The moment that I met with Mrs. Minnie Bommer I was captivated. She had a certain charm and confidence that could light up an entire room. And although she was polite, it was clear that she was a woman who wasn’t afraid to go against the grain for what she believed in – someone who didn’t take no as an answer. I just knew after speaking with her that I HAD to interview her. She’s the epitome of what I want to be – a leader, philanthropist, and a kind soul.
So without further adieu, meet Queen of the Month for August 2015:
Mrs. Minnie Bommer
The first black female to be elected to a city governing body in the state of Tennessee (Covington Alderwoman), a recipient of over 35 awards, a heavily involved activist of the Civil Rights Movement, and the co-founder of a Children and Family Services Agency that was once valued at over $1 million – Bommer’s resume speaks for itself (I couldn’t even include everything that she’s done, because it’s so much). But what inspired me even more than her accomplishments was her humility and her consistent commitment to bettering her community. I knew she’d be the best woman to start off this new series.
Me: What initially inspired you to run as alderwoman?
It wasn’t really the inspiration. It was more of, I was asked by the community. We sued the city to get that position and it took us ten years to do it. And when I say we- that was a group of us that were in the NAACP, but the NAACP wouldn’t allow us to sue. So we formed a little community group, and we got ACLU to help us sue the city to get a district that we could win in, because our city was at- large election. And because it was at-large, we were only 1/3 of the population and we lived in a little area, we couldn’t ever get a representative. So that’s why we sued them – and like I said, it took 10 years, it didn’t happen overnight. Because I was President of the NAACP at the time, I went around to the largest churches in our district when the district was finally drawn. I went to the Church of God and Christ (the largest church in our area) and asked Elder Rogers to help us look for someone who we felt could fill that seat. And he said “Why don’t you do it Mrs. Bommer? Nobody else could do it better than you. You’ve been the one that’s been on the case this whole time.” And I really, truly had never thought about running – never. During that time, at that church women were not very prevalent in leadership roles and for him to say that it shook me up. He then said “If you decide to run, you’ve got our support. Everybody in our church will vote for you. I know that.” When I came home and told my husband what Elder Rogers had said, he said “Yeah, why don’t you do it, Minnie? Nobody else could do it better than you. I’ll even handle your campaign for you.” So that’s how it got started.
Me: Prior to and after being elected, did you face any gender/racial discrimination?
When I went to the NAACP meeting and told them that Elder Rogers had asked me to run, the men there said no. They said “It shouldn’t be a woman. You shouldn’t be going up there with those men- there’s nothing up there but 6 white men. You’ll be the only woman up there and it really should be a black man to go up there.” I then asked, “Are you saying I couldn’t do the job?” They answered no. So then I said “Well then I’m gonna do it.” And two of of the guys ran against me, and I still beat them. Gender and race discrimination was always there even after being elected. But I give the guys credit. They did respect me. I made sure that I gave myself time to learn how to do job. I didn’t just go in there like I knew everything. A couple of meeting’s I just kind of listened. They respected the position that I held. But what I did notice and called attention to was the fact that they would have coffee together before the meetings, and then have everything already down for what they were gonna do. They would make decisions before they even got to the meeting. So I subtly called attention to that and that changed. I did not encounter anyone openly being hostile to me. They were very courteous.
Me: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to get involved in their local or state government?
Want to do it. That’s the main thing. You have to have your own agenda. It can’t be someone else’s agenda. And it has to be for the people. I would tell any young person, don’t got into it to be in charge or be the person in power. Go into it to help your community or what ever the situation that you want to change is. I encourage anybody to go into it. Because you can change some minds and some hearts when you are there to talk to them on a one-one basis. And keep your convictions. You have to have strong convictions, because when you are by yourself, your convictions are the only thing that can continue to take you where you want to go. You have to be willing to do it. You have to be willing to put in the time and the work. Nobody’s gonna hand it to you.
Me: How can someone begin to make a difference in his or her community?
Be a part of a community. Have a passion for it and stay with it. Live in it and find out what it is that you want to do. Get others to join you, and most importantly believe in yourself.
Me: Why is community service so important to you?
Nobody can do more for you than you are willing to do for yourself. You should have a willingness to change things that aren’t right. If you have the means/education, you have a responsibility to your community. Some people are born/ordained leaders. It’s not about the title. It’s about the fact that you can do it.
Me: As a successful black woman, what would be your advice to young black women in terms of careers?
Choose a career that if you didn’t get paid you would still do anyway. Something fulfilling, and that you can live with. Set specific goals and frames. Keep working at it consistently. Do it because you want the job done right no matter who you are working for. Give your best every time and don’t just get by. Own what you do.
Me: How do you push through your most difficult times?
Have family, close friends/relationships, and people that believe in you and what you are doing. They provide encouragement. Also, have 1 or 2 people (even if they don’t always agree with you) who support you.
Me: How did you and still do you balance your family life and work life?
Even though I was stressed, I didn’t put anything above my children’s lives and my family. I went to as many of their events as I could. I made an effort to know my children’s friends, and who they were. I knew who they were surrounded by. Make sure that you don’t let outside things pull you away from your family.
I hope you guys enjoyed this interview as much as I did. I want to thank Mrs. Minnie Bommer again for being so kind and for taking the time to speak with me. Let me know in the comments below if you have any more questions for her. Also, let me know if you like posts like these!
One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go.
-Sheila Murray Bethel