Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington pledged Sunday in her inaugural address to work with a broad coalition of citizens to improve the quality of life for all residents in the city.
Washington thanked family members, friends, people who volunteered on her campaign and citizens for attending the event at the Pine Bluff Convention Center’s auditorium. The day was filled with music, speeches, camaraderie and the spirit of friendship.
A retired educator of 38 years, Washington defeated former Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth in the March 2016 Democratic Primary to take the highest seat in Pine Bluff municipal government. There were no candidates for mayor in the November General Election.
Noting her family members who came from all over the United States — and a niece from Italy — Washington credited her late parents Willie Moorehead and Blanchie Moorehead, grandparents and an uncle for shaping her.
“Each of them shaped me in a profound way, and I carry their spirits in me each and every day,” she said. “The principles that brought me to this mayor’s office are grounded in faith, family values and a fundamental belief that we are all stronger together.”
She continued: “We may have started at different points in life, but we have one goal, and that is to make Pine Bluff the best city in America. We are all stronger together.”
The convention center auditorium holds 1,900 people, and a vast majority of seats were occupied on a foggy afternoon.
Judge Earnest E. Brown Jr. administered the oath of office to Washington, as well as newly-elected aldermen Bruce Lockett, Win Trafford and Donald Hatchett. Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr., who was re-elected to the City Council, also took the oath on Sunday. The new aldermen will join incumbent aldermen Bill Brumett, Thelma Walker, Glen Brown Jr. and Steven Mays when the City Council meets tonight for the first time under Washington’s leadership.
Office-holders thanked their family members and pledged to uphold the Constitution of the United States and that of the state of Arkansas.
Lockett thanked citizens “for their vote of confidence in my abilities to help lead this city in a new direction. With the help of the city council and this new mayor, we have work to do.”
Trafford praised Highland Pellets for investing in Pine Bluff and displayed a pellet from its first batch.
“Last night, they made their first pellets,” Trafford said. “That is something that lifts us all up. We need more Highland Pellets. The more we come together, the more we show people we will get those businesses. We will have jobs.”
Hatchett said, “I assure you that 100 percent of my effort will be in the spirit of respect, cooperation and teamwork with fellow aldermen and alderwomen to move Pine Bluff forward.”
Holcomb said that he was ” grateful to our new mayor for allowing me to a part of her inauguration. We are all one people, no matter what color or creed.”
Washington detailed an ambitious plan toward growth, eliciting much applause.
“It will be our goal to work harmoniously together to form a positive and productive legislative body, working to move this city forward,” Washington said. “As your mayor, there is nothing more important to me as investing in our citizens’ potential. I will work with educators and businesses to develop workforce training for all of our high school students. I want our young people to find purpose, to find commitment to our city and make a livable wage. I will strive to curtail unemployment and lead programs to assist every man and woman in achieving optimal success in Pine Bluff.”
The new mayor further said that “to further this goal, my relationship with the business and industrial community will be a top priority. For example, I want every business owner, every plant manager, every investor, and CEO to know how much that I appreciate them and value their investment in this city and in the people of this city. We would not be where we are today without them. They are models for future development and they will provide job training and educational opportunities for our youth.
“I believe that the redevelopment of Main Street will provide entrepreneurial opportunities for citizens who have always wanted a small business: from bakeries, coffee shops and retailers. I will encourage innovation throughout the historic district including our [proposed] new multipurpose center.”
Washington touted affordable housing to assist citizens in poverty and implored citizens to love their city.
“If all people of Pine Bluff begin to think of themselves as engaged in a relationship with other citizens, and if we as citizens begin to consider our emotional connections with this city that we call home, we open up new possibilities in our social and economic development by including the most powerful motivator known to man: the human heart,” she said.
“When we have an emotional connection to our place, we are less likely to abandon it. Instead, we are far more likely to champion it in the face of criticism. Each of us makes or breaks this city in small ways every day. When we throw paper, a water bottle, a soda can or cigarette butts onto the streets, we diminish our community. When we hold the door for a stranger or we pick up trash that someone else left behind, we add something special to our community. I call it pride.
“When you offer good customer service, you invite people to come back. When we greet each other with a smile, when we say hello, we show we are a friendly welcoming community. How many of us are truly in love with our city? I am talking about that special love that makes you want to get up and do something for this place?
“When I see someone who gets up, the first person who falls on my mind is Mr. Jim Hill, who maintains Taylor Field. He is a living example of someone who loves this city. Mr. Hill is over 80 years old and takes pride in maintaining the Babe Ruth baseball field primarily by himself. It’s amazing what he does on his own and shows how beautiful this entire city would be if we all worked together to love and take care of our respective spaces and places throughout this community.”
Washington praised young people who grew up in Pine Bluff, moved away and then returned to Pine Bluff. She said these people give her hope.
“When children, plants, pets, and even objects are loved, they thrive,” Washington said. “Small things make up the totality of our place. We must trust each other, we must hold each other accountable, we must examine best practices of other cities, and reach outside of our borders for partners. We must collaborate, communicate, be inclusive, take some strategic risks to better position Pine Bluff for success. We must put aside all our differences and create a community for us all. Moving forward, I ask you for two things: your prayers and enthusiastic participation.”
The Rev. David M. Smith, pastor of Old St. James Missionary Baptist Church, shared a message of inclusivity. Like Washington, he elicited much applause.
“Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘We’ve got to accept the fact that we’re all tied together,’” Smith said. “Everything that is done on this side of town affects on that side of town. Every time a store closes at The Pines mall, it affects every store at The Pines mall. Every time a business moves off Main Street, it affects other businesses on Main Street.”
Smith advised that the “freight train of change is moving down the tracks.”
He also advised politicians to separate their personal feelings from their public duties.
Turning to Washington, he added: “I am going to say to my sister: You do not have to prove to anybody that you are the mayor; just be the mayor.”
In addition, Smith touted America’s diversity as its strength.
“We do not need everyone to think the same thoughts, but we have to agree that we can disagree without being disagreeable,” Smith said, eliciting spirited applause. “If there are any dictators in the group, understand that the democratic system is designed to destroy dictators. There is a democratic process in place, and if you think you are going to run things all by yourself, you are in the wrong country.”
Smith reminded politicians that they serve the citizens. By contrast, he warned against acting to further political parties, social standing, economic positions, personal agendas, personal vendettas, race, creed and color.
“The people have spoken,” Smith said. “That’s why we elected you.”
Civic leader and former alderwoman Irene Holcomb recognized former mayor Debe Hollingsworth and former aldermen George Stepps, Charles Boyd and Glen Brown Sr., thanking each for their service to Pine Bluff residents.
Other participants in the inauguration ceremony included Jamal Gordon and James MacBeth Sr. playing a musical prelude; Keidra Phillips Burrell with welcoming remarks; the Rev. Matt Mosler of New Life Church Pine Bluff offering a prayer; the New St. Hurricane Baptist Church’s Boy Scouts of America presenting the flags; William Otis Nelson reciting the Pledge of Allegiance; Duane Jackson singing the National Anthem; the Pine Bluff 2017 mass choir performing; Rosalind McClanahan Mouser recognizing incoming city council members; Evan and Carter Buckner performing an instrumental tribute; and Eryk Johnson offering a benediction.