Originally published in January 2018.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and as today is Martin Luther King Day, we thought it would be highly appropriate to feature an inspiring FACE of the South who is paving new roads for African-American women to honor how Dr. King pioneered the Civil Rights Movement on behalf of the African-American community more than a half-century ago. In that spirit, we are honored to feature the newly elected Mayor Vi Lyles, the first African-American woman to hold the office of the mayor for the city of Charlotte, NC, the state’s largest city. Enjoy getting to know our newest FACE, a pioneer in her own right.
After a controversial two years in Charlotte, there’s a new mayor in the Queen City and she’s making history! The office is still filled by a democrat and still a woman, but last November, Vi Lyles was elected as the first ever African-American woman mayor in Charlotte. Following a 30-year career in local government, the 68-year-old was serving as the mayor pro tem when voters chose her to take the city’s top seat. A widow, Mayor Lyles is a former city budget director and assistant city manager, and she won the mayor’s race overwhelmingly by pointing out how well she knows all the different Charlotte neighborhoods and her ability to connect with all kinds of people. Mayor Lyles also promises a renewed focus on local issues while she’s in office, including jobs and affordable housing. We are excited to welcome Mayor Vi Lyles as today’s FACE of the South.
How does it feel to be the first African-American woman to be mayor in Charlotte?
It’s certainly historic, and I’m proud to have made history. I think it also speaks volumes about how much our city has grown just in the last year alone. Given the recent challenges that Charlotte has faced, I feel that my election shows the city is a place that values inclusion, embraces our challenges and will move forward with action.
How did you celebrate your win?
I celebrated with my family — my son and daughter, Kwame and Aisha, and my granddaughters. They sacrificed much for me to succeed. Holding both of my granddaughters right after the results were announced brought things full circle for me. To be an example, showing that they can accomplish anything, means everything to me.
You were elected to the Charlotte City Council in 2012. What kind of work did you focus on?
During my time on the City Council, I chaired the transportation and planning committee, served as vice chair of the economic development committee and was a member of the budget committee.
Outside of your political work, what do you do?
I’ve run a consulting firm and served as a consulting director with The Lee Institute and Flynn Health Holt Leadership, specializing in strategic planning, performance measurement and leadership development.
What makes you uniquely qualified to be mayor?
As I said often during my campaign, I can walk through every part of this city. My ability to connect with people from all walks of life, coupled with my extensive public service experience, makes me a strong, collaborative leader.
What does it mean to be a Southern woman these days?
I believe being a modern Southern woman means having the ability to talk out any issue with strength and respect. It’s being able to know your neighbors, and it is where you want the same for your neighbor as you want for your family — a job, a home and a great neighborhood. Being a Southern woman is all about your values, including a balance of family and work.
What are the issues that most concern you in Charlotte?
I believe that people should be able to live and work in our city. The issues of affordable housing, jobs and great neighborhoods are important, and by focusing on them, the City of Charlotte will make a difference in people’s lives.
How do you relax?
I enjoy spending time with my family. And when I get an opportunity, I try to read to learn. The world is changing, and you need to continue to learn to keep up.
What is your best advice?
Aside from faith, family and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
Coffee, a good book and a compassionate heart.
Thank you to Mayor Lyles for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us.
Meet more inspiring Southern FACES — click here!