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Breaking Barriers and Building Thriving Communities Through Leadership

As Black History Month comes to a close, we are shining the spotlight on two African American public officials, mayors Aja Brown and Tom Bradley. These two local city leaders challenged expectations and helped the communities they served to grow and thrive.

Economic development expert and community activist, Aja Brown, broke barriers when in 2013 she became the youngest Mayor in the history of Compton. She was 31 years old at the time

Aja Brown - Barrier Breaker, JVS SoCal

Aja Brown, youngest person to be elected as mayor in the City of Compton, Ca.

During her time at City Hall, this millennial leader gave birth to her second child who she cared for while implementing effective “heart-based” initiatives to improve the quality of life in a community that has for many years endured social and economic disparities. Brown participated in last year’s Woman to Woman Conference, our annual event organized by JVS SoCal’s Women’s Leadership Network (WLN), where she talked about her motivators, her motherhood, and the successes she had during her two-term tenure.

“[My early career] armed me with ammunition to fight for those who are considered to live in the margins of society,” she said during her speech to our membership and supporters. One of her proudest accomplishments was piloting a guaranteed income program for low-income families in her city.

2021 Woman to Woman Virtual Conference | Watch Aja Brown’s segment on minute mark 1:00:0

Brown stands on the shoulders of other great Black city leaders throughout the nation. In 1973, Lelia Foley from Taft, Oklahoma became the first African American woman elected mayor in the United States, and that same year, Doris A. Davis was elected mayor of Compton, California, the first African American woman mayor of a metropolitan city in the United States.

These leaders faced the challenges of racial and gender bias during their campaigns and their time in office, but their legacy brought hope to newer generations and by 2021, more than one third of America’s top 100 cities were governed by African Americans, with many mayors being women.

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley_1984

1984 photo of barrier breaker Tom Bradley, the first Black mayor of Los Angeles.

In his first year in office, he established the city’s Commission on the Status of Women with the purpose of advancing the general welfare of women and girls and to ensure that all women have full and equal participation in city government.

According to a 1982 article by the Jewish News of Northern California, Mayor Bradley “compiled a distinguished human services record,” he started programs within his office for senior citizens, people with disabilities and youth, and formed a City Volunteers Corps to work for Los Angeles in many areas.

At JVS SoCal, we share and support the vision of these champions of thriving communities. We invite you to find inspiration in the legacy of these barrier breaking African American leaders.

To learn more about Compton Mayor Aja Brown’s participation in our annual Conference visit: