There was a time when Lithonia’s new mayor did not know the small city existed, even though she was attending a church just outside the city limits.
Mayor Deborah Jackson, who has degrees from Princeton University, Rutgers University and Southern New Hampshire University, started her professional career in a legal services program in northern Mississippi for two years working with communities. She then moved to New York “always with some interest in returning to work in the South.”
In 2000 Jackson, born in Savannah and reared in Jersey City, N.J., moved to Georgia and it was in 2002 that Jackson “became aware that there was actually a city called Lithonia.” At the time she was working with her church, First Afrikan Presbyterian, to set up a community development corporation.
The church, which is in unincorporated Lithonia, reached out to city officials “to see how we could be of assistance,” Jackson said.
Jackson, an attorney with more than 20 years of experience, helped write the application, which led to the city receiving a $85,000 Liveable Communities Initiative grant in 2003. Jackson was then hired by the city as a project coordinator to do community outreach for the LCI study.
In 2006, Jackson moved to Lithonia.
“I decided I really liked the idea of being in the city as opposed to being in an unincorporated area,” Jackson said. That same year Jackson began an 18-month stint as the interim city attorney.
“Serving as city attorney, I looked for opportunities to provide counsel and advice to the elected officials and I didn’t always charge every time somebody called me.”
In 2008, when then-Mayor Joyce McKibben was recalled, Jackson unsuccessfully ran for the position against five other candidates.
“Based on some of my prior experiences I thought that I was able to make a different type of contribution to help the city make some progress in a number of areas,” Jackson said.
In 2009, Jackson was asked to run in a special election to fill the unexpired term of a city council member. She won and nine months later won a general election for the seat.
Jackson said her greatest achievement during her “Lithonia journey” so far has been “encouraging people to come and let their voices be heard and that their voices are important.”
“The number of citizens who are aware of what’s going on and are expressing active interest and participating in what’s going on has increased,” Jackson said. “There’s a new level of excitement in the community in terms of what people see as the possibilities for the community.”
Jackson said her goal as mayor is to “lay the foundation so that we will have a strong, vibrant community.”
“If you don’t have a strong foundation, whatever other things you do will not be able to stand over time,” Jackson said. “Lithonia has some really good bones. We want to look at how we strengthen those bones and take [the city] to a new level of achievement.”
Jackson takes over a government that has had more than its share of resignations and terminations of government officials, and discord among elected officials.
“It’s over, based on the people [who are] coming on the council,” Jackson said of the city’s internal turmoil. “We have all said to one another that we have to work together.
“It’s not about the mayor or the council,” Jackson said. “It’s about the mayor and the council working together to get things done.”