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Ayanna Shivers Is Making History as Mayor of Mexico, MO

Nathan Lawrence

Chicago has made national news for electing its first African American female mayor, Lori Lightfoot. The rural, small town of Mexico, Missouri also has its first African American woman in the Mayor’s seat.

Ayanna Shivers was elected Mayor of Mexico April 8. She is attending her first community event as the mayor: an Easter egg hunt for local children in foster care.

Shivers says in Mexico, the mayor’s job is mostly to be a political figurehead in the community. The city manager handles all the administrative tasks, and Shivers is able to devote her time to being involved in the community.

Shivers was born and raised in Mexico but, like many young people from rural communities, Shivers left for college with no particular plan to move back. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma, then a master’s in education from the Citadel in South Carolina and a Ph.D. in education from the University of Southern Mississippi.

She spent 18 years working as a school counselor in South Carolina, but she would come spent time with her family in Mexico every summer. Eventually, she realized the same problems she was trying to solve in the community in South Carolina existed in her hometown.

Credit Sidney Steele / KBIA

“If all of us who went off to college, got our degrees and became somewhat successful leave a small town, who’s left? It finally struck a chord and I said, well lord, if you’re sending me back home, I’m vowing I’m going to make a difference,” Shivers says.

Shivers moved home almost five years ago, and has been working at Mexico Military Academy as the Director of College and Career Counseling. She also is an adjunct professor at Lincoln University, a pastor at Harper’s Chapel Everybody’s Church and sometimes she gives piano lessons. Less than two years after moving back to Mexico, she decided to take on another role in the community and made a run for city council.

Shivers says, “I’d been attending council meetings, and I decided I was going to run for office and I had no idea what I was doing.”

She lost that year by 18 votes. In the spring of 2018, she ran again and won the seat, making history as the first black woman on the Mexico City Council.

But, Shivers says she secretly always wanted to be mayor.

The mayor of Mexico is appointed by the city council. Councilwoman Vicki Briggs nominated Shivers, and she was selected to be mayor. Shivers made history once again as the first black woman to be mayor of Mexico.

“I think what’s been most amazing to me is just seeing the energy that’s been around me being elected,” Shivers says. “I was shocked yesterday when I saw an editorial in the local paper congratulating me on what it what this means for the community and surrounding area.”

Shivers says that even in the elections she lost, she saw people going out to vote who had never voted before. In 2018, she ran for state senate as a democrat against the incumbent republican senator. She says her focus was on representing the people, not the party. This campaign got her out in the community, knocking on doors, meeting members of her district and showing what kind of a leader she is.

“I had a guy tell me last night that I am the only democrat he has ever voted for,” Shivers says. “And it speaks to the heart that what I always say, which is people need to know how we’re more alike than we are different.”

“I think, in rural America, the things to campaign on are those rural values. When they realize that you’re about the majority, and just common-sense issues that impact everyone, I think you can start gaining the support and cross party lines,” Shivers says.

The issues she is concerned about include access to health care and education, and the socioeconomic status of people in rural America.

Shivers says another run for state office is likely to be in her future. Until then she will be engaging with her community in Mexico. Whether it be hosting a “Munch with the Mayor” or handing out Easter baskets, Shivers will be there.