With the loss of her young daughter still fresh, new East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks promised to build a future for the city’s children.
“I have fond memories of growing up in East St. Louis,” said Jackson-Hicks, who is 40. “Right now, it pains me to see that children can no longer play free in their neighborhoods or in front of their homes like it used to be. I wanted my children to grow up with the same opportunities I had, so I decided to run for mayor.”
She was sworn in with City Council members Roy Mosley Sr. and Latoya Greenwood on Monday night before a crowd packed with local politicians and civic leaders.
She told the audience that in December, in the midst of campaigning, she lost her 4-year-old daughter, Anderson, when the little girl hit her head at a bowling alley. Family love and support enabled her to persevere.
“I am from East St. Louis. We are not a people who shy away from struggle. We face it head-on,” she said. “Often times, we draw our strength from it.”
Jackson-Hicks promised to create a safe city in which businesses were willing to invest. She said her first 100 days will be spent assessing the city.
“We need to stop talking about creating jobs and start developing careers,” she said. “We have to create a public safety environment that will foster investments in our city.”
Top priorities are jobs, public safety and citizen engagement, she said. She promised transparency and to asses each city department for efficiency.
“The citizens deserve to be safe. Police, fire and emergency services will be evaluated and improved,” Jackson-Hicks said.
Training, equipment, funding and appropriate staffing for the city’s size will be assessed. Examining the city’s budget is paramount, she said.
She wants to form neighborhood block units and visit each many times to make sure she has her hands on the pulse of neighborhoods.
“We will have open communication and full disclosure,” she said. “Those outsiders who do business with the city will be held accountable.”
The days of slum lords having derelict property in the city while they bask in the Florida sun are over, she said. East St. Louis will be well represented at the table of opportunity, she said.
She quoted Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”
Brandon Hicks, 17, couldn’t take his eyes off of his mother.
“I am proud of her and I am happy for her, too. She is a great mom and she is going to be a great mayor, too. East St. Louis has a bright future,” Brandon said.
Jackie Perkins said she came to the swearing-in ceremony to see the woman for whom she voted take office.
“This is a great day. It’s time for the young people. She will be fine. She is a strong young lady,” Perkins said.
“It’s good to see another woman be elected as a top official,” said Barbara Henderson, executive director of the East St. Louis Business Development Chamber of Commerce. “We need more females. New direction. New hope.”
With her father, state Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, and mother in the front row, Jackson-Hicks promised to put city residents at the center of decision making.
“I didn’t come in with all of the answers. I came in with the hope of leading us towards finding solutions,” she said. “We can’t point the finger at each other and ask one another what each of us is doing. We have to come together and hold each other accountable for what’s going on in this city.”
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.