Meet a Matriot: Idotha Bootsie Neal

1.In 1991, you became the first black woman elected to Dayton’s city commission, and served there until 2004. Can you share with our members a little about that experience? As the first black woman to be elected to serve on the Dayton City Commission it was exciting as well as challenging. Early in my tenure I was often the only female and sometimes the only black in a room of key community stakeholders discussing and attempting to resolve critical issues facing the Dayton community and the Miami Valley region. Initially, I felt that my voice was not being heard and my perspective was not valued. The men would respectfully allow me to speak and then totally ignore my recommendations or concerns. I quickly learned that in order to be effective and respected in the male dominated arena it was imperative that I had to be thoroughly knowledgeable (even though oftentimes my colleagues were far less knowledgeable) and prepared to concisely discuss issues supported with facts grounded in business policies with the potential of long term profitability and not by emotions driven by social realities. Fortunately, I was not easily intimidated and was very confident in my abilities as a leader and definitely determined to provide valuable input which created a balance of perspectives in the decision making process. I worked hard and earned the respect of my colleagues, staff, business and community stakeholders.

As a female, as the first elected black woman, I felt a strong sense of responsibility and obligation to be the best public servant, the best elected official to serve our community. In my opinion, I sometimes experienced more scrutiny and criticism than my counterparts. I was quickly labeled the commissioner concerned about issues impacting children and families (which I proudly agree) however there was very little public acknowledgment that I was involved in and was a valuable broker for important development projects. I had to learn how to tell my own story. This was a very important lesson to learn which helped me to get re-elected.

It was a privilege and honor to serve the citizens of Dayton. I worked with a team of professional and political individuals who were competent, creative and progressive. We developed and began the implementation of a comprehensive strategic plan that laid the foundation for the economic revitalization of the urban core of our region. Our focus was rebuilding the business district with jobs, housing and amenities. We were committed to restoring and revitalizing our neighborhoods, and strengthening citizen participation. As an elected official, it was critically important to understand that the decisions we made would impact the Dayton community for generations to come.

2.You are a mentor to other women now running or considering running for office. Why do you think that it is important for younger people to invest in the political process? As a mentor, I want to inspire young people to get involved. I want to share my knowledge and experiences. I believe that there is value in what can be learned from my successes as well as my failures. It is extremely important for younger people to get involved and invest in the political process. I believe the political process develops the evolving legislative blueprint that governs educational and government institutions that impacts every aspect of our life and how we live, work and play. In my opinion, young people have the responsibility and obligation to continue to develop legislation that will protect our country, civil liberties, constitution, climate and freedoms. The political process is ‘our voice’ in our government. As future leaders, young people must develop the skills, capabilities and attributes that will help them to effectively lead in a diverse global environment.

3. You recently filled a room in Dayton with women you wanted to introduce to The Matriots mission. Why do you think The Matriots’ vision for more women in elected office is the solution to today’s political rancor? I am excited about the Matriots’ vision to support women to get elected. I strongly believe that it is very important to have more women in elected office. In my experiences, oftentimes, women bring a unique perspective to the decision making process. This balance of perspectives contributes to a comprehensive approach in the assessment of problems and the understanding of needs of residents and/or businesses. I believe that women in certain situations are greater risk takers, creative visionaries and are more willing to partner in a nonpartisan civil manner and work collectively to identify solutions to issues facing our communities, our economy and our country. I think women are more committed to public service and wanting to make a positive difference rather than seeking power or public recognition. Today’s political climate requires leaders who can be bold, conciliatory, focused to find long term solutions, that are not grounded in the ole’ boy network, for evolving contemporary challenges. I argue that women can successfully change the political paradigm, balance priorities and govern effectively to help communities to educationally and economically compete in a global climate.

4. By year’s end, The Matriots will have endorsed more than 100 candidates! Can you tell our members about a candidate who inspires you and why?Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to work with Shenise Turner-Sloss and witness first hand her commitment to the Dayton community. I am inspired by Shenise Turner-Sloss who is a candidate running for the Dayton City Commission and is endorsed by The Matriots. She is an experienced competent capable individual with leadership abilities that is visionary and innovative. She previously worked for the City of Dayton and is knowledgeable about city government issues and challenges. In my opinion, there is still much critical work to do in the Dayton neighborhoods to improve the quality of housing stock, accessibility to diverse retail options and other services that support the needs of residents. I believe that Shenise Turner Sloss is the ‘right’ person to lead the charge to rebuild sustainable Dayton neighborhoods and challenge the current city elected officials and staff to focus on rebuilding our neighborhoods one block at a time. This effort will require the commitment of a leader like Shenise who will develop and implement a comprehensive collaborative plan approach that will attract private investment and state & federal financial resources for housing projects and small business development.

Shenise is an honest person with a high degree of integrity. As a commissioner, she will be a strong advocate for requiring transparency, accountability and clear processes in the development of legislation, funding and awarding contracts and demanding quality basic services for Dayton residents. Shenise Turner Sloss will be the consistent voice that will champion the needs that are in our neighborhoods and community business districts that are important to the redevelopment of the urban core.

Shenise cares about the education of our children, stability of Dayton’s families, safety in our community and creating an economic environment that will attract jobs that pay living wages. I am excited about her proposal that will bring diverse housing options to our neighborhoods and the renovation of the existing housing stock that will support current homeowners. She is adequately prepared to be that strong voice in the room in what is still a male dominated arena. Shenise Turner Sloss inspires me because of her community involvement, the personal and professional development that she has accomplished in preparation to become an elected official and her willingness to serve in today’s political rancor.

5. Now for something fun: Tell us about your favorite thing to do in the great state of Ohio. It could be a hobby, a favorite place to eat or something we might not know about our state! I love Dayton. I love history!!! Dayton is the birthplace of aviation, ‘where Orville & Wilbur Wright taught the world how to fly’ and it is the home of poet laureate Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African American literary genius who used the power of the pen to confront the reality of social injustices in our country. We have an amazing Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park that consists of five sites that commemorates the contributions of Wilbur and Orville Wright and Paul Laurence Dunbar. There are several other interesting sites to visit in Dayton; Carillon Historical Park which tells Dayton’s rich innovation history, the Walk of Fame which celebrates other locals who have made major contributions to inventions, science, the arts, education, music, sports and business, Dayton VA founded in 1867, SunWatch Indian Archaeological Park, National Museum of the US Air Force and the Dayton Art Institute all of which are located in close proximity to each other. The tour of these sites are informative, fun and relaxing to visit and helps tourists to gain a greater appreciation of Dayton’s history and the contributions that helped to change the world and how we live, work and play. There are several quaint eateries that offer a variety of cuisines in the Oregon Historic District in downtown Dayton.

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