Election Elevates Presence of African-American Women in Memphis

Sitting l-r; Carlissa Shaw (campaign manager for London Lamar), SCS Board Member Joyce Dorse-Coleman, Angela Barksdale (Joyce Dorse-Coleman’s campaign manager), County Clerk Wanda Halbert, SCS Board Member Shante Avant, Danielle Inez (Mayor-Elect Lee Harris’ campaign manager), London Lamar (House District 91 Democratic nominee); Standing l-r; SCS Board Member Michelle McKissack, campaign manager for Shante Avant, Tami Sawyer (County Commission), Barbara Burchett (Shelandra Ford’s campaign manager), Register of Deed Shelandra Ford, Judge Yolanda Kight, Judge Jennifer Johnson-Mitchell, and Sen. Raumesh Akbari. Photo by Demarcus Bowser
Sitting l-r; Carlissa Shaw (campaign manager for London Lamar), SCS Board Member Joyce Dorse-Coleman, Angela Barksdale (Joyce Dorse-Coleman’s campaign manager), County Clerk Wanda Halbert, SCS Board Member Shante Avant, Danielle Inez (Mayor-Elect Lee Harris’ campaign manager), London Lamar (House District 91 Democratic nominee); Standing l-r; SCS Board Member Michelle McKissack, campaign manager for Shante Avant, Tami Sawyer (County Commission), Barbara Burchett (Shelandra Ford’s campaign manager), Register of Deed Shelandra Ford, Judge Yolanda Kight, Judge Jennifer Johnson-Mitchell, and Sen. Raumesh Akbari. Photo by Demarcus Bowser

By Carlissa Shaw

In record fashion during the Aug. 2 election, Shelby County voters turned to African-American women to serve in positions on the county and state level and the local school board.

Of the nearly 560,000 eligible voters in Shelby County, a recorded 151,912 cast ballots during the cycle for County General, State/Federal Primary and Special Municipal elections. The outcomes included an unprecedented amount of African-American women becoming officeholders. 

The election cycle resulted in African-American women elected to several countywide offices and signaled an epic shift in demographic representation. 

Long-time Memphis politician, Wanda Halbert, is the first African-American and first female to hold the office of Shelby County Clerk. She now will be responsible for the collection of business taxes and wheel taxes, motor vehicle registration and licensing, issuance of marriage licenses and keeping the records of the County’s notaries public.

Halbert, who has served on the school board and the Memphis City Council, is the mother of two sons and has one granddaughter. 

Shelandra Ford is the first African-American and first female elected Shelby County Register of Deeds. Her general duties include responsibility for filing or recordation of documents that affect the legal status of real or personal property. She outdistanced longtime politician Wayne Mashburn by nearly 5,000 votes. 

A principal court clerk for Shelby County General Sessions Civil Court, Ford has 20-plus years of experience with Shelby County Government and currently serves as Shelby County Employee Representative of the Unified Personnel Policy Committee. She is the mother of three adult children.

Temiika Gibson

Temiika Gibson beat back the challenge of the current Register of Deeds, Tom Leatherwood, to win the race for Shelby County Circuit Court Clerk. She now will administer courtroom operations for nine divisions of the thirtieth Judicial Circuit Court and maintain all the records, documents and electronic filings from attorneys and pro se litigants. 

The first African-American female to hold the position, Gibson has worked for nearly 25 years in Shelby County Government and currently is a Court Operations Specialist. Gibson is a single mom, with four adult children.

Veteran Memphis politician Janice Fullilove was elected Shelby County Juvenile Court Clerk, putting her on track to be the first African-American female to serve in that position. 

Current Magistrate Yolanda Kight was elected Shelby County Circuit Court Judge for Division IX, outpolling gubernatorial appointee David Rudolph. Kight has three young adult daughters and a grandson. 

Former public defender Jennifer Johnson Mitchell defeated prosecutor and gubernatorial appointee Jennifer Nicolas and will be the third African- American female Criminal Court Judge in the State of Tennessee when she is sworn in. Mitchell is the wife of a Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy and the mother of five children. 

Michelle Robinson McKissack and Joyce Dorse-Coleman will be joining the Shelby County Schools board on the strength of their Aug. 2 victories. Both are wives and mothers. McKissack beat three challengers, including the incumbent, to garner the District I position. Dorse-Coleman won against the incumbent and three others to secure the District 9 position.

The incumbent in District 6, Shante Avant won over three opponents. She is the mother of one daughter. 

Tennessee Young Democrats President London Lamar will be headed to the Tennessee General Assembly as the representative for House District 91. There is no GOP candidate in the November General Election. Lamar, 27, will become the youngest lawmaker in the Tennessee legislature.

Attorney Raumesh Akbari vacated her House seat to seek the Democratic Party nomination for the heavily democratic Senate District 29. She defeated Justin Ford and faces the GOP’s Tom Stephens in the November General Election.

Katrina Robinson

Businesswoman Katrina Robinson engineered what many considered the biggest upset of the night, unseating Senate District 33 incumbent Reginald Tate. The mother of two, Robinson has no GOP opponent in the General Election. She and Akbari will be among the three African-American women in the Tennessee State Senate. Robinson will be the only mother with school-aged children in the legislature.

Memphis activist Tami Sawyer powered her way onto the Shelby County Commission, where she will represent District 7. Sawyer, a high-profile champion of the campaign to remove Confederate-era statues from Memphis Parks, will be the only African-American female on the 13-member commission.

In addition to the African-American women candidates who waged winning campaigns, there were a number of African-American women guiding campaigns. Notably among them was Danielle Inez, a young mother and talented entrepreneur. Using her marketing and communication skills, she managed the successful campaign of now Shelby County Mayor-Elect Lee Harris.

The numbers and results coming out of the Aug. 2 election add up to this: African-American women are present, engaged and on the record as ready to lead Shelby County into a new era.

This article originally appeared in The Tennessee Tribune

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