The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.
Today’s Q&A feature is Mary Sheffield, President Pro-Tempore of the Detroit City Council. In November of 2013, Mary became the youngest person ever elected to the Detroit City Council at the age of 26. Elected to serve in District 5, Council Member Sheffield was appointed as Chair of the Neighborhood and Community Services Standing Committee and also serves as a member of the Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee. She also has been appointed to serve as a board member for the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and the Continuum of Care. She also is a member of the National Network to Combat Gun Violence and People for the American Way’s Young Elected Officials. At the Council table, Council Member Sheffield has made a commitment to fight for the continued growth of our city and has remained steadfast in keeping our neighborhoods at the center of the conversation. Led by her faith and driven by her passion for people and justice, Council Member Sheffield has accepted her calling to be an active participant in Detroit’s Renaissance, lending her voice and expertise to ensuring the City’s resurgence and inclusion of all Detroiters in Detroit’s future.
Mary is an inspiration to the youth in Michigan that want to get involved in government and public service.
We caught up with Mary to find out what leadership means to her and what advice she would give to the next generation of leaders.
Why did you choose this career path?
Growing up in the church and accompanying my Father and Grandfather during protest and organizing efforts fighting against racial, social and economic injustices in Detroit and around the Nation, I gained a healthy understanding of my individual responsibility and duty to serve God through serving his people. At a young age, it wasn’t clear that my steps were ordered to lead to a path of serving in elected office but as I came of age my father urged me to seek office as a way to serve God’s people. I accepted that calling on my life for a couple of reasons. First and foremost I had a strong desire to speak up for the least of thee such as seniors, the disabled, the homeless and the working poor and impoverished in our City. Secondly, as a millennial African-American woman I didn’t see many people at the policy table that looked like me or spoke to the interests of those in my age cohort.
Who inspired you to get involved?
My Grandfather, Horace L. Sheffield, Jr., who was a pioneer in the Union and Civil Rights movements in this country as well as marched and organized with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired me to get involved. He started the Trade Union Leadership Council (TULC) and the Detroit Association of Black Organizations (DABO) in an effort to protect and provide for the least of thee something he passed downed to Father and unto me. In fact, he often said “never have a Wall Street mentality in a blue collar town.” My father took the mantle of leadership and built upon the legacy of my grandfather by organizing through the National Action Network, founding and pastoring a church, and serving as the Executive Director of DABO all which further inspired me to serve.
How do you define a leader?
My definition of a leader is anyone, elected or not, that puts the greater interest of the public, especially historically marginalized communities, before their own interests. A leader is someone who uses their God-given talents and opportunities for the greater good and in service of others in an effort to improve their quality of life. Furthermore, a leader is someone who serves not for the money or their self-aggrandizement but for purely altruistic motives such as their love for humankind and in honor of the God they serve.
What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?
I founded Detroit Girls of Destiny (D – GOD) which mentors 13-15 year old young women in middle school. I also created the first ever homeless youth committee which is the first body in the City of Detroit history to specifically coordinate services for our youth experiencing homelessness. I have hosted State of the Youth symposiums in high schools throughout District 5 to engage our youth and to utilize their heroes to inspire children to greatness. Finally, I initiated Occupy the Corner- Detroit, which has a focus on preventing youth violence in an effort to promote our youth young people living and reaching their full potential as the next generation of leaders.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?
We were all made in the image of God and born to lead. Only you can stop you from reaching your potential as a leader and public servant. There is a calling on all our lives so it is incumbent upon us all to identify and answer that calling. If you are seeking to serve for the love of your people, as a tenet of your faith or as a passion in your heart then your territory will be enlarged and a space will be cleared to allow you to flourish as a leader.