Reynoldsburg’s diversity could predict the future of the rest of Licking County

REYNOLDSBURG – Population growth and increased diversity in Reynoldsburg and southwestern Licking County could predict the future of the rest of the county.

Reynoldsburg, part of Licking County, saw its population grow 14% from 2010 to 2020, reaching 41,076. The city’s African American population has grown from 10% in 2000 to 26% in 2020, while the white population has grown from 85% to 63% over the same 20-year period.

Reynoldsburg City Council President Angie Jenkins, an African-American woman and Licking County resident, said it was important that the city’s leadership change to better reflect the community.

She retired from the Ohio Attorney General’s office in 2018 and has 15 years of experience in state government. She has also worked for the Ohio Medical Board, Board of Nursing Home Administrators and the Ohio Department of Health.

Reynoldsburg City Council member Meredith Lawson-Rowe and Angie Jenkins carry boxes of PPE in 2021. The city's African American population has grown from 10% in 2000 to 26% in 2020, resulting in a increase in minority representation in municipal government and could be a sign.  diversity growth for the rest of Licking County.

“More people are seeing that they can be elected as a minority and have a seat at the table,” Jenkins said. “They saw the three women elected to city council for the first time in history and feel they can do it too.

“There’s just a lot of changes because of the changing demographics. It looks totally different. It feels more like community and that’s what we were hoping for.”

Reynoldsburg’s eight-member council includes three African-American women elected in 2019 – Jenkins, Shanette Strickland and Meredith Lawson-Rowe, African-American man Stacie Baker and Bhuwan Pyakurel, the first Nepali-Bhutanese elected to the states States, chosen by voters in the 2019 election.

Bhuwan Pyakurel shakes hands with friends, family and supporters after being sworn into the Reynoldsburg City Council in 2020. Pyakurel is believed to be the first Nepalese-Bhutanese person elected to the United States.

Baker, elected to Reynoldsburg City Council in 2017 and re-elected in 2021, said the environment was very different when he joined the council.

“I was diversity, racially, as the only person of color,” Baker said. “Reynoldsburg was not always friendly to non-white males.”

Although the change was quick, the public accepted, Baker said.

“The reaction has been good,” Baker said. “Some people still want Reynoldsburg to be like it was, but you have to grow or wilt. Now the council feels like the community. That way we have perspective from all angles.

Baker said he’s proud of his annual resolution to honor Black History Month, which he recently did for the fifth time. He said that simple recognition did not take place before his arrival.

He works as an outreach coordinator for the Franklin County Treasurer’s Office

Members of the Reynoldsburg City Council.

Historical changes

Southwest Licking County not only has a majority minority city council and the country’s first Nepali-Bhutanese elected official in Reynoldsburg, but also the county’s first-ever black township administrator in Rozland McKee-Flax, Etna Township; a black woman seeking to be the first-ever minority county commissioner and the first African American to serve on the Licking Heights school board.

DeVeonne Gregory, of Reynoldsburg, an African-American woman running for Licking County Commissioner, said: “I think this is an incredible opportunity. What people are starting to see is that if you want see the change, you have to be part of the change.

“It’s not who you know in politics anymore, but are you going to do the job and can people trust you? I see Licking County becoming one of the leading counties in Ohio, with opportunities for small businesses and opportunities for minorities.

Gregory works as the Senior Compliance Manager for the National Center for Urban Solutions in Columbus.

Johnson, a Columbus public school teacher in his sixth year with the Licking Heights School Board, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ohio State University and a master’s degree from Ashland University. He said it was difficult to quantify the effects of an increase in the number of African Americans in leadership roles.

“What I can share is that diversity is not a divisive word in my book,” Johnson said. “If nothing else, the pandemic has taught us that the world is getting smaller, not bigger. What happened in the world yesterday will impact us tomorrow.

“Context is needed more than ever to make the best decisions. I’ve long believed that having diverse representation is the best way to ensure you have a deep understanding of an issue or topic. feedback, it enables informed decisions to be made, leading to positive results.”

Rozland McKee, left, is sworn in as Etna Township Administrator by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy, right, on Dec. 20, 2021 as McKee's husband, Dwight Flax, holds a family Bible.  McKee is the first black township administrator in Licking County history.

McKee-Flax, who has spent more than 30 years as an information technology and infrastructure professional in state government, said running for office and winning an election are important steps for change. the status quo.

“If we don’t step in, things will continue to be like this and we don’t want that,” McKee said. “We want to be respected. We have ideals and we want to come together and work together.

Still, there’s more to impact than an election victory, McKee said. She said people of color might get a seat at the table, but sometimes it’s just so others can tell they’re diverse.

“Just putting a person out there isn’t the end, you have to work with them,” McKee said. “That’s where I see we don’t do that here. We have to improve in that area.

County-wide impact

The growth and diversity was not limited to the southwestern part of the county, but was most pronounced in this area.

Licking County’s population of 178,519 at the last census was a 7.2% increase from 2010, making it the 17th largest county in the state. The county’s white population decreased by 1,107, while the minority population more than doubled from 11,300 in 2010 to 24,449 in 2020.

Since the expansion of Ohio 161 from Granville to New Albany over a decade ago, Licking County is expected to experience tremendous growth and development. It began with the annexation of New Albany into Jersey Township and the opening of the personal care and beauty campus.

In recent years, massive warehouses in Etna Township and data centers in New Albany have created more jobs west of the county. And solar fields are planned in Harrison and Hartford townships.

Then Intel’s recent announcement that a $20 billion computer chip manufacturing plant will be located just south of Johnstown has ensured that Licking County will change dramatically, with thousands of new jobs creating the need for new homes, schools and expanded businesses.

“Having a global vision is essential”, Johnson noted. “Before becoming a teacher, I had the advantage of working with organizations that had an international reach in buying, selling, sourcing, partnering and retaining talent.

“To be truly successful, organizations need to think and operate globally. When I think of our graduates entering the workforce, college or the military, they come with an inherent advantage because they come from a culturally rich environment.. They will see opportunities where others cannot.. They will have a sense of context that others might not.

Pataskala Mayor Mike Compton said the developments are sure to be life-changing in Licking County and public reaction will be divided.

“I welcome that,” Compton said. “I would like to see more ideas, avenues and different cultures. It will probably be like everything else, 50-50.

“Elders and farmers who don’t want things to change will probably be against it. And I love the rural part of it, but I also love the amenities, like more rooftops lead to more restaurants.

He noted that Chipotle recently opened on Mount Etna, shortening the commute for residents going to Blacklick’s restaurant.

Jeff Harris, an African-American and Newark city councilman, said Licking Countians might be frustrated by the increased traffic or longer lines at stores, but not by the racial breakdown of newcomers.

“Hopefully it will increase diversity,” Harris said of the upcoming development in Licking County. “People won’t react any differently. I think they’ll have a bigger problem reacting to just more people in the county than to the color of their skin. I don’t think we have a problem with racism in the county. Licking County.

“There will be a lot more people in Licking County. Many more homes and businesses in Licking County. And in schools. This will significantly change Licking County.

Harris made history recently when he replaced Council Speaker Don Ellington, becoming the first or second African American to lead a Newark City Council meeting as president. Harris said the first black council member, Robert Weaver, may have done so in the 1960s.

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Change of hours

Here are some recent historical events for African Americans in southwestern Licking County:

2022: DeVeonne Gregory of Reynoldsburg is entering the race for Licking County Commissioner, seeking to become the first-ever black county commissioner.

2022: Teneah Chambers of Reynoldsburg, a black woman, is running for the Ohio Senate.

2021: Rozland McKee-Flax elected an Etna Township Trustee, the first black township trustee to serve anywhere in Licking County. Teneah Chambers also ran for Etna Township Administrator.

2019: Angie Jenkins, Shanette Strickland and Meredith Lawson-Rowe – three African-American women – were elected to the Reynoldsburg City Council, alongside Bhuwan Pyakurel, the first Nepali-Bhutanese elected official in the United States.

2017: Stacie Baker, an African-American man, elected to the Reynoldsburg City Council. He was re-elected in 2021.

2016:Paul Johnson, an African-American man, appointed to the Licking Heights Board of Education, then elected in 2017 and re-elected in 2021.