The Marshall City Council is made up entirely by volunteer citizens, who not only want to spend their time helping the city, but actively campaign to be able to do so every new term.
Councilmember Vernia Calhoun is no stranger to this process, since she has been serving on the council for seven years. Similarly, though councilmember Leo Morris has been only serving on the council since last year, his background and experience with city work has made him the perfect candidate to jump into local government at this time.
To get to know them better, both Morris and Calhoun were asked to complete a list of questions for Black History Month:
MNM: What inspired you to run for city council initially?
Calhoun: Mrs. Charles Wilson approached and inspired me to run for District 5 during my first run in 2014. I told her, “Oh no Mrs. Wilson, I’m retired and have no desire to get into politics. I listen to politicians, pay my taxes, and vote.”
After our conversation I thought, moving back to Marshall and complaining about the streets, neighborhoods and city appearance, lack of decent jobs and housing for our citizens, I said to myself instead of complaining, I have the time and passion to make a difference.
I called Mrs. Wilson and said I’d give it a try. The rest is history.
Morris: The will and desire to be of public service to the people of our community. That service manifested itself to be in politics.
MNM: How does Marshall today differ from what it was like growing up in the area?
Calhoun: I grew up in the segregation era where racial groups, schools and social facilities in certain areas were segregated. My first 12 years of school were segregated.
My 1970 senior year at HB Pemberton High School was the last segregated class to graduate. The Fall of 1970 the Marshall Independent School District was beginning mandatory integration, since the year of 1969 was optional. Some African American students attend Marshall High School but no Caucasians attended HB Pemberton High School.
The difference in today and when I was growing up, it’s now modernized.
MNM: What does Black History Month mean to you?
Calhoun: Knowing the past opens the door to the future. Black History Month is a time when African Americans can take the time out and see what the people before us fought, bleed, suffered, and died for.
Black History Month is a time of rejoicing, celebrating, and thanking those African Americans for giving us hope or a life lesson that could be used. Black History Month is a time when we can be reminded about what it means to be an African American.
Black History isn’t just about all the bad times we’ve been through. It’s about integrity, leadership, and determination. It’s about showing our true character. I think Black History Month should be seen as a starting point for a larger conversation about how to incorporate Black History into American History as a whole.
Then we wouldn’t need to have a Black History Month.
Morris: Black history was started in 1926 by the African American historian Carter G. Woodson. In understanding the importance of Black History Month to educate all peoples of the significance of the Black experience, I am of the opinion that Black history which is American history should be a curriculum taught in Elementary through College schools.
Black people have a prominent place in the annals of the Marshall and Harrison County life experiences
MNM: How does it feel to be a member of one of the most diverse city governments in the area?
Calhoun: The fact of being inclusive in all decisions for the betterment of our city for all. We need diversity in city government. Marshall is home to people from all walks of life that reflect the diversity of our community.
Promoting diversity at City Hall is a key strategy for ensuring equitable service. A diverse council can lead to intensely creative problem solving and foster a flexible collaborative and inclusive council. To make an effort to understand differing viewpoints and talents also enhance our council’s ability to work as a cohesive team.
Morris: I am not overly enthusiastic about what appears to be a diverse Marshall City Council because all segments of this population are not represented on the governing board. Until we see a council that has faces that look like all the people of this city, we are not truly diverse.
MNM: Why do you feel there are not very many people of color in many of our local governments?
Calhoun: I ask myself that every year. I’ve been told by some community members they don’t feel they are being heard when the city is considering decisions that affect their lives. If residents feel they are understood and see that they are truly being represented they are typically more likely to participate in the civil life of our community and engage in local government activities.
I say to our citizens of color, get involved with what’s going on in our city, come with a passion to identify the needs of our local residents, formulate programs to meet the changing requirements for the betterment of our city for your children and children to come.
Morris: There is still the stigma that many in the Black community have, that government doesn’t work for the people of color. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, voter intimidation have all been a source of the reason that many people of color don’t vote. But, in the final analysis, the problem of the lack of Black voting is rooted in systemic racism.
MNM: What is one, or a few, of the most important (in your opinion) achievements you have made during your time in office?
Calhoun: A few most important achievements I’ve made during my time in office. I spearheaded the move of our Municipal Court to its present location at the BDC building, street sweeper, boom axe, the renovation of Smith Park, the renovation of our two sub fire stations, city street repairs and overlays.
Of course none of these achievements could have happened without the support of some of the previous and present councils. In order for any council member to achieve their desire for improvements in the best interest of our city, one would need at least four votes or more on the council.
The city has been blessed to have good working councils in the last six years of my time in office.
Morris: I have been on the city council for only 6 months but I am proud to have been a part of a council that has achieved a number of accomplishments. We approved the financing, the final building design and eventual construction of the Animal Shelter. We approved the Downtown Redevelopment project and the Parker Creek Drainage project.
I’m looking forward in continuing the progress that is taking place in Marshall.
MNM: Why do you keep volunteering for this position?
Calhoun: I’ve been asked that a time or two, why I keep volunteering with no pay. During my very first run in 2014 I had no desire to run, but today I have a passion to serve District 5 and our city. Marshall is not what we want it to be, but we sure are not where we use to be.
Marshall is a work in progress, that’s why I keep volunteering. I don’t want to be a part of the problem, I want to be a part of the solution.
Morris: The District 2 that I represent has some unique problems that some of the other Districts don’t experience. I can and do advocate on those issues for the residents of District 2.
MNM: Why do you believe having diverse representation in all forms is important?
Calhoun: Diversity and inclusion increase the capacity to serve and protect people who have different experiences or backgrounds and enhance its ability to be receptive to different traditions and ideas.
Morris: Diverse representation creates diverse ideas and policies which addresses the needs of the total community.
MNM: Who is someone you consider a hero of yours, or someone who inspires you?
Calhoun: My inspiration comes from God my Heavenly Father daily for all my blessing how I live my life and the work I do through city government.
My heroes are the people who died, bleed, and suffered for the opportunities and privileges we as a people enjoy today.
Morris: My mentor, Mrs. Charles Wilson taught me to be respectful of all people ideas even if they may disagree with my own positions.
MNM: What advice do you have for young people growing up in Marshall today?
Calhoun: “Your worth is not measured by likes, shares, and comments, but in your ability to love, be kind and lead by positive example.”
Morris: To the young people I say, “Life is a journey. Keep an open mind and allow yourselves to be educated to all that life is going to offer.”
Editor’s note: Councilmember Marvin Bonner did not respond by presstime.