It’s been more than three years since George Floyd’s murder, but when Anika Bowie drives through her neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota, she can still see evidence of the raw anger residents felt.
“There’s a large part of my area that still has not recovered,” Bowie said, adding that some buildings in the city, which neighbors Minneapolis where Floyd died, remain burned or reduced to rubble.
Bowie told CNN that the daily reminder of racial injustice in the United States and the shortage of affordable housing in the city inspired her to run for St. Paul’s city council. And last week, the 31-year-old entrepreneur was elected to the city council alongside three other women, all of whom are Democrats. They will join three incumbent councilwomen who won their bids for reelection.
It will be the first time in St. Paul’s history that the city will be represented by all women and majority people of color.
Bowie, who will represent Ward 1, said the history-making election has been “the greatest reward after so much hard work that we put in.”
“I really foresee us breaking down barriers for people who have had challenges … and just not felt like they have a voice or agency in their city,” she said. “I’m excited about doing tangible things. We have an opportunity to build what the people want and what the people need here.”
In January 2024, the new city council will be sworn in. Hwa Jeong Kim, councilwoman-elect for Ward 5, told CNN she feels she and her colleagues were elected because of their diverse experiences.
“I’m excited to govern with other community-centered leaders,” she said. “I think that Ward 5 residents and the voters in St. Paul, they didn’t just vote for women of color and women. They voted for experience, a shared vision, values, and also the skill set to deliver on a really bold future.”
Kim, who is also executive director of a nonprofit that encourages civic engagement and voter access, said as a Korean American, she is encouraged that the city will be represented by councilmembers who reflect the diversity of its residents.
Minnesota’s capital city is comprised of about 55% White residents, 19% Asian residents, 16% Black residents and nearly 9% Hispanic residents, according to the US Census estimates from July 2022.
In Ward 3, infrastructure remains a top concern among residents, according to its newly elected councilwoman, Saura Jost. The Indian American civil engineer said her professional experience will benefit her constituents.
“We really need engineers, especially civil engineers, in public office to provide that expertise when it comes to our infrastructure,” she said. “I wanted to help solve some of these problems we’re facing, especially around our roads.”
Prior to Cheniqua Johnson and Bowie’s elections, only one other Black woman is believed to have served on the city council, according to St. Paul officials.
Johnson, who previously held positions in local government and served as a congressional staffer, said she looks forward to representing constituents in Ward 7 from her culture.
“We’re all very, very passionate about making sure that we’re including multiple voices, and not just the main constant voice that has been heard over the last decade at City Hall,” she said.
“I hope that if anything, it comes down to also just motivating other people,” Johnson added. “If they’re sitting on the fence right now about running for office, they really should. We need more people doing this work.”