Tamara "Tami" Sawyer could be the next mayor for the city of Memphis — a community where she was born and raised. Sawyer says she is ready to take her public service experience to new heights, as her campaign motto proclaims: Memphis Can't Wait. We can't wait. 

The millennial politician has served as Memphis' 7th District of Shelby County's Commissioner since August 2018. She is recognized as one of "18 Tennesseans to Watch in 2018," and serves as a beacon of light in her community. If voted the next mayor of the 'Home of the Blues,' she will be the city's first woman elected to the post.

Blavity had a chance to get to know Commissioner Sawyer a little better. Check out her answers to 21 questions below.

1. Why can’t Memphis wait?

The night before he was assassinated, Dr. King said something was happening in Memphis. He thought we were on the cusp of addressing generations of poverty and inequity. 51 years later, Memphis currently ranks second in overall and childhood poverty, with more than 30 percent of African American youth living in poverty. We can’t wait any longer to make something happen here. Less than 50 percent of Memphians have access to quality healthcare or education. Our future as a city depends on us turning the tide, investing in our neighborhoods and our youth. We can’t wait for equity and opportunity to be the guiding vision of our city. We deserve more than basic leadership at best.

2. Who’s your latest, greatest inspiration?

Two high school seniors; Zyhana Bryant, in Charlottesville, VA, and Allyson Smith, here in Memphis. They are two bold, courageous, freedom fighting black girls, and I love keeping up with their ideas, their achievements (both have full rides to the schools of their dreams), their passion for change, and vision for the future.

3. Who has the best Bar-B-Que in Memphis?

Payne’s. They are family owned, black-owned, and have been providing good plates of barbeque to Memphis for generations. It’ll show you how country I can be, but I love a good Payne’s bologna sandwich ad a Dr. Pepper.

4. If Beale Street could talk, what would it say?

Beale Street would cry for its lost history. What was once a historically black street now has only a handful of black store owners. The history of the street being the economic vein of black Memphis is remembered by very few and it shows. That loss of economic power and true political power, bleeds throughout the city and I believe Beale Street would say it is time for that to change.

5. What issues are you prioritizing during your campaign?

I’m running with a vision of bringing equity and opportunity to Memphis. Some of the ways this vision can be realized are through the city reinvesting in education; from Pre-K, to K-12, to adult literacy and education, to right-sizing our Minority & Women Business pending, to being more in-line with the population of the city — there are 70 percent people of color, 50 percent women — and investing in small businesses in communities that have high levels of poverty. I want to introduce an equity budget that ensures all parts of Memphis receive the same quality of services on an equitable schedule. I’ll also be looking at improving public transit, and addressing environmental issues such as the quality of our water and the presence of brownfields in historically black communities.

6. What’s one word to describe Memphis?


7. You can choose one celeb to headline your political rally. Who is it?

Will Smith. Will’s resurgence into popular conversation has been incredible to watch, and I love that he is present in such a wholesome way. We are talking about healing our community and Will and his family are modeling that healing in a lot of ways. Plus he just makes everyone happy and I would love the energy he would bring.

8. What is your favorite thing about being a Black woman?

My favorite thing about being a black woman is the sisterhood you’re born into. My life has been enriched by the influence and support of black women from my mother, her sisters and friends, to the women of my own generation and the ones younger than me: like my nieces and mentees. Black women, unlike what you often see on TV, lift one another up and pour so much into each other. My greatest joys have been made brighter, and toughest moments have been made easier, because of the presence of my sister friends.

9. You’re in the elevator with Trump. What do you say?

Ha! This is a tough one. My first thought is “what would Solo do?” Maybe I’d just say impeach-impeach-impeach until he reaches his floor, like the shame walk-in GOT.

10. You have one day to relax. What are you doing?

Resting. Listening to Afrobeats while soaking up some sun, swimming, reading, napping, and eating gourmet cheese and crackers.

11. What do you think about the yeehaw agenda?

The belief that “country culture” bred in the south escaped black people’s attention or that we had no influence on it as well as implausible. I’m all for the Yeehaw Agenda and have been a member forever. My heritage is rural Tennessee. I grew up running in creeks and fields. The first year I lived in DC, my favorite accessory was a John Deere trucker hat. I keep a cowboy hat for summer time and love Tim McGraw. Some of my favorite people are the guys who ride horses through South Memphis. Remove the racism and I’m all in. 

12. What is your favorite part of being politically active?

Being able to use the tools that have historically oppressed us to make change.

13. How are you engaging Millennials and Generation Z in your campaign?

I’m a millennial and one thing that drives me crazy is people who think we have no work ethic or skills. Because of that, I’m adamant about empowering millennials and Gen Z to be at the table. My core campaign team is mostly millennial. We are invested in working with college students at 4-year and 2-year colleges, to hear their voices and encourage them to be engaged. Because 1/4 of our youth are neither working nor in school, we know college isn’t the only place we need to go. So, we’re going to walk neighborhoods to meet them where they are. We have Gen Z interns as well and their voices are extremely important as they are not the next leaders, they’re current leaders.

14. If you could have dinner with one person (living or deceased) who would it be?

My granny. She passed when I was 15, but she played a major role in shaping who I am. I often wonder what she would think about the world today and what she’d say about my life and work. I’d love to spend time with her one more time, and of course, she’d be the one to cook what we eat while she fussed about me still not making greens as well as she does.

15. What song always gets you motivated?

Legendary by Wale. It always gets me in the game. “Forget fame. Forget money. Forget anything that anyone can take from me. I’m just trying to be legendary.” And that’s the truth, I’m working to leave a legacy that changes the trajectory of black lives in Memphis, the south, the whole country if I can.

16. What led you to organize #takeemdown901?

I was at a point of frustration with the grassroots work we were doing around racial justice in Memphis. While at a work retreat I was asked what was one thing I could accomplish to change the trajectory of the future and I said: “We can take down these damn statues.” The statues had always been a thorn in my side. To me, they normalized the racial inequity that is prevalent in Memphis. If we couldn’t remove those, how could we disrupt the bigger, more deeply entrenched systems? So, I set out to tackle it and see if we could get that win for our community.

17. Would you ever run for President?

No. That’s not my path by any means. President is a different game. My focus is on local politics and having a direct impact on people in Memphis.

18. What is a quote you live by?

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek,” said President Barack Obama. Our President wasn’t the originator of the entire quote, part of it is from an unnamed Hopi elder, but, his use of it in the entire sequence has been my call to action and my shield against “sit down and wait” for a long time.

19. What’s one lesson you’ve learned during your campaigning journey thus far?

The most important thing is people. The money, the ads, the profiles, none of it matters if people don’t believe in your commitment and authenticity.

20. Would you rather have Michael Cohen as your attorney or Ben Carson as your doctor?

Ben Carson was a great doctor. It’s a shame he didn’t stay one. If I needed major surgery, I’d definitely support him retiring from politics to go back to the job he should still be doing [Sawyer laughed].

21. Would you rather have Beyoncé lead your campaign or receive a $5 million endorsement from Jay Z?

Hov’s money. If Jay Z invested $5M in the campaign, we could have #wecantwait on TV every day, in every mailbox, and on every social media app, popping up as ads while people play candy crush. We’d be able to do grassroots outreach in a way that impacts the community — free summer lunch for kids, college campus voter registration, vans to the polls. It’d be the biggest game changer ever seen in Memphis.