Tchula — When Yvonne Brown declared that someone needed to do something about the damaged city hall in Tchula, that someone became her. She had never considered running for public office but with the encouragement of those she was serving through a ministry in the community, she entered the race and won in 2001.
“I was already immersed in the community in a holistic ministry through the Grace Community Church,” she said. “I prayed about it and the Lord spoke to me through scripture. I looked at what Nehemiah was called to do when he rebuilt a city.”
Brown, 53, came to this Holmes County town in 1995 as part of a ministerial duo that partnered with other Southern Baptist churches to bring hundreds of volunteers to the area. The group helped many residents by rehabbing homes, conducting back yard Bible clubs, ministering to the elderly, establishing a food bank and holding free GED and computer classes and clinics for sports, parenting and health. The group gave away 1,000 hot dogs at one block party.
Making the decision to run for mayor seemed an extension of her service to the people of Tchula. The shocker came when Brown ran as a Republican in this town that is 98.9% African-American and Democrat.
“I was told that I had lost my mind,” she recalls. “There was some fear and intimidation used. People were told they would lose their homes or SSI checks if a Republican was elected.”
It was the first time the town had ever had a two-party election and Brown received only 150 votes in the primary.
“They made the assumption that I would receive only 150 votes in the general election but I beat my opponent, an alderman, by 150 votes,” she says. “I’ve tried to educate people in the Republican Party and outside about the history and principles of the party and its relationship to the African-American community.”
Brown is now in her second term as mayor of this Delta town of 2,332 having defeated a former mayor and alderman in the second race. She feels she won because she had served the community and was known to them.
Her business background as a nationwide expeditor for Monroe Auto Equipment in Monroe, Mich., was helpful too.
“Customer service — knowing how to handle people and get things done is good for being mayor,” she said. “I see efficient ways to do things.”
Brown was successful in bringing an economic stimulus package of $5 million in federal funds to Tchula to upgrade the infrastructure, restore City Park and build homes. Through the process, she built relationships in Washington and would like to return to the Capitol as the Second Congressional District’s representative. Her decision was partly made because she says that she approached the incumbent for assistance in getting land for a children’s playground adjacent to a building where the church has a ministry.
“I called and wrote but never got a response. I’ve heard that story a lot since I became mayor,” she said. “I’m part of the fabric of this community and I’m working to make things better here. Now I’d like to be the voice in Washington for the district.”
She will face the winner of the Democratic Party’s primary in the November general election.
Brown says she has been embraced by the Mississippi Republican Party. “I’ve never been ashamed of being in that party. I don’t always agree with them but I’d rather be in it,” she said. “I am finding more acceptance of it, but some people on both sides don’t want to hear about the history and principles of the party. I’ve never been interested in being politically correct. I want to follow my heart and principles.”
There are 23 counties in the district, one of the largest in the United States, and more than 700,000 people. However, fewer than 200,000 people vote, something Brown would like to see change when the November 7 general election rolls around. She is pleased not to have an opponent for the primary, and is busy touring all the major cities of the district.
“God answers prayers. Because I’m not running in a primary, I can continue with my message and raising funds,” she said. “I can keep talking to people and encourage them to vote. I have wonderful support from the Republican Party. They’re pitching in to help me learn how to run a campaign. A federal campaign is quite different from running a municipal campaign.”
As mayor, the candidate has learned how to get things done and how to build relationships. Although some Tchula residents are disappointed at the prospect of Brown leaving city hall, she believes serving as a U.S. congresswoman will be an extension of her ministry to the community.
“I’m ready for Washington by experience and maturity,” she says. “Everyone that’s crossed my path, all of my experiences and every place I’ve lived have prepared me for this. And, my affirmation to run came through scripture.”
She looks forward to the campaign and is thankful for open doors and opportunities that have come her way. She’s had the distinction of meeting Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and the ambassador from Tanzania. Before coming to Tchula, she served as a missionary in several Caribbean countries and learned that Americans are truly blessed.
Brown, who has two grown daughters and two grandchildren, was born and reared in Toledo, Ohio. Her parents, Bennie and Hilda Rayford, are natives of the Mississippi Delta who obtained education to have better lives. Now retired after 40 years as teachers, the Rayfords have returned to the state and are elated with their daughter’s success.
“I attribute my work ethic and desire to serve people to them,” Brown states.
A full-time student majoring in political science at Jackson State University, Brown had hoped to complete a degree this summer but now those plans must be delayed for the campaign. She maintains her stamina with a lot of vitamins, exercise and her faith.
She serves on numerous boards and in leadership positions, including the Delta Council Executive Board of Directors, Municipal League Board of Directors, Mississippi State Workforce Investment Board and the Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors Executive Board. She also served on Gov. Haley Barbour’s executive committee transition team, received the Professional Women in Christ Award, and served on the State Board of Community Colleges and the Educational Network Television Institute Board of Directors.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.