Blondell Reynolds Brown: A Legacy of Service

Filed under: Featured News,Subject Categories |

COUNCILWOMAN Blondell Reynolds Brown has moved on from a 20-year career on Philadelphia City Council.

It could be said that Blondell Reynolds Brown danced her way into politics.

The daughter of a schoolteacher in the Mantua section of West Philadelphia, Reynolds Brown’s father, a construction worker, died when she was 16. She followed in her mother’s studious footsteps, attending Girls High School, acquiring a master’s in education from Penn State and winding up as an elementary schoolteacher in 1975. But then her feet picked up a different beat.

That was at Philadanco, the pioneering West Philadelphia troupe founded by Joan Myers Brown to provide a venue and a sponsor for African American dancers who often encountered discrimination in other companies in that era. Reynolds Brown took the plunge and became a professional dancer at the age of 24.

She has never left the world of dance. As she aged out of performing, she put her teaching skills to work as a dance instructor with the company. Today she serves on its board of directors.

Art also got her into politics – in a manner of speaking. “Someone sprayed graffiti on my little piece of dirt” in Mantua, she recounted. The incident prompted her to take up community activism first as a block captain. That led in 1982 to a committee person’s position in her 24th Ward, where she was tutored in politics by her Ward Leader, Nate Parker. In 1984, she went to the Democratic National Convention as a delegate, the first of five she would wind up at.

Reynolds Brown’s neighborhood fell within the State Senate district of Chaka Fattah, whose organization was dominant in that part of West Philadelphia and always on the lookout for new talent. By 1991 she was working for him in Harrisburg as legislative director. This is a job that doesn’t just involve dancing with people; it requires choreography.

It was an eye-opener. “I found myself in large meetings where there was no one like me,” she said. “There would be 50 people in a room – with maybe one other Black person and one other woman.” The experience crystallized a lifelong drive to fight to increase the presence of women and minorities in arenas where decisions are made.

Reynolds Brown went on to serve as community-affairs director for State Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Fattah protégé. She worked on electoral campaigns for Hughes, Marian Tasco and Wilson Goode, Sr.

Running in Her Own Right

By 1995, she was ready to rock on her own behalf. She launched a City Council at-large race – and came in 6th. (The top five win the Democratic primary.) In 1999, she came in 3rd and won a seat on City Council that she would occupy for the next 20 years.

For four of those five terms, Reynolds Brown was the only at-large councilwoman. It is her pride that the 2020 crop includes two out of five. But her political career was always keenly focused on being one of the rare female voices in the chambers of power who was able to win citywide races.

“Don’t complain about it, be about it,” is her motto to this day. For decades she has homed in on the task of getting more women on more boards in all walks of life, using every government pressure she can apply to get this job done.

When it comes to decision-making, Reynolds Brown is notoriously pushy. She has sat on about as many City Council committees as there are. She finished her tour of duty as chair of the Environmental Committee but in fact she was all over all major citywide issues.

BEFORE ENTERING public service, Blondell Reynolds Brown’s early career was in teaching – and in dance.

Arts and culture are a subject she has never been silent about. “I work on this nine days a week,” Reynolds Brown said.

But when it comes to the environment, Reynolds Brown is proud that she delivered on green-roof tax credits. “Climate change is now,” she insisted.

Children have long driven her agenda. The lead-safety bill that she pushed through Council last year was a core passion of hers. “The number of children who were being poisoned … in our city was astonishing. Nine out of 10 City Council districts have Zip codes with 1 out of 10children poisoned with lead. We had challenges with the enforcement of the current law.” Lead has risen to the forefront of public attention in Philadelphia in large part thanks to her.

Reynolds Brown is intensely proud that she created the Philadelphia Children’s Fund that underwrites 5,300 tuitions at private and parochial schools. Although she started her career as a public-school teacher, she will take education anywhere she can find it for all Philadelphia students. This fund now stands at $60 million and is good for at least the next 15 years. She milked the city’s professional sports teams to build this fund.

“Collaboration matters, partnerships matter,” she wrote of this venture. “While you may not always find common ground on all aspects of an issue, it is important to bring all stakeholders to the table to at least ensure a common understanding of what is taking place.”

When it comes to public health, Reynolds Brown is proudest that she enacted a requirement that fast-food restaurants in Philadelphia label the calories in every menu offering.

Women’s issues have been a career defining issue – in particular Black women doing business with the City. She founded the Mayor’s Commission. She is proud that she drove the City to boost its requirements for women- and minority-owned businesses to share in public contracts. She pushed through mandatory sexual-harassment training for all City employees.

Still Work to Be Done

But Reynolds Brown left her office unsatisfied in this mission. “Minority Business Enterprises are still around 2.7% of all City contracts,” she charged. “And Women Business Enterprises aren’t getting their fair share either. These inequities must be addressed.”

Small-business development in the African American community is almost an obsession of Reynolds Brown. It is a vital path forward for her people as she sees it.

In addition to Philadanco, Reynolds Brown serves on numerous community board sof directors of the following community organizations: Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Marian Anderson Award, the African American Museum of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, City Year Greater Philadelphia, Please Touch Museum, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania and Wynnefield Residents Association (where she now lives).

She has sat on the boards of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, National League of Cities, Pinn Memorial Baptist Church and National Coalition of 100 Black Women.

Reynolds Brown has been honored with the following awards: National Coalition of 100 Black Women Woman of the Year Award; Philadelphia Young Playwrights Advocate Award; Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania Take the Lead Award; Girls Inc. Strong, Smart & Bold Award; Women’s Way Powerful Voice: Leadership Award; School District of Philadelphia’s Obermayer Award: Outstanding Alumni; Mazzoni Center Justice in Action Award; and United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Women’s Initiative Award.

BLONDELL REYNOLDS BROWN has been a consistent advocate for inclusion of women in business and political leadership roles.

“It is no secret that I have learned to be unapologetic – sometimes dogmatic – as I have dedicated my career to putting people first and advocating for women, children and their families who live, work and pray across the city of Philadelphia,” Reynolds Brown stated in a farewell address.

Brown’s immediate dream is to write children’s books. But society may not allow her to concentrate on that just yet; there is more work to be done in the public sector.

Reynolds Brown is now the director of strategic partnerships for the Register of Wills. Her new mission is to restore and curate masses of archival citizens’ records dating back to 1681.

Reynolds Brown plans to partner with art institutions and other scholarly resources to create a new historic monument for our city.

Join over 3.000 visitors who are receiving our newsletter and learn how to optimize your blog for search engines, find free traffic, and monetize your website.
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.
Share    Send article as PDF   

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *