Wide Awake: Dana Redd
Changing more than Camden

A few years ago, I attended a student performance at a school in Camden. I sat behind Mayor Dana Redd, so I was watching the kids perform while looking over her shoulder. One little girl onstage, who was probably about 8, didn’t take her eyes off Mayor Redd. She had this huge smile the whole time she was watching her mayor.

It hit me right then: this little girl was seeing the strong, powerful woman she could be one day. She was seeing all her potential sitting right there in the front row. And while I couldn’t see Mayor Redd’s face, I’m pretty sure she was smiling right back, letting the girl know that yes, she could grow up, be great and have an awesome life.

I didn’t know Mayor Redd then, but I had seen her before. Years earlier, I attended a press conference at Virtua where Eagle Donovan McNabb was announcing a major donation for the neonatal intensive care unit (McNabb’s wife had just delivered twins there). Hundreds of people attended, including a group of local and state politicians who stood in a straight line next to the podium. As I scanned the row – a line of older men in blue suits – my head popped up at the sight of one young woman standing so comfortably and purposefully at the end of the line. I had one thought: Who is that?

It was Dana Redd, then-state senator for District 5. She was an up-and-comer, I found out, definitely someone to keep your eyes on.

Within the year, she was elected Camden’s mayor.

I often tell people if you don’t know all that Dana Redd has done for Camden, Google her. Her accomplishments in the city are too many for me to write here or even to tell you if we were talking.

After she was elected to her second term as mayor, I had the opportunity to interview Mayor Redd for a cover story we would run in May 2014. We sat in her office for two hours, and she spoke openly about her first term, which included her decision to lay off the city’s police department.

She described what had happened for her to reach that decision, and she also spoke about going home the night the announcement was made – as the national media pounced on the city – and hearing children playing outside her front door. In that moment, she said, she prayed Camden’s children would be safe.

Mayor Redd said something else that really struck me. She was talking about the young women of Camden, how she always tries to encourage them to “go to college, get your master’s, get your Ph.D.” Ph.D?

While most people would instinctively encourage the children of Camden to go to college, not many would bring up getting a Ph.D – even I wouldn’t have set the bar that high. And isn’t that terrible. The young people of Camden are so fortunate to have had a leader who sees no limits to what they can do.

I realized then that I was talking with someone extraordinary, someone who was proving that she could get things done in a city that was often overlooked. But even more, she conducted her work with integrity, thoughtfully and with the greatest intentions.

Mayor Redd leaves office this year, and while I’ve watched as she’s revived the city she loves, I now know that her impact extends far beyond Camden.

Dana Redd has showed us all that when faced with the most impossible task, phenomenal leaders get to work. They worry about decisions they make, but they make the ones they believe are right.

They inspire others to reach higher than anyone imagines. They celebrate small triumphs along the way, until one day they are standing in the middle of their legacy, and everyone can see the tremendous amount of good they have done.

December 2017
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