11/10/2019 The Columbus Dispatch
By Sheridan Hendrix
Posted at 12:01 AM
Updated Nov 10, 2019 at 4:14 AM
Reynoldsburg made history during Tuesday’s election when voters picked three African-American city councilwomen for the first time in its history. Residents also elected the first Nepali-Bhutanese city council member in the nation.
Meredith Lawson-Rowe never thought she would make history. Thinking back to her school days and learning about black history, she figured all the history had already been made.
But that changed Tuesday when Lawson-Rowe and several other Reynoldsburg residents were elected to serve on a historic Reynoldsburg City Council.
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Lawson-Rowe, councilwoman-elect for Reynoldsburg’s Ward 4; Shanette Strickland, representing the city’s Ward 1; and city council President-elect Angie Jenkins became the first black women elected to serve on the eight-member Reynoldsburg City Council.
Joining the women is another historic city council member: Bhuwan Pyakurel, the first Nepali-Bhutanese elected official in the nation. Pyakurel will represent Ward 3 in Reynoldsburg.
“It’s humbling. Because you think in 2019, how could something be done for the first time?” Lawson-Rowe said. “How could history still be made in 2019?”
Lawson-Rowe, 51, had always considered herself someone who would rather serve behind the scenes than be in the limelight. So when friends encouraged her to run for office, the executive assistant didn’t think she was cut out for the job.
The thought of campaigning scared her to death, Lawson-Rowe said, but as soon as she started talking to voters, she quickly “fell in love with the opportunity to serve my neighbor.”
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“To be elected by my neighbors to speak on behalf of them and to be a black woman? That’s huge that they trust me to do that,” Lawson-Rowe said.
Jenkins, 62, decided to run for city council president after retiring last December from Attorney General Dave Yost’s administrative staff. With 15 years of experience working in state government, Jenkins said, she felt she could translate that to the local level.
Strickland, 43, an IT infrastructure project manager, said she decided to run for office because she was tired of complaining about what she was seeing in her community. “When you see a need, you have to step up and step out,” she said.
Strickland said what’s most important to her is that the community understands city council is there to represent them.
The three women ran together on a team with the other Reynoldsburg Democrats running for office. She, Lawson-Rowe and Jenkins used #FootballMoms and #WomenOfReynoldsburg during their campaigns to show voters their involvement and love for Reynoldsburg on social media. They want people to be inspired to make a difference themselves.
“It just takes ordinary people to do some extraordinary things,” Strickland said. “There’s nothing extraordinary about me; I’m just like everybody else. The only difference is that I decided to stop complaining and do something about it.”
All three women said one of their top priorities on the city council is building strong relationship with Reynoldsburg’s neighboring municipalities, Columbus and Fairfield County. As businesses continue to grow in Columbus and in other parts of Reynoldsburg, they said they’d like to see more companies choose to grow out east.
Jenkins added that convincing businesses to invest in Reynoldsburg means the city needs to improve technology and infrastructure to be marketable.
Pyakurel knew he wanted to run for elected office from the time he was 9 years old when his family was forced into a refugee camp in Nepal.
“I was thinking deep inside my heart why we were forced out, and I realized it’s because we didn’t have any political rights,” Pyakurel said.
Pyakurel, 40, lived in a refugee camp for 18 years until he, his wife and their young daughter were resettled in Colorado Springs in 2009 with $15 in hand. The family moved to Columbus’ North Side in 2014 and Reynoldsburg in 2016 and has been enjoying the American dream, said Pyakurel, an interpretative services coordinator for PrimaryOne Health.
There are more than 23,500 Bhutanese-Nepalis living in Columbus. They are the city’s second-largest refugee population.
Running for Reynoldsburg City Council was the best way Pyakurel thought he could play a role in the everyday lives of his neighbors.
He plans to focus on increasing the safety of residents by fixing sidewalks and roads, increasing the number of code enforcement officers in the city and livestreaming city council meetings on Facebook and YouTube.
“People can be at home in the kitchen cooking dinner and watch what is going on in the city,” he said.
It’s been a long journey from refugee camps to city council, but Pyakurel said he feels grateful to Reynoldsburg and the U.S. to be able to serve.
“In this country, hard work is a culture,” Pyakurel said, “and if you can believe in yourself, you can do it.”
To access the original The Columbus Dispatch story, please go to: https://www.dispatch.com/news/20191110/three-black-women-nepali-bhutanese-make-history-with-wins-in-reynoldsburg-city-council-race