Columbus City Council’s Priscilla Tyson Uses Mail To Help Local Youth
This January, for the first time in 15 years, Columbus City Council will meet without Councilor Priscilla Tyson in attendance. Her work, however, will continue, most notably through the Commission on Black Girls that she created to improve the lives of young people across Columbus.
A Democrat whose career in the private sector included a long term at the National City Bank and the founding and leadership of City Year Columbus, Tyson’s accomplishments include forming the commission, which examines issues impacting girls in color.
Tyson, 66, from Eastmoor, opted out of re-election in order to devote more time to his family. She and her husband, Renny, have five grown children, four of whom live in central Ohio, and four grandchildren.
Ahead of her retirement, Tyson spoke about the lessons she learns from her family, including her mother and stepfather, who raised her after her father died when she was 9 months old, and from his hopes for the future of his hometown.
What lessons has your family taught you?
Family is so important. We don’t choose who our parents are, but I was very lucky, and my brothers and sisters were very lucky, to be able to be in a home where faith was important, where we understood values. You wanted to be a person of integrity. You have realized how important your name is.
What made you decide to sit on city council?
I was not trying to be elected. It was never a career goal, but I always knew I had leadership skills and always wanted to help people. People had argued with me 10 years before I came [to council], on serving as an elected official. I thought, “Oh, that can’t be for me. “
The third time someone told me about it, I decided maybe I should really look into this. I did, but I really waited until the very last moment to complete my application and also said, “Please don’t select me if that’s not what I’m supposed to do. . “
Of course, I was selected, and from that point on I started to realize: what was the worst thing that could happen to me? The worst thing would have been if you lost the race and your name was in the journal that you lost. But the best thing that can happen from there is for you to have the opportunity to serve.
What are some of your accomplishments that you are most proud of?
I am very happy to be now the oldest woman on the city council. I think that’s an accomplishment in itself, and I hope the girls can see that they could be elected. In terms of work, my job has always been how to improve the overall quality of people’s lives.
I chaired the finance committee, so it was a major achievement. … I presided over recreation and parks, and was the first person to fund dog parks. During this tenure, I invested money to install air conditioning in recreation facilities. I also passed a law to ensure that people are no longer discriminated against because of their race, marital status, military status, sexual orientation or disability.
Talk about the Commission on Black Girls.
I created this commission of 25 amazing leaders in this community because the data shows that black women in our community are not doing well. If you want to change the life trajectory of a black girl in our community then we have to understand what the quality of life of our daughters is today.
We received surveys from 422 black girls between the ages of 11 and 22. We also heard from parents, caregivers, and leaders of social service agencies who work with black girls, as well as the school system.
After two years of conversations and studies, we created the Commission on Black Girls Quality of Life Report. The most important recommendation is that we should have a permanent entity that will focus on the three strategies and the 18 recommendations in this report.
Why was now a good time to retire?
Obviously, I have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me. When you are a public servant, you also spend a lot of time away from your family. For me, it’s really about how I get through the next phase of my life.
I like cooking. I like gardening. I want to spend more time with my family and my grandchildren. I have friends who I care deeply about, but I haven’t had the time to spend with them. I am a deacon in my church, and there is still work I would like to do to support my church and the congregation.
What are the community’s biggest challenges in terms of diversity and inclusion? What are your hopes?
My concern for the future is that diversity and inclusion are not lost. Last year in 2020, due to the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many others, it increased [and] people understood some of the inequalities people of color face. Many people and organizations have started to make changes… on how to make sure the city appreciates the diversity of our community. I just hope that momentum continues.
You still have such a passion for these matters. Is it going to be difficult to leave the city council?
I know I’m ready for the next chapter, whatever it is. I love the job and love the service, and I had an amazing opportunity to be able to serve for almost 15 years and to know that the work has made a difference.
A shorter version of this Q&A appears in the Winter 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.