The face of leadership in Arizona is evolving.

“Clearly, there are more African Americans interested in public service,” said Karl Gentles, a leader in the Maricopa County Democratic Party and co-chair of the Black Engagement Committee. “It’s showing up in the number of individuals who are running for office or seeking appointments.”

Neither the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office nor the Arizona Secretary of State track the number of Black candidates who will be on ballots this November, but the trend is clear.

“Not only are you seeing more Black people running, but they’re winning,” said former House Minority leader Reginald Bolding. “You’ve had Black people elected to mayor in Sierra Vista and Tempe. You’ve got Black people on the Avondale City Council, the Chandler and Tempe City Councils … You have Black people in elected leadership throughout the state of Arizona.”

It’s fair to wonder why, but there’s no clear answer.

Part of it certainly is tied to the summer of 2020 when the deaths of Dion Johnson, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor rocked the nation. The protests activated an impulse to get involved, which otherwise might have stayed dormant.

“There are so many issues that affect the Black and Hispanic communities; if we want change, we have to become government,” said state Sen. Catherine Miranda, an ally who helped establish the Arizona State Legislative Black Caucus.

Part of it has to do with the ever-growing influx of transplants.

“Folks who are newer to the Valley have a bigger sense of what’s possible for Phoenix,” said Bolding, who grew up in Northeast Ohio. “They come with this West Coast, Midwest, Down South energy of what’s possible, what they’ve seen in their hometown, for what Phoenix could be.”

But it couldn’t happen without proper mentorship.

“There’s a concerted effort to grow and develop a new generation of African American leaders here in the Valley,” Gentles said. He’s been here since 1985 and bridges the gap between established Black leadership and the newcomers.

Organizations such as the Greater Phoenix Urban League Young Professionals and 100 Black Men of Phoenix have been connecting with Democratic Party leaders, such as Gentles, to help identify and nurture the next wave.

It’s one thing to have ideas and a desire to get involved. It’s something else to learn how to play the game.

“We’re seeking serious people,” Gentles said. “And I use that term very directly. We want serious people who will be serious candidates because we believe that produces serious results.”

Still, that’s hard to do without numbers.

Rep. Quanta Crews, appointed about six months ago as the first African American to serve Legislative District 26, which covers central and west Phoenix, Maryvale and Glendale, is one of only two Black lawmakers at the Capitol.

Crews recently was selected to lead the state’s Black caucus, and her first move was to reach out to Hayzel Burton Daniels and Carl Sims, pioneering Black lawmakers who were each elected in 1950, and name the group in their honor.

“There’s no leg to stand on as a Black legislator without looking back to the past and seeing how we got here,” she said.

But now what? What are the issues that should drive this new wave of Black leaders in various positions of power across the state?

Shante Saulsberry is answering that question by following her passion.

She arrived in the state in 2019 and started a nonprofit, Janice’s Women’s Center, to help victims of domestic abuse and their children.

Biden could've done better:In speech to Black voters

“I’ve learned a lot more about domestic violence and the systemic barriers within education, health care, affordable housing,” Saulsberry said. “That work pushed me into politics.”

Saulsberry is running for office as a Democrat in House District 13, serving Chandler, Sun Lake and Gilbert.

“I might as well create the change that we need, so it doesn’t have to be as hard for anyone to do this work. We should all be involved. It should not be this difficult. … If we create legislation and bridge some of these systemic barriers, it will create more opportunities for everyone to feel like they have a place here in Arizona.”

Crews, in a separate interview, made a similar point.

“Black issues are human issues,” she said. “I’m serving the human family, at large, and I’m using my voice to uplift a segment of our community that’s not seen … I see myself as the voice of African Americans at the state Legislature who’s not afraid to say that I’m lifting their voices up.”

Miranda, who represents a large number of Black voters from District 11, which covers South Phoenix, Laveen and parts of downtown Phoenix, is excited about the possibilities.

“Who has the majority? And who gets to make the big decisions on issues that affect our community?” she said. “We haven’t gotten there, yet. We’re one vote away in the Senate. We’re one vote away in the House. … I say when the Democrats get the majority, that’s the true test. Then let’s see who’s going to get served?

“I’m ready ... I’m ready to change everything. Days are coming that are going to be exciting, I think.”

Reach Moore at gmoore@azcentral.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @SayingMoore.

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New wave of Black leaders is transforming state politics

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29.01.2024

The face of leadership in Arizona is evolving.

“Clearly, there are more African Americans interested in public service,” said Karl Gentles, a leader in the Maricopa County Democratic Party and co-chair of the Black Engagement Committee. “It’s showing up in the number of individuals who are running for office or seeking appointments.”

Neither the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office nor the Arizona Secretary of State track the number of Black candidates who will be on ballots this November, but the trend is clear.

“Not only are you seeing more Black people running, but they’re winning,” said former House Minority leader Reginald Bolding. “You’ve had Black people elected to mayor in Sierra Vista and Tempe. You’ve got Black people on the Avondale City Council, the Chandler and Tempe City Councils … You have Black people in elected leadership throughout the state of Arizona.”

It’s fair to wonder why, but there’s no clear answer.

Part of it certainly is tied to the summer of 2020 when the deaths of Dion Johnson, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor rocked the nation. The protests activated an impulse to get involved, which otherwise might have stayed dormant.

“There are so many issues that affect the Black and Hispanic communities; if we want change, we have to become government,” said state Sen. Catherine Miranda, an........

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