” he said. “Now, you know I’m going to represent the interests of every single person in the city but make no mistake – I was tried and true on the West Side.”
Johnson touched on the West Side role in the civil rights struggle, specifically mentioning Marin Luther King Jr.’s protests against housing inequity and discrimination in North Lawndale, and Fred Hampton’s activism. He credited the youth with his victory in the runoff election, saying that was going to be “the same energy we’re going to need” to ensure that every part of Chicago has fully funded public schools, quality housing and access to good jobs.
Johnson added that there’s one kind of change he doesn’t want to see.
“I want to make this very clear – just because the mayor lives in Austin, on the West Side … they’re not going to gentrify my people,” he said.
The mayor also touched on public safety, describing Chicago police officer Areanah Preston, who was killed on the night of May 6 while on her way home, as representing the best of the police force who didn’t fall back on the “authority of the badge” and engaged with the community.
“It’s going to require all of us to partner up, so that the children of Chicago can ride their bikes to school without getting injured and killed,” Johnson said.
He concluded his speech by saying that he was “proud to be the 57th mayor of Chicago, right here on the West Side.”
Deondre Rutues, former 37th Ward candidate who currently serves on the 15th Police District council and works on improving community-police relations as part of the Neighborhood Policing Project, felt that Johnson success was an inspiration to Black men, especially young men, who might not have many role models.
Angelica Green, a 25th Police District Council member, said the event was one of the signs of how accessible Johnson will be as mayor.
“He’s letting people know he’s within arm’s reach, and it’s a beautiful thing,” she said.
Lee Redmond, former vice president of the South Austin Neighborhood Association, said he was optimistic.
“All I got to say is that we’re very hopeful and inspired, and we’re looking forward to the new leadership,” he said.