She Sought a Woman to Run for Council... and Found Herself Mayor

Aug 2, 2017

Harrisonburg native, now mayor, Deanna Reed is program director for On the Road Collaborative at Skyline Middle School.
Credit Christopher Clymer Kurtz

Deanna Reed’s four-year term on Harrisonburg's City Council began this year. She says she never planned to run for office -- but now she's the mayor.  In the second installment of WMRA's Women of Interest series, Christopher Clymer Kurtz reports.

When Harrisonburg native Deanna Reed won her race for City Council, which subsequently chose her to be mayor, she had dubbed herself 'an everyday leader for everyday people.'

DEANNA REED: I'm not a wealthy person. I live in the same community that I grew up in. I'm not a lawyer, or a -- I'm a program director for an afterschool program, right? And I'm your mayor.

[City Council meeting]

But each and every day is product and part of history, as she full well knows.

REED: I was surrounded and I always talk about women who kind of had their hands on me when I was growing up. And that would be my mom, of course and my grandmother, my aunt. My grandmother had these friends, Miss Wilhelmina Johnson, Miss Barbara Blakey, who was my high school teacher. Those women kept their hands on me as I was growing up but they also were community activists and community service was at their core. All of them are with me in this moment, because I'm standing on their shoulders.

After she graduated from Harrisonburg High School, Reed studied for a couple years at Radford University, then spent a couple decades living and working in business in Charlottesville and then Richmond. She returned to Harrisonburg to care for her aging grandmother, and substitute taught in the city schools. She has served with a variety of community organizations, and is now the program director for an afterschool program called On the Road Collaborative.

Reed said that when she found herself working with young girls of color, she realized that she was embodying the women who shaped her.

REED: I think that was a defining moment, that I was actually being the mentor to young girls the way Miss Wilhelmina and Miss Blakey were being mentors to me, that I’m like, “Oh wow -- Now I'm doing this. Now I'm them. And then of course I decided to run for office, which was totally different.

CLYMER KURTZ: Had you ever anticipated doing that?

REED: No. Do you want to hear that story? [laughs]

Reed said she was concerned about overcrowding in Harrisonburg High School, and began attending City Council meetings.

REED: And I was sitting there one night and I was listening, and it just dawned on me, there are no women up there.

She found out that with only a handful of exceptions, Harrisonburg City Council members have always been white men.

REED: Harrisonburg is a very diverse community, but the leadership wasn't diverse. So I went out and tried to find a woman to run.

That woman turned out to be herself.

REED: I’m not trying to say anything, but it was time to have women in these leadership roles, because at 52,000 people population, you know women are over 50% of that population, right? We're more than men, so our voices are important and needed to be heard, and just having three women over, you know -- that's not acceptable. So I kind of wanted to break that glass ceiling.

And again, she points back to the women who shaped her.

REED: I remember that they would always make us -- and I said make -- but they would always make us speak at church. Even when we were young, I'm talking about 10 or 11, 12, I remember this vividly, stand up in front of people, and we either had to quote scripture or read something and I hated that, ‘cause I was unsure, I was uncomfortable. And then I remember standing over here at the council chambers and delivering my caucus speech, and it was so clear to me: I was being prepared by them ladies, for that moment.

She also points to the girls she mentors; she said some were at that caucus speech.

REED: Now these girls can see themselves in this role.

With that history her foundation and a City Council term only begun, Reed also has an eye on a personal goal: completing her education degree.

REED: I decided probably about five years ago, I said, 'You know, I’m going to go ahead and finish this, I need to finish this.' So I've been working on it, but I got to get through this one class, and the one class is math.

CLYMER KURTZ: And you're looking out the window and all around the room like, 'Is there anything else we can talk about?'

REED: But I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it.