VOL. 129 | NO. 172 | Thursday, September 4, 2014
‘People’s Mayor’ to Share Story at RISE Gala
By Don Wade
Every politician has a past, but not like this one.
Evelyn Wynn-Dixon was, at the low point, a homeless single mother so distraught she believed her four young children would be better off without her. She considered jumping from a bridge overlooking Interstate 75 in Atlanta.
Today, at age 65, she is in her second term as mayor of Riverdale, Ga., a town of about 16,500 on the south side of Atlanta. She will share her personal journey from homelessness to “People’s Mayor” on Sept. 27 when the RISE Foundation holds its second annual gala, “An Evening of Change,” at the Hilton Memphis.
The RISE Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life for low-income Memphians through financial literacy programs. The gala is being presented by First Tennessee Foundation and Sedgwick.
Change seems almost too mild of a word to describe what happened in Wynn-Dixon’s life. She earned multiple college degrees, including a Ph.D. in public health. But when she first started attending classes at Georgia State, she had to walk 90 minutes.
Her four adult children are doing well now – one of her three sons had a harder path that included 10 years in prison – and her daughter is working on her Ph.D. in education. Wynn-Dixon never expected to get into politics. But then a nurse at Grady Hospital where Wynn-Dixon was a case worker said she had a dream that Wynn-Dixon was in politics, said she saw her with civil rights leaders Mary McLeod Bethune and Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr.
“I said, ‘Girl, you done lost your mind,’” Wynn-Dixon recalled.
But the nurse had the dream again, she said. And then Wynn-Dixon said her pastor dreamed that she was mayor of Riverdale. So she ran, eventually beating the incumbent in a runoff in 2007.
“We balanced our budget again,” she said. “Seven years.”
Asked how they’ve been able to work such magic, she said: “You know what it is? It’s actually teamwork. We get people to cut down to the nitty-gritty. And we don’t do nonsensical things.”
Even with a balanced budget, the city has managed to build a new city hall complex. Riverdale chief of police Samuel Patterson told NBC News that Patterson has been an inspiration to residents.
“An absolute ambassador for the city,” Patterson said. “She has opened doors that otherwise would not have been opened, had it not been for her vivacious personality.”
If her constituents see her personality as larger than life, well, that’s a fit, too.
“Voluptuously full-figured, honey,” she said, adding, “I’m excited about coming to Memphis. I told my children I’m going to buy a new dress for this.”
Naturally, she has followed the ongoing saga in Ferguson, Mo., and she calls the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer “an atrocity.” She also says that, long-term, the residents of Ferguson need to take responsibility for their town’s future and not leave it to others.
“You can march peacefully,” she said.
She says she hopes her message in Memphis will serve “as a witness that God delivered me and that if you persevere you can make it.
“You don’t have to be a victim of your circumstances,” she said.
Tickets to the gala are $100 each or $1,000 per table. Register by calling the RISE Foundation’s office at 507-6644 or visiting www.risememphis.org.