4 mayors on leading their communities through reckoning on racial inequality

The mayors share how their perspectives are helping them lead.

As outrage over George Floyd's death and centuries of racial inequality faced a reckoning in cities across America, four black female mayors were at the helm to guide their communities through it all.

It's the first time Woodards has had her identity brought into her role.

"I've just been able to be Victoria Woodards from Tacoma and lead. I've never had to lead with my color," she said. "Last week I was challenged to be not just Victoria Woodards, mayor of Tacoma, but Victoria Woodards, a black woman [who] happens to be mayor of Tacoma and I can tell you that it wasn't something that I've ever had to step up and do before."

For Bottoms, recent events have made her think about how she is a descendant of slaves.

"How do you get past the anger and the hurt and the pain and humiliation of what it's like sometimes to be black in America?" she said. "I'm sure my sister mayors can agree with this; this is just a time to lead with our head and our heart. ... I think that when it comes from an authentic place, and in a pure place of care and concern, you get true compassionate leadership."

Broome has seen how much progress has been made since her childhood in the 1960s -- and since she was running for mayor in 2016, the same year Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police in the city.

Washington, D.C., like many communities across the country, were dealing with a racial crisis that was two-fold -- violence against people of color and the devastation of COVID-19.

"We're making up 80% of the deaths related to COVID. ... [These issues] really have to be addressed from a very holistic point of view," Bowser said. "We have a special responsibility. We control big budgets, our workforces in Washington, I'll speak for us, [are] largely African American [communities]."

Days after peaceful protesters were met with force by the White House, Bowser ordered a mural that spanned a length of 16th Street leading to the president's home -- it reads, in bright yellow, "Black Lives Matter."

"We reclaimed that space we really wanted ... into a space for healing, or strategizing and peaceful protest," Bowser said. "And we wanted to be clear that this was a D.C. street, and the D.C. residents would decide what would be used."

"I sent Mayor Bowser a text and I said, 'That was a boss blank blank move!'" Bottoms laughed. "I was just, I was so inspired by the boldness of it personally just as a fellow mayor, because I could witness the frustration that she was having, and to be able to take that power back in such a symbolic way, that was extremely important."

Trump has leveled personal attacks on Bowser. Harsh criticism is something all four mayors have encountered in their roles.

"The president of the United States attack[ed] an American mayor, me, calling me incompetent -- because we fought back and spoke up for ourselves," Bowser said. "I say frequently that female politicians are attacked more frequently, and more wrongly than anybody else. But I think that the difference that you're saying now is there's a critical mass of us, and we are sticking together and working together."

Now that former Vice President Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, questions are swirling about whether the female running mate he promised to pick will be a woman of color.

"I think it's an incredible moment for Vice President Biden to wrap his arms around a lot of energy, and to galvanize that energy and push that energy to the ballot box in November," Bowser said. "We're going to let him know that black women are the base of our electorate and we deserve not only a seat at the table but to be in leadership."

Woodards added that black women taking the national stage are encouraging black women everywhere, now knowing it's a future possible for themselves.

"I think so often we are the last ones to see the power within ourselves. ... We don't always even know that the name of that is leadership," Bottoms said. "You see us leading and organizing our communities, you see us in our churches, and in the workplace, and you see us doing it in our sororities -- we're doing it, each and every day, not always recognizing that those same qualities are the qualities that allowed you to lead cities and states and on a national level."