The year is 2000, and behind a heavy string-filled, southern rap instrumental you hear the echoes of Memphis rap legends, Three 6 Mafia, emphatically yell – “Who run it?” Fast forward 19 years into the future and the hopeful answer will be Tami Sawyer!

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer announced that she is running to become the Mayor of Memphis, TN. If successful, this hometown millennial and human right’s activist will become the first female mayor of the Southern city.

Sawyer is running a campaign that puts us [the people] first. “My administration will be one that looks at how we can bring value to everyday people.” Emboldened by her passion for equity and justice, Sawyer has adopted the campaign slogan, “We Can’t Wait.” The breadth of this slogan counters the narrative of the incumbent mayor, Jim Strickland, that Memphis has momentum. While there is absolutely no doubt that Memphis is experiencing its own renaissance in community and economic development, many voices disdain the siloed impact of this momentum – Sawyer is one of the voices.

“Momentum for who? Not for the working poor, immigrants, or the single mom.” Sawyer says the boom that Memphis is facing does not represent all of its citizens. She notes the importance of getting in front of urgent issues to ensure the booming impact that Memphis is experiencing does not leave the most vulnerable behind. “The theme, we can’t wait, emphasizes that our city can’t afford for things to become worse before anyone acts.”

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According to Sawyer, there are many issues that should be priorities that are not at the top of the agenda. One of these priorities includes investment in education. In 2010, Memphis City Schools voted to surrender its charter, and in 2013 it officially merged with the neighboring school district – Shelby County Schools (SCS). After the merger, the City Memphis no longer financially supported the system that educated the children of the city. “There must be a priority to invest in education,” said Sawyer. The current commissioner does not plan to write a blank check to SCS directly, but work with Shelby County government and the school system to implement creative solutions to fund education which should have a residual effect on other policy issues. Sawyer believes that improving the education system will help reduce poverty and crime rates.

“Currently a majority of our city’s budget goes toward public safety. We can redirect some of those funds to support [SCS] the K-12 system.” Sawyer’s belief that education should be a priority in Memphis stretches beyond the halls of elementary, middle, and high schools. With national conversations about the relevance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), she recognizes the importance of bringing light to LeMoyne-Owen College (the city’s sole HBCU) that can sometimes get cast in the shadow of more prominent institutions in its proximity. “LeMoyne is great to the city. Recognizing it is a private institution, we can provide new ways to raise LeMoyne into important conversations,” said Sawyer. Some of those new and creative ways include intentionally hosting meetings and town halls on campus, reviewing the current pipeline of LeMoyne-Owen students to government jobs, and connecting students to internships and innovative opportunities within the city.

Increasing support for institutions like LeMoyne-Owen resonates with Sawyer’s desire for equal backing and opportunities for small and minority-owned businesses. She seeks to eliminate some of the barriers for Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE). “I would develop an Office of Diversity and Inclusion that would have oversight by a minority business council.” With current errors in reported spending for MWBE in the city, Sawyer stresses the importance of a transparent process that helps build wealth across all communities and not just the ones with the highest incomes.

Contrary to what some would believe, Sawyer does not view equity as just an issue for women and people of color. She feels that representation should be seen in all sectors. “My administration would be one of the most diverse groups in Memphis history – in terms of gender, sexuality, religion, and race. We want to represent all of Memphis.” For the current County Commissioner, that representation means developing an equity budget, paving the worst conditioned streets first, increasing the affordable housing stock, and putting compliance measures in place to protect the city from out of state investors who do not care about the people.

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To suggest that the future is female at this point is trite at best. Women, Black women in particular, have been setting the tone for excellence and institutional change for decades. Tami Sawyer is now named among that long list of impressive people. Majorly competing against an inconsiderably impressive incumbent and a substantially problematic former mayor seeking another chance, this mayoral race will not be an easy one to run. However, Sawyer is up for the challenge. With an increasing support base, the University of Memphis graduate, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. member, and founder of the #TakeEmDown901 movement, Sawyer is poised to rise as Memphis’ new leading voice!

“The concept that you have to check these boxes to be a good leader is no more, said Sawyer. “And to the critics, unfortunately for them, my time is now!” So here’s to hoping against hope that come election night when the winner is announced, a new leader will enter city hall. Then we can cue the music to hear the voices of Three 6 Mafia echo “Who run it?”  from the speakers of her campaign headquarters and we will all emphatically respond: Tami Sawyer – she runs it!

Election Day is October 3. To learn more about Commissioner Tami Sawyer, you can visit her website at or follow her on social media at Tami Sawyer for Mayor (Facebook) and @tamisawyer on Twitter and Instagram.