Despite the summer heat, potential voters attended a “get-out-the-vote” rally at Glenwood Park in Parsons on Saturday and shared thoughts and concerns and heard from Leavenworth Mayor Jermaine Wilson.
Wilson shared how he became a mayor and told of the importance of acting in unity and for change. Saturday’s event was sponsored by Sontana “Tana” Johnson, one of 10 candidates seeking a seat on the Parsons City Commission.
Johnson thanked Wilson for attending, noting the long drive.
“We’re excited to hear his story and how he brought others together to create a nonprofit, Unity in the Community Movement,” Johnson said. “Mayor Wilson is here with his wife, Jessica, and their children. We can’t thank him and everyone enough.”
Wilson’s nonprofit mentors youth, serves the homeless and works to build the relationship between the community and local law enforcement.
Wilson described his childhood and adolescence, adding that he had a “pretty normal” upbringing.
“I was lucky to have both my parents, and they raised me in the church,” he said. “I just made bad choices that led to consequences, but from these I learned the most important lessons in life. I wish, wish, wish I took heed earlier in life that it’s not important what others think of you.”
From a young age, he noticed “everyone doing things that looked fun.” He began using drugs at age 11 and by 15 he picked up a robbery charge.
“I didn’t understand who I was during that time. I was finding my identity through everyone else. I was afraid to be the real me,” he said.
While he served time, Wilson’s mother inspired him to get his high school education and earn his diploma.
“That time in jail — four long years — is time I’ll never get back,” Wilson said. “But when I got released, I put my freedom in another individual; I was still afraid to be different.”
The birth of his first son made him realize he was “neglecting important responsibilities.” He didn’t want to fail his family anymore.
“When I got released, I knew this time was going to be different. I realized if I don’t change, I’ll be dead. I put it in my head, as much as I could, that I didn’t care anymore what people think. I was going to be successful no matter what I’d do,” he said. “I humbled myself, swallowed my pride and found God’s forgiveness. I wasn’t going to fail anymore.”
The birth of Unity in the Community Movement came when Wilson was in jail. He said he knew early on he wanted to create a nonprofit organization and serve his community.
“I was inspired by this knowing I wanted to do something that just didn’t help one person but could be used to help so many more,” he said.
In 2015, Wilson had his criminal record expunged, or removed. Wilson started sharing his ideas of how to promote community unification, particularly starting with the police.
“I contacted the chief of police around that time, and we had a long talk. It’s so easy to focus on the negative, and nationally law enforcement didn’t have a good reputation,” he said. “We set up an event, ‘Unity Day, Bridging the Gap,’ an event we invited everyone to. It went great because you saw so many people seeing others working together.”
This started a domino effect, he noted, and he became well-known in the community. Friends and family influenced him to become more involved in local politics.
In 2017 he began campaigning to join the Leavenworth City Commission and was unanimously chosen by other city commissioners to fill the mayor’s seat.
“It was an amazing feeling to know that even me, an ex-con, can become the mayor of Leavenworth,” he said. “Everyone wants change, but some people don’t know how to get there. We need to have more walking, less talking when it comes to crucial issues with our youth.
“I wanted to become the change for them. I want to help give these kids hope. Pain is always a temporary thing. You choose to pick yourself up where you’ve fallen. What’s next? Move forward, vote for that change you know your community might need,” Wilson said.