A decade ago, Nicole Brown would have never imagined that she would become mayor of Ypsilanti.
Brown graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in social work and communications in 2011, and a master's in social work in 2022.
At first, Brown did not see the connection between government and social work. However, she has since realized that the connection is important.
"We are literally trained and educated around 'How do you connect people? How do you build partnership? How do you make sure that equity is threaded throughout your work? How do you advocate? How do you teach people and empower people to advocate," Brown said. "Really, that’s exactly what your elected officials should be doing as well: educating folks on what’s going on, keeping them in the loop, teaching them and empowering them to use their voice about what their needs are in the community."
When Ypsilanti City Council member Ricky Jefferson was moving out of the district and their term was ending, Jefferson encouraged Brown to run. While she was super hesitant at first, she said that after discussion with friends, family, and mentors, she decided to run.
Brown won the primary and the general election in 2014, becoming at the time the youngest Ypsilanti City Council member ever elected.
On Nov. 8, 2022, the 34-year-old was elected as the city's new mayor and sworn in the following week, on Nov. 14, becoming the youngest ever mayor of Ypsilanti.
Time at EMU
During her time as an undergraduate student at EMU, Brown was a volunteer coordinator for VISION, overseeing all of the volunteer programs out of Diversity and Community Involvement. She also worked in Academic Service Learning and as an office assistant for theater arts.
Brown was involved in many student organizations including Young Beautiful Black Women and NAACP, as well as sorority Delta Sigma Theta, which she still advises.
Through some of these experiences, Brown was able to recognize her connection to service.
Now, she said, she is proud to be an image for young Black and brown women to see that they have the ability to be in positions of power and show up authentically.
After Brown's time as an undergraduate student, she worked at Ozone House, a nonprofit organization that aids community youth. Her position as an outreach coordinator placed her right back in Ypsilanti, often around organizers, nonprofit leaders, and government officials.
While she wasn't born in Michigan, she has lived in Ypsilanti for many years, and she said the city, along with EMU, have shaped her into the person she is today.
Why run for mayor?
Following her service on the council for eight years, Brown said she believed she had the experience to take the next step. She also did not want to hold a seat on the council forever.
"I really think you’re supposed to get in there, do the work, mentor other people, teach other folks about what it’s like to be on city council, be a representative, and then move on, give someone else an opportunity to have a voice,“ Brown said.
With new ideas still in the works, Brown wanted to be able to continue to provide the city with fresh perspectives.
“I wanted to be able to complete those things while also being able to initiate new ideas and new work that we needed to get done within the community," Brown said. "I felt like a lot of people in the community were appreciative of my time being a council member and were really supportive.”
Goals for the community
As mayor, Brown has two different sets of goals coming into the position: some focused on connection and relationships, and others focused more on economic development.
“One of my main goals is to help foster a more transparent government structure, so that people know what’s going on, that they feel like they’re tapped in, that it’s not like difficult to get information or to get their concerns or questions or ideas to us,” Brown said.
When it comes to building community, as well as policies and programs, the mayor wants to make sure her social work lens is threaded throughout everything she does.
A major goal Brown has for Ypsilanti is to create a non-police crisis intervention team to aid response to mental health and crisis calls, many of which are handled by the police and fire departments.
“That’s not really their wheelhouse, so I want to be able to create a space where, in partnership with those entities, we have folks who are experts at that going out to support our community,“ Brown said. “We know that specifically in Black and brown communities, when the police show up, there’s immediately tension. There’s usually anxiety, there’s usually some levels of fear that comes from that, just based on experiences that we’ve had with law enforcement. So, I want to help alleviate some of that while also getting people what they need faster.”
Another big goal for Brown as mayor is economic development, and the council has been trying to pour resources into Ypsilanti’s beautication and infrastructure.
Most recently, a bridge is being completed on Huron River Drive over Interstate 94 to make the community more walkable.
Additionally, Ypsilanti’s high taxes are partially due to a 38-acre piece of undeveloped land on Water Street, which the mayor has hope to develop on in the near future.
“A major goal of mine and I think the rest of the council is to find the right development with the right people to get that land developed and back on the tax rolls,“ Brown said. “One of the ways to help with the cost of housing is to have additional housing that supports the ability for folks to be able to live in this community.”
Brown also wants to increase Ypsilanti’s affordable housing and ability to bring in new businesses, as well as keep the city accessible to residents who want to stay here.
What does Mayor Brown love about Ypsilanti?
From beautiful parks to beautiful people, there are many uniquities about the city of Ypsilanti that attract people.
Brown specifically loves that the city has so many different types of people and spaces and is a place where everyone is accessible.
“Ypsi’s not a place where, the mayor for instance, even before me, is not someone that I wouldn’t see in a local restaurant, or I wouldn’t see at the grocery store or when I’m driving down the street,“ Brown said. "It feels very much like a community and somewhere that is not so big that like you get lost in the sauce.”
With all of the interesting residents in Ypsilanti, Brown said, she has met and learned from people she would never have encountered otherwise. She also said she has had access to activities and events that bigger cities most likely would not offer.
“Ypsi’s a gem. We’re on the river. It’s a beautiful town,“ Brown said. “We are really a community that’s concerned about each other and even though things are not always easy to come to a decision about, it’s because so many people care and you can hear the voices of the people who live here loudly and proudly and that’s really dope because you don’t see that in every place.”
What should EMU students know?
Brown is a very proud alumnus of EMU, and wants to strengthen the connection between EMU and Ypsilanti.
“When I was in undergrad as a student, we came into the community more, there were more activities and events happening. We were volunteering in Ypsi; you’d see students all over,“ Brown said. “I just want to see a stronger connection between collaborations with EMU and Ypsi and I think that as someone who is an alum and on city council, I could be a really good bridge for that.”
Unfortunately, many students, and people in general, she said, are not as active in the community following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I try to stay connected to the university, especially because of my role. I wanna know what’s going on and I want students and staff and faculty to know that they can reach out to me if there’s something happening that they want the city’s involvement or presence there and I will do my best to make that happen,“ Brown said. “I think that it’s important for us to really be tight knit and work for the greater good of everyone.”
Brown stressed the importance of college voting and said that it is everything for youth to get out and vote and use their voice.
“They say ‘young people are the future,’ no they’re not, they’re the now,“ Brown said. "The decisions that we’re making are gonna impact you and your families if you choose to have them, where you live if you choose to live here, wherever you choose to live.”
Getting involved now will allow young people to work to create change sooner rather than later. While becoming entwined with government can be intimidating, Brown said to not “let anybody box you out of the conversation.”
“Ask every question that you need to ask and research what’s going on and hold people accountable to giving you the information. It is our job as well to give it to you,“ Brown said. Young people are what is gonna move us in the direction that we really need to go; and we can't be stuck. The only way we move forward is if we have voices at the table so young people have to vote and be involved in this process.”
The importance of this win
When it comes to making decisions for large groups of people, it is important to include diverse perspectives and ideas.
“I think one of the big things about this role and my election to being mayor is that young women, young Black women, young brown women, can see someone who mayors them and it opens the door for folks to see themselves in a space like this,“ Brown said.
The mayor takes pride in the fact that she shows up authentically anywhere she goes.
“You’re gonna see me with box braids, I’m gonna wear a hoodie to a meeting, I also might wear a suit one day, it just depends; but I want people to know that you can show up as your most authentic self and still represent and do the work,“ Brown said.
She also wants people to know that you don’t have to come from some political dynasty or study politics to get involved in government.
If students are interested in getting involved, Brown urges them to ask questions and not be afraid to get involved, even though it can be intimidating and to get a mentor.
“I think everyone needs at least one good, safe, strong, supportive adult, supportive mentor, so that when you have questions about these big life choices you have someone that you trust to go to and talk about and kind of chart your path,“ Brown said. "I will say mentorship was really important in my growth and my development and I’m still connected to the majority of those same people to this day. I still call them they still check in with me and it’s been a valuable asset to my growth and my development, and I wouldn’t be here without many of those people.”
Brown insisted that she needs all of those people, and more, going forward, to succeed at the job of mayor.
“I am so completely honored and humbled to be doing this. I am grateful that people believe in me to lead us, but I want everyone to know that I know that I don’t have all the answers, so I need all of you to help us get what we need to get done, for the community, for students at EMU, and for Ypsilanti as a whole," Brown said. "I welcome questions, I welcome support, I welcome volunteers. I just want us to be in community together and building together and that’s what I want people to leave with when they think of me as a mayor, that we’re working together.”
To reach out with questions and feedback, or to invite Ypsilanti Mayor Nicole Brown to attend or speak at an event, email email@example.com, call or text 313-888-4044 or follow @mayornicolebrown on social media.
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