Words by Erwin M. Davis II
When he’s not chomping down on a burger from Saw’s or catching up with family and friends on a break from his duties, Birmingham Mayor, Randall Woodfin, is in meetings and briefings for his city. Being the youngest elected mayor in over 120 years—39-years-old as of this writing—it is understandable to see how such moments of civilian-normalcy are necessary.
To say that Mayor Woodfin is smooth would be an understatement of the highest regard. The first-term leader is everything you’d expect from a traditional politician with an added flair of swagger without sacrificing the perception of strength that accompanies such a title. His views on his responsibilities, the obligation he has to his citizens, and his impeccable fashion choices are all indicative of someone who isn’t afraid to bring a little bit of timeless southern charm to the political stage during a time where it’s most needed.
Woodfin—a homegrown Alabamian, a Morehouse and Samford alum—credits his knack for empathy and leadership to those individuals in his life who gave him something to fight for. Political figures such as former Mayor Richard Arrington—the cities first African American mayor—and civil-rights activist Fred Shuttlesworth occupy his list. As men of color, he and I bond over the comprehension of importance figures like these have in a young man’s life. However, none do more to light the fire within him than his grandmother.
“I remember that smile on her face; front and center,” Woodfin recounts as he tells a story about his recently deceased grandmother on Election Day, “I remember her being proud of me. She’s definitely been an influence. Even as far back as my first job bagging groceries; she saw me walking to work and asked what I was doing. She started driving me back and forth almost every day until I saved up enough for my first car.”
In the last year, Mayor Woodfin has not only lost his grandmother, but also had to deal with COVID-19 as a politician, and as a victim having contracted the virus in late 2020. Couple these circumstances with the ongoing economic struggles of his citizens and racial tensions around the country escalating throughout the year, and it is easy to see how such a laid-back and powerful demeanor come into good use. His professional responsibilities are, by all regards, daunting enough to turn any first term politician away from the life altogether. But, Woodfin uses his wave-like, powerfully-chill, and devastatingly-intellectual personality to creatively and effectively serve his people.
An example of this is the economic relief program known as ‘Bham Strong’ created by the Woodfin team to help offset the city’s small business market’s woes during coronavirus. Using his platform to tackle everything from confederate monument removals and socioeconomic pandemic fallout, to inner-city education gap reform, Woodfin does all that he can to be the role model for youth like so many were in his life.
“You deal with people’s hopes. You deal with their desires,” he explains, “You deal with their fears. You deals with their issues, wants, needs, and their questions. Get it right on behalf of the people you work for.”