It’s a New Year and a new day for the newly elected mayor of the City of Flint, Karen Weaver. As the first woman in the city’s history to hold the position and facing the challenges of her first year in office, Karen took some time out of her busy day for an up close and personal interview with MCM.
MCM: Did you grow up in Flint?
KW: I was born and raised in Flint and my mother was a Flint native. I graduated from Northern High School – yes, I’m a Viking!
MCM: Tell us about your family.
KW: My parents are the late T. Wendell Williams and Marion Coates-Williams. My mother was the first African American teacher in the Flint Community Schools and dad was the first to be elected to the Flint Board of Education. Williams Elementary School in Flint was named after my dad. I am the youngest of three of children. I have been married for 28 years to Dr. Rex Weaver, a dentist. He was also born and raised in Flint. We have three grown children.
MCM: Tell us a little about your background.
KW: I graduated from Tougaloo College in Mississippi with a degree in psychology and went on to obtain a master’s degree at Long Island University. I obtained my doctorate degree at Michigan State University and I belong to the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. I had a private practice for a couple of years. I worked at Mott Children’s Health Center for 20 years, the last ten of which I served as Director of Behavioral Services. I was the COO for the Ennis Center for a couple of years. I also own a store in Downtown Flint, Shea Levelle Boutique, which sells natural beauty, hair and skin care products. Also, my faith is very important to me. I am very involved with Vernon Chapel AMC Church.
MCM: What motivated you to run for mayor?
KW: I’m not a politician. I started as a volunteer for a political campaign and never expected in a million years that I would run for mayor. But I became very involved and enjoyed the political aspect. People in the community and community leaders suggested to me that I should consider running, and the decision wasn’t taken lightly. It’s not a 9 to 5 job, so I needed to be sure I had my family’s support before I made a decision. I also spoke with my pastor and other people whose opinions I value. I would not have decided to run if I didn’t think I could make a difference in Flint. That is the motivation. I couldn’t just sit around and complain and not do something. I love Flint and own a business here. I’m tired of all the negativity. We have some great things going on in Flint.
MCM: What advice do you have for youth growing up in Flint?
KW: You can do something positive with your life. I grew up on the north side of town, and bad things have happened; but it’s time to move forward. I want to help make that happen for all of Flint. I would tell all the young people to always be inquisitive and curious. Study hard, don’t give up, and follow your dreams.
MCM: Who do you admire the most?
KW: My parents. Dad died when I was seven years old. He made such a strong impact on the community and even though I was very young, I remember what he did. He built a medical clinic on the corner of Saginaw and Stewart Streets and he never got to practice there. He was big on community involvement and taught me that you always reach out and help others. Mom was a strong woman. She lost her husband at 44. She was a smart lady and she was prepared. She instilled in me the idea that you never know what life will throw at you. She taught all of us to take care of ourselves and to be nice, but to also not be timid. I learned a lot from her.
MCM: If you could trade places with anyone who would it be?
KW: It would be someone who can sing really well! I have always thought to myself: Wow, I wish I could sing. If I could sing, I would be on the stage all the time!
MCM: What do you do for fun?
KW: I like to listen to music and I like to read, but I haven’t had much free time lately. I’m getting ready to read a book about Flint, Demolition Means Progress, by Andrew Hightower. Exercise is actually fun to me because it relaxes me.
MCM: Is giving back to the community important to you?
KW: It is very important to give back – that’s why I am doing what I’m doing. My family instilled that in me. That’s my obligation, to make something better.
MCM: Tell us something no one knows about you.
KW: There are only a few people who know that I used to play the harp. I started in the third or fourth grade and my teacher was Mrs. Jeffries. I played my harp at recitals and also at church. I haven’t played in a long time, but I still have it. It’s a beautiful instrument.
MCM: What is your best quality or trait?
KW: I’m not scared. I like to take a risk and I don’t give up easily.
MCM: How do you feel about being Flint’s first woman mayor?
KW: That never crossed my mind when I decided to run and it was never a real focus. My focus was to win. It makes me humble. If I can be a role model and help other women achieve things they think they could never do, that is exciting to me.
MCM: What does it take to be a great mayor?
KW: I believe that one has to have good leadership skills but even more importantly, you have to have the right people around you – people with expertise and knowledge. One person can’t know everything.
MCM: What is your hope for Flint?
KW: My hope is to move it forward. Flint has been getting a bad rap for awhile, now. It’s a wonderful place with wonderful people. I don’t want it to be known as the city with lead in the water or the highest crime rate. I want it to be known for the good. That’s what excites me!
“I would not have decided to run if I didn’t think I could make a difference in Flint. That is the motivation.”