From legacy to leadership: Wonder Woman Wilkerson

By Lisa Gardner The Black Lens

Trailblazer. Forerunner. Pioneer. Words that describe the type of leader making a historic win for Spokane. Betsy Wilkerson has become the first woman and the first person of color to be elected City Council president. Her win is a personal achievement and a significant milestone for the Black community in Spokane.

Wilkerson’s win reflects the changing times and growing recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion in government. Her election sends a powerful message that people of all backgrounds and races can achieve greatness and positively impact all communities.

Wilkerson wears the honor “first” as a badge of honor. In the footsteps of the first Black Spokane mayor, James Chase, and in the path of greatness behind former Councilwoman Roberta Greene, the first Black woman elected to City Council in Spokane, Wilkerson brings compassion, bravery and the type of government tenacity voters admire and that inspires our youth.

“It is an extreme honor to be the first woman of color council president for Spokane, but it comes with high expectations,” Wilkerson said.

“I never saw myself as a barrier breaker – I am a mother and grandmother; I just wanted to do good for my family. An entire community is now looking at my leadership, especially as a Black woman and the first. People can and will judge Black people based on me. However, I have solace in knowing that the next person of color to hold this position will hopefully be able to normalize people of color in leadership roles in Spokane.”

As City Council president, Wilkerson is committed to improving the quality of life for all residents, especially those historically marginalized and underserved. Wilkerson has prioritized advocating for the residents and businesses of East Central, and she has pledged to address issues such as affordable housing, economic development, public safety, and equity and justice in all aspects of city governance.

In her first year as a council member, Wilkerson engaged the East Central community around “The 5th Avenue Initiative Community Strategy.” This strategy results from a multi-year process of community involvement and collaboration between residents, businesses, community leaders and the city government, along with other agencies such as the Washington State Department of Transportation.

WSDOT has committed to ensuring that the land is revitalized and released back to the East Central community after the displacement of homes during the construction of the North Spokane Corridor.

Understanding that Spokane has many pressure points, such as homelessness, the fentanyl crisis, and the mental and behavioral health epidemic, Wilkerson will seek the advice of industry experts, listen to those with lived experience, and work with fellow elected officials, local and statewide, to push forward any legislative policy, capital budgets, or grant funding that moves Spokane in the direction of equitable improvements and prosperity.

“There is an old saying that goes ‘heavy is the head that wears the crown’ or in my case, ‘heavy is the hand that carries the gavel.’ Making the right decisions and navigating the bureaucratic nuances of city government takes a level of diplomacy that I did not imagine,” Wilkerson said. “I won’t be able to please everyone, but my goal is to make my family proud, serve my city and constituents to the best of my ability, and rest in that I cleared the path for others who look like me to come through.”

Wilkerson transcended doubt, adversity and naysaying, victoriously to ensure the Black community is represented in Spokane. Her leadership and commitment to serving the people of Spokane have earned her the trust and support of her constituents, and her election is a symbol of hope and progress.

We celebrate Wilkerson in making Black history in Spokane.