This article is part of GMA's Viewpoints catalog, a grouping of opinion pieces from the GMA magazine, speeches and other editorials.
The following is Union City Mayor Vince Williams' prepared remarks after being sworn in as GMA President during GMA's 2020 Annual Convention.
I am honored to be before you today as the 88th president of GMA.
It is humbling to take up the mantle of leadership from those, in whose footsteps I follow, that have made GMA a strong, healthy and vibrant organization.
I pray my words and deeds over the next year honor their efforts and build upon GMA’s deep, rich and abiding legacy.
I’ve never taken for granted, “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
To the entire GMA membership…you have my heartfelt gratitude.
Again, thank you for this opportunity.
I’d like to take a few minutes and share some thoughts with you as we focus together on our collective future.
When I first started thinking about what I was going to say today, our convention theme, “Cities United: Rising with Resilience,” was going to play a big part of it.
I’d planned to emphasize resiliency in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, housing, healthcare, workforce and economic development, and environmental sustainability, among others.
While the focus of my comments has changed, the theme of resiliency still has relevance to us.
Resiliency is fundamentally about building capacity to deal with change while still continuing to develop and grow.
To ignore and resist change increases our vulnerabilities and limits our options when faced with new challenges and opportunities.
We all want our cities to thrive and prosper.
By building up our capacity to deal with change, and understanding the potential shocks and stresses cities will face, we can improve their development trajectory and provide for the well-being and opportunities for success for all of their residents.
With that understanding of resiliency as a backdrop, I’d like to address the last few turbulent months in our nation.
The outrage sparked by the death of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and countless other people of color unleashed for all to see the anger and despair so many in our nation are feeling because of racial injustice and prejudice.
These feelings of outrage are real…they are profound…they are with merit…and they can no longer be disregarded.
This outrage is being expressed by people of all colors and the protests are multiracial, multicultural, and multigenerational.
Violence against black lives in America is historic, systemic and unchanged over centuries. We have a generational opportunity to squarely oppose this history and to move in a new direction that reflects our humanity and our need for one another.
And we as city officials have an obligation to confront these issues now.
Over the years, we’ve spoken of the investments cities have made in water, sewer and transportation infrastructure.
We’ve highlighted the importance of our downtowns and the ongoing efforts throughout the state to revitalize them.
And we’ve focused attention on the meaningful role parks and recreation, affordable housing, arts and culture, and other quality-of-life investments play in building vibrant and thriving cities.
We are rightfully proud of our efforts and the impact these investments have made to the prosperity of our state.
But recent events have exposed long-standing fault lines in our culture and shared civic life that can deny the fullest and equitable expression of these investments.
It is time for us to make another kind of investment in our cities, one that reflects a moral and ethical foundation to build our future prosperity upon.
It is a time for each of us to invest ourselves, our integrity and our resolve to confront the ugly legacy of systemic racism and inequity in our communities.
It is time for us as to bear witness to the principles of justice, equality and fairness to…as Dr. King said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial…“make real the promises of democracy” for every citizen of this nation.
Only then will our cities truly flourish.
The burden to confront these challenges and make lasting change will fall primarily on us and those in our communities.
It is at the local level…in our neighborhoods, town squares and places of worship…where we find common ground in order to proclaim the common good.
Yet, the common good cannot be acted on and made stronger when one group of people are continually disadvantaged.
Community is formed, nurtured and made stronger by our shared experiences. Yet, when the experiences of the residents of our cities are vastly different, a common history and purpose is difficult to create.
Our democratic values are grounded in the respect and dignity of every man and woman. Yet, those values become nothing more than aspirational dead ends when people are denied the benefits they afford.
This must change.
There is no better place than in our cities to begin healing the wounds our democracy and culture have sustained.
As the architects of the future of our cities, it is incumbent on us to begin the process of racial healing and inclusion. We must convey the message that there is no place for racism, inequity and exclusion in our cities.
As you recall, the GMA officers and Executive Director Larry Hanson sent a message to city officials earlier this month in response to the events that have been occurring across the country. It outlined the steps that would set our association on a path to openly acknowledge and honestly discuss the inequities and injustices present in our nation.
As an organization, we must lead, and we must lead with action.
Initial efforts have focused on conducting a Statewide Town Hall, advocating support of the new Georgia hate crimes legislation, and the development of diversity and sensitivity training for cities in partnership with the University of Georgia.
The GMA officers believe our association is uniquely positioned to serve as a catalyst for lasting change. To that end, we’ve charged the recently created GMA Equity and Inclusion Commission to address these issues and develop a long-term plan of action.
I am proud to announce today that the members of this Commission have been appointed and that Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis and LaGrange Mayor and GMA First Vice President Jim Thornton have graciously agreed to serve as co-chairs.
The commission has 26 members representing cities of all sizes from across the state.
It will be active for a minimum of a year with meetings conducted statewide and will issue a report of recommendations when their work is completed.
Let me assure you that this report won’t be put on a shelf to gather dust. This is not a “one and done” exercise.
The work of this Commission represents the first step of a long-term journey. When the commission’s work is complete, we expect its efforts to be carried forward and to become integral to the ongoing mission of GMA for many years to come.
These efforts, both through GMA and those undertaken locally, will require humility, sacrifice, and an understanding that “inclusion” is a much different and more worthy goal than mere “tolerance.” And to be frank, it will require leadership based in love and kindness.
Love, at least in the sense of politics and community making, is simply the expression of deep and abiding care and concern for all people. It is a value that recognizes the importance of others and requires us to act with their welfare in mind.
From where I stand and experience the world, that’s what real political leadership is about.
Love and kindness must become a guiding principal in all that we do in our cities and towns. And when it is, our future will be securely grounded in Dr. King’s hope “that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities.”
That is certainly a future worthy of GMA, Georgia’s cities, and the people privileged to serve them, to pursue.
It’s time for a new covenant between cities and their residents, one rooted in mutuality and a commitment to the ideals of our democracy.
I’m confident that if we commit ourselves to being open to the experiences of others and to the principles of justice, equality and fairness, we can make each of our cities a place all would be proud to call home.
Cities United: Rising to Resiliency. Yes, indeed.
As we go forth and embrace the challenges our cities face, I leave you with these words.
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
Thank you and may God bless you and your city.
- To watch a video of Mayor Williams’ Acceptance Speech, click here.
- To read more about Mayor Williams’ path to becoming GMA President, click here.