By Ervin Dyer and Renee Aldrich
Kenya Johns is the first Black woman elected mayor of Beaver Falls in her hometown’s 153-year history. As she takes the realm of Beaver County’s second largest city, the pioneering Johns is also a first-generation college graduate with a doctorate degree in Counseling Education & Supervision.
Who are some of your African American political role models?
One of the first who comes to mind is Shirley Chisholm. I’ll never forget learning about her in middle school—how she was not afraid to be different and stand up for her beliefs and do it with class. She was truly a trailblazer.
Huey P. Newton is another iconic leader that comes to mind because he and the Black Panther Party were so committed to community and lifting one another up and I, too, am committed to building up community and everyone in it.
Finally, my mother, Debra Coleman [who passed away in 2020]. My mom and family instilled in me a fight for justice that I could not learn in the classroom.
How do these influences show up in your problem-solving, community building?
These innovative leaders are the markers of my character. A big part of who I am and the work that I hope to do within the community has been aligned with their character and their actions. My role models were not just strong community leaders, but more importantly, they were also often seen as just good people with great character. My character and integrity are critical in who I am and the work I hope to accomplish. I aspire for people to meet me and see Christ’s love in me.
What are the three most critical challenges to your municipality?
(1) Creating equitable financial opportunities; (2) strengthening community engagement; and (3) overcoming blight/fostering job opportunities.
All communities have their challenges, and I am confident that Beaver Falls can overcome anything that comes our way, especially if we work together.
As a leader, what should constituents hold you accountable for?
Everything that I am responsible for. I hope my residents keep engaging me in discussion and challenging me. Honestly, I think strong and effective public servant work requires it.
What makes you a leader?
I believe that what makes me a good and effective leader is my willingness to learn, make tough decisions, take risks, fail and hear different perspectives. This process of leadership is lifelong and I am open for it.
Is the work of an African American mayor different from that of a white mayor? Should it be?
I know in some communities it can be and that is sad. I believe that [society], at times, places unfair and unrealistic goals on BIPOC people, especially within our community. I think that accountability should be the same across the board.
In such a demanding role, how do you factor in socializing— for instance going to see “Hamilton,” attending a hockey game, or date night?
As a counselor, it is imperative for me to develop healthy and strong boundaries. The way I build socialization is twofold: 1. My family is instrumental in helping me prioritize. 2. I live by my schedule! Organization and balance are key and have been since I was in high school.
What books are on your nightstand?
I always keep a copy of Portia Cosby, a local writer, close to my nightstand to escape. I am currently reading several counseling books regarding trauma, diversity and the pandemic.
What is your favorite meal?
This is the hardest question. I consider myself a foodie and love to explore new foods. My favorite meal may just be a simple fried hard egg sandwich with American cheese.
What would you like your legacy to be when you leave this office?
I would be honored for my legacy to be focused on building community and respect. I would love when my term as mayor comes to an end for the citizens to feel proud of how they were represented and how transparency was always there.
Ervin Dyer is a writer who focuses his storytelling on Africana life and culture.
Renee Aldrich is an independent journalist who covers the Black community of Pittsburgh.