CHICAGO (CBS) — On May 4, Donna Johnson was sworn in as the first African American woman to be elected mayor in the history of Libertyville.
CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot talked with her about her vision as the new president of the village she calls home.
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“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Johnson said. “It’s refreshing because we’re dealing with a community in terms of demographics that is not consistent with how I look.”
Johnson was sworn in by outgoing Libertyville President Terry Weppler at the Libertyville Civic Center earlier this month. Johnson, who ran unopposed for the office, said her 14 years as a trustee gave her a vote of confidence from the community. She also said her appointment is a sign people are looking beyond skin color when it comes to expertise.
“To look at their character, their contributions, and, more importantly, from a cultural perspective recognize that we as women of color add tremendous value,” she said.
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The former Cook County and Lake County prosecutor and former corporate attorney for Allstate, said her parents instilled a spirit of leadership in her at a very young age. Her mother, Carol Johnson, was the Chair of the Civil Service Commission and Human Relations Commission in Evanston for several years. In the mid 80s, her mother received a community service award from former CBS 2 sportscaster and sports director Johnny Morris.
“She’s always said that what’s incumbent upon us, as women and women of color, is to give back,” Johnson said. “And to set an example and to recognize that the only way we can make a difference is that we have to be in the room.”
Johnson’s father, Donald Tyler Johnson, graduated from the University of Illinois Engineering school in 1947. She said he couldn’t find work as a chemical engineer because no firms would hire Blacks because of segregation. Instead, he worked his way up the ranks of the Chicago Fire Department and became a captain and battalion chief.
“His chemical background helped him, and he passed the exams. And he did very well,” Johnson said. “He would say, ‘Sweetheart, I made the sacrifice, so you would not have to make that sacrifice. But understand there will be other sacrifices that you will need to make.”
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As the Village President, Johnson has already started a training program for those with new positions in her administration. She’s also forming an internship program where students will be able to shadow her and attend board meetings to get them involved in civic service at a young age.