Growing up in a town that felt more like a home than anything else, it only felt natural for Messiah Williams-Cole to want to always be there for it.
Williams-Cole, senior in interdisciplinary studies, was sworn into office as Mayor of Camp Hill, Alabama, on Nov. 2, 2020.
In a town of nearly 1,000 people, Williams-Cole won the election for mayor with 259 votes.
Williams-Cole said he wanted to run for mayor because he felt there was a disconnect between the community and the local government. He said he believes the key to being mayor is to make himself accessible to the community because he wants open communication between him and the town.
“I think the easiest way to get from one point to the other is getting straight to the point,” he said. “When you are looking at your local officials, especially in a town like Camp Hill where we are so small, the easiest way to get things accomplished is to ask people what they want.”
Williams-Cole originally applied for city council before campaigning for mayor. During his application for city council, he wrote a letter explaining his interest in the position and offered to work for free, allowing his salary to be funded back to the city, he said.
“The way I approached that letter and the amount of resources and experience and passion I had for this town made me upset to the point where I guess I felt maybe a little bitter,” he said. “I wouldn’t say bitter, but maybe just a little fired up about how things were going to go on.”
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Both Williams-Cole and his mother, Juanice Cole, attribute his success to being rooted in his love for Camp Hill.
“It was just like home to me,” Williams-Cole said, remembering growing up in Camp Hill. “It was like that typical neighborhood that you see in movies, but it just didn’t look like it.”
Cole said even at a young age her son wanted to always improve things around him.
“Messiah was always ‘Why?’” she said. “‘Why is that?’ Most kids say ‘Why?’ but you had to prove it to him. You had to show it to him. You couldn’t just give him an answer. He was more like an engineer as a kid.”
Williams-Cole said he knew whatever career he chose, he wanted to help people. With a passion for math and science, he enrolled at Auburn planning to go to medical school. However, he switched to interdisciplinary studies to carve a path to law school instead.
He started to show an interest in politics when he witnessed how the local government could make a change in the community.
In middle school, his mother was part of a movement to sue his school in violation of Title IX as the school was segregating students based on gender, he said.
Williams-Cole said that experience made him look at laws as something that had the potential to make positive changes.
While being elected mayor does impact his timeline for law school, he said serving the community is worth putting other plans on pause.
Kesha Harris, the town clerk at Camp Hill Town Hall, said when she met Williams-Cole he seemed like a person who wanted to make changes for the better and who cared about his town.
Harris said his transition into office and his leadership style has been pleasant. He tells them what his expectations are and trusts them to follow through, she said.
“He has made it very clear he has an open-door policy for every employee,” she said.
At the moment, Harris said they are all getting acquainted. There has been a mutual exchange of listening and learning from each other.
Williams-Cole said his focus when first coming to office was doing routine things to help the town financially and make them more accessible for grants.
“Just being able to implement those things and knowing I am part of the change,” he said. “It’s really amazing.”
Based on the feedback from the campaign, he wants to revitalize the library to fit the community’s needs. He said he is working on turning it into a learning center by providing classes for ages 4–12 and creating space for adults to prepare for their GRE.
Williams-Cole said he has to make a list of what he has accomplished in a day because he doesn’t want to forget even the small stuff— it matters.
“The thing that I didn’t expect for me to do was to enjoy [the position] so much,” he said. “It’s still hard, but I thought it was going to be terribly hard and kind of intimidating. But the thing is, honestly, it’s really what you make of it.”
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