Mayor Van R. Johnson II Inaugural Address

Mayor Van R. Johnson, II

Inaugural Address

January 2, 2020

Good evening, Savannah.
My name is Van R. Johnson II, and I am your Mayor.

I am, because WE are. WE are THEY, and THEY are US.

And what we will be will depend on what we do in this moment in history....

To God our Father, who makes all things possible.

To my elected colleagues both past and present, and on whose shoulders I stand.

Particularly to the 64th Mayor of the City of Savannah, Dr. Otis S. Johnson.

The 65th Mayor of the City of Savannah, Edna Branch Jackson.

And the 66th Mayor of the City of Savannah, Eddie W. DeLoach

Mayor DeLoach, I again thank you so much, for your kindness and your graciousness towards me. I look forward to continue to work with you.

Chairman Al Scott and the Chatham County Commission, especially to Team HR!

Members of the Chatham County Legislative Delegation

Mayor of the City of Augusta Georgia and my Leadership Georgia Classmate, Hardie Davis, Jr.

Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette

Mayor Elect of the City of Walthourville, GA, Larry Baker

Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, Senator Nikema Williams

Mayor Pro Tem of the City of Newnan, GA, Cynthia Jenkins

Commissioner of the City of Rome, GA, Wendy Davis

Members of the Judiciary, particularly Judge John E. Morse, Jr. who has given me the oath of office 5 consecutive times

To some of the most outstanding young people that have ever graced the face of the earth, the members, past and present of the Savannah Youth Council and the Chatham County Youth Commission.

Members of the Clergy that are present

To City Manager, Pat Monahan, City Attorney, Bates Lovett and City Clerk, Mark Massey and the employees of the City of Savannah who work tirelessly in the public service

All of our program participants, particularly our dynamic duo of celebration leaders, Mrs. Juanita Adams and Dr. Bertice Berry.

And especially to the historic 139th Administration of the City of Savannah

Alderwoman Kesha Gibson Carter, Alderwoman Alicia Blakely, Alderwoman Bernetta Lanier, Alderman Detric Legett, Alderwoman Linda Wilder Bryan, Alderman Nick Palumbo, Alderwoman Estella Edwards Shabazz and Alderman Kurtis Purtee.

If you would just indulge me for a moment, I would like to take few moments to acknowledge people.

Every little boy needs a hero and my father has been and is my hero and I blessed to have him here, Van R. Johnson, Sr. Of all the letters I have earned behind my name, the two that I am most proud of I did not earned, and that is of the second. And as anyone knows, the sequel is never as good as the original.

The love of my life from the day that I laid eyes on her. The Intruders had it right in 1973 when they said, “I’ll always love my Mama, she’s my favorite girl.” Thank you for being my biggest cheerleaders.

My sister, Toshua and my little brother, Darryl are here, and my other sisters, nieces and nephews are watching via video.

My aunts, 4 of which are here this evening and 2 of my uncles and my cousins and friends from all over the country. Thank you, thank you, Thank you!

Dr. Priscilla Thomas and Mr. Nathaniel Thomas, Rev. Mary Johnson and so many of you who played such a critical role on my journey.

There is an African proverb, that if you call the name of someone who no longer with us, they will never die – so of the many people who I wish could be here today, I call their names in this space to honor them and their significance to me:

Ulysses and Dorothy Richardson

James and Pauline Lockhart

Herman Johnson

Rev. John Quincy Adams

Beverly Murrell Whitehead

Rev. Gregory A. Tyson

Carmen Eason

Otis J. Brock, III

It’s amazing that in a city in which my father and my grandparents had to ride on the back of buses, that their son and grandson will be raised from among this city to lead this city, and for that I am forever grateful.

During the holiday season, I had to take a break. I had to go home. I had to go to my parents’ house, I had to go to Brooklyn, I had to go where I knew I would be spoiled.

I had to go where my Mama would cook me hot breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because she thinks that’s what I do all the time. I really don’t, but the food is hot and I appreciate it and then if I wait too long, she’ll just warm it up again for me to eat.

I grew up in a very unique and very loving family. And for me, Thanksgiving and Christmas were always very special times.

I was blessed with a mother who could cook, and aunts in both New York and Savannah who could cook, sisters and nieces that could cook – not as well, but they’re getting there – so that’s where the love of Soul Food came into play.

Usually on most days, the table at our home is sufficient. We’re rolling in and out sitting there at the table, sometimes my father’s there, I’m there, my mother’s there, the dog is sitting there , and then we’ll just get up and leave and go our separate ways.

But when holidays rolled around we always had company. My aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends would come over, and the table that was once perfect for our family was no longer big enough to fit everybody who showed up.

So I remember we removed the tablecloth from the table, and we would then pull the table apart. And it took some strength to pull it apart.

And then we’d get a table leaf — are any of you familiar with a table leaf? — and so the table leaf expanded the table.

And then, we would now have a bigger table to bring up more chairs, and there was more room for everybody.

There were more people to feed. But the quality of the meal was not diminished.

In fact, it was better.

Because with more people, there was more clowning. And with more people there was more laughter. And with more people there was more love.

And no matter who showed up there was always food enough for everybody.

And then everybody would come up with takeaway plates with aluminum foil and.... I know, that just happens at my house.

I know now everyone brings something special, something unique to the table. Admittedly, I didn’t bring anything to the table but an appetite!

But that is my vision for Savannah.

There are those of us who have been sitting at that table for a long time. And I got news for you: You will continue to eat.

But, we’re gonna pull this table apart. And we’re going to add some leaves on this table.

We’re gonna make this table bigger, because for years, we had the same folks sitting at the same table, and there were folks sitting there at the kiddie’s table watching everybody else eat.

We’re going to bring forth change. And we’re going to make more room.

Why? I think we have more people to feed. And it doesn’t mean we diminish the quality of the food.

In fact, everybody at this table called Savannah will bring their best to the table, because we will all eat better.

We don’t have to leave anybody out. As a matter of fact, the old term comes to my mind: The more, the merrier.

So this table of Savannah is going to be expanded. And this table of Savannah is going to be redefined. This table of Savannah is going to stand on legs named Trust, Transparency, Accountability, and Inclusion.

Here, we are transparent in our operations and dealings. Here, we are accountable to you who sit us here, if you remember it is not about us, it’s about you.

If we include people in our collective conversation, we will give you a reason to trust us.

Now, this Savannah table includes folks of every race from all over the world. Because we’re not Mayberry anymore! We’re a major international city.

We have 15 million folks who see a reason to come here every single year. But we’re going to make Savannah for the 146,000 who live here every single day!

We have this table now, all these people gathered in this room. This is what Savannah looks like. There’s people from all over the place that have all types of experiences.

Some of them are lesbian. Some of them are gay, some of them are bisexual, some are transsexual, some are queer.

Some people are homeless.

But you know what? Come on up to the table! Let’s find a way to get you a place to live. Because we agree as a family that homelessness is wrong... I don’t know about you, but some of us are one paycheck away from being homeless.

And guess what, we’re going to include people who have not been at the table before. I can see the Tigers of Savannah State, with the Eagles of Georgia Southern, and the folks from Savannah Tech, and the Bees from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and South University, all at our table.

And guess what? We’re going to learn to speak Spanish, because there are going to be Latino and Hispanic and we will also have Asian voices at the table.

We’re going to have small business at our table. We’re going to have tourism at our table, we’re going to have our big businesses at our table.

There will be seats for all faiths and religious preferences – even for those who choose not to exercise faith at all.

We’re going to include those who have an empty seat at their home table because they lost a loved one to gun violence.

And I got news for you: If you’ve done a crime in this city, we’re gonna find you. Because we’re not going to let you victimize anyone else in our city.

And to those of you who are harboring them: We got news for you too.

We will add seats honorably to the working men and women of organized labor. Because we know organized labor is what makes our country great.

We will have the elderly and the babies, we will have the widows and orphans, we’ll have the highly educated and those who struggle to learn to read. And while they’re at the table, we’re going to help them to learn how to read, we’re going to help them get their GEDs, we’re going to help them become upstanding citizens.

But we’ll have to move one of those chairs to make room for somebody in a wheelchair. And for those that have physical and mental disabilities. We will include the sick and the infirm, the rich and the poor, and everybody in between.

And we’re going to invite our youth to the table, because they have something to say, too.

We will create seats for those who are returning from jails and prisons. And they’re just looking to be back home and be with their families. Like the parable of the Prodigal Son, we’re not going to question them. We’re just glad you’re home. And we’re going to do whatever we can to help you get it together. That’s what a Beloved Community does.

No longer will we deny someone because they are different, they look different, they think different, or have different experiences. Diversity and inclusion will make our city better.

At this table, we will talk to each other and not about each other. And I got news for you: Hating on Facebook doesn’t make things happen!

You have people that are willing to serve, and who are able to serve. Work with them. Pray for them. Talk to them.

It used to be when I was growing up, I could talk about my family, but nobody else better talk about my family. So I can talk about Savannah, but anyone else talks about Savannah, you’re gonna have some problems.

This great table of Savannah will be the table that other cities will emulate. Why? Because we know how to set this table.

We have a history unlike any other. A history of multiple streams that all flow into a single ocean. Our histories we will own. Good and bad. But we will not deny it, nor will we fall victim to the problem of a single narrative.

While we’re at this table, we will do what people at tables do: We’ll share experiences, we’ll solve problems – we’ll solve each other’s problems.

We’ll give people the hookup: This is what you need to do.

We might disagree but at the table we will work it out. We will plan together. We will strategize together.

And Savannah deserves a real Master Plan. And I am committed that we will put together a real Master Plan that includes everybody throughout our entire city.

Then at the end of the meal, everybody helps to clean up. And in Savannah we’ve got some things we’ve got to clean up. And with your help we will clean up our streets, with your help we will clean up our neighborhoods, we will help our citizens, men, women, boys and girls, to live their best lives.

We will instill hope and dreams again to let them know that if a 16-year-old can come from Brooklyn, New York, on a train to attend Savannah State, and years later be Mayor of Savannah, you can do anything that you want to do.

There are many stories in Savannah, and at our table they will be told and listened to. And we will be one Savannah. Not only for those who were born here, but for those who chose here.

This is the second day of a new decade, 2020. And what will we do this new decade? We can’t go into this new decade with the mess of the last decade!

2020 is often referred to as perfect vision, but 2020 is really average vision. It’s common vision. And we have to exercise vision.

I will tell you also that 20 is a spiritual number of redemption. And I see our purpose as bringing hope and redeeming the dreams of those who thought their dreams were over here in this city. That’s what we want to do: We want to give people back their lives.

We want to give them back their dreams, we want to give them back their hopes, we want to give them back their determination – everything that was stolen from them. Everything they thought they could not have – we want to give it back to them.

I am your Mayor. As your Mayor, I will lead, guide and help to show the way.

But I am one man. And we are only nine ordinary people. We need your help.

Together, we must bring all our best to the table. Together we must love our neighbors as they are ourselves.

Like you’re loving on us now? Love on us next week. And next year. And the year after that. Love is an action word.

Together, we will start saying what is right about our city instead of always saying what is wrong about our city.

Together, we will make sure that every child grows up with a sense of love, safety, and belonging.

Together, we will find our common denominators of people, places, and processes, and we will build from there.

Together, we will believe in the power of our ancestors and in our history. Together, you, I, us – we will build a bigger table and a brighter future.

Savannah, come on in, choose your seat, sit down... and let’s eat!

May God bless us, and may God bless the City of Savannah!