Liberian-American Elected Montana’s ‘First Black Mayor’

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Wilmot J. Collins, Mayor-elect, City of Helena, Montana (USA)

Wilmot J. Collins, a Liberian-American, has now made history because he was elected as the first black mayor in the history of the U.S. State of Montana on Tuesday Nov. 7. Helena, the city of which he is now the Mayor-elect, is the capital city of the state.

“Though Helena had a black mayor before it was even incorporated, local historians say former Liberian refugee Wilmot Collins will be the first,” a Montana news oulet said.

Results will remain unofficial until provisional ballots are added and the election is canvassed at a Nov. 16 meeting. That’s when the state auditor, superintendent of public instruction, and attorney general meet, in the office of the secretary of state, to certify the election and enter the results into record.

The progressive Collins defeated incumbent Jim Smith, seeking his fifth term, 5,139 votes (51.28 percent) to 4,801 (47.90 percent). The two were separated by 338 votes.

Collins, 54, immigrated to the United States as a refugee during Liberia’s civil war in 1990.

He holds BA in Political Science/Sociology; MSc Human Resource Management; and has completed Course work for Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology.

Collins has worked in numerous places including the United States Dept. of Homeland Security: Immigration Service Officer; Lewis & Clark United Way Board of Directors and United Nations Refugee Congress Advisory Council an as logistics specialist in the United States Navy.

A former refugee himself, Collins in 2016 participated in the opening of a refugee center in Missoula, Montana and has played an instrumental role in helping Montanans understand the struggle that most refugees face.

Collins will be the city’s first new mayor in 16 years. He ran a long campaign based on progressive principles.

Joy Collins, sister of the mayor elect who lives in Monrovia, in a telephone interview last night described her brother’s victory as proof that the people of Montana are becoming more diverse and willing to elect people base on their comportment, not on race.

“My brother has always been a champion of people’s rights, and his track record speaks volumes. I’m very proud of him. I know and I’m certain that Collins will be a good leader. He will definitely keep the promise he made during the campaign,” Joy Collins added.

Wilmot J. Collins and his wife Maddie have two children, Bliss and Jaymie.

Speaking at the night after the announcement in Montana, the Helena Independent Record news website quoted the new mayor as saying, “The people of Helena have spoken, and I am honored to be able to serve them.”

He added, “I intend to work with commissioners, work for the people of Helena and find what is best for this city. The first step is to sleep all Wednesday. Then, listen to the people of Helena.”

It may be recalled that in 2011, another Liberian-born, Wynfred Russell, contested for a mayoral position in the City of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota which has the largest Liberian immigrant community living in the United States. While he did not win, he was one of the top contenders for the post rendered vacant by the death of the man he considers his mentor, Mayor Steve Lampi.

Wynfred Russell, another Liberian-American, ran for Mayor of Brooklyn Park, MN in 2011, but did not succeed.

At the time, Minnpost.com wrote of him: “An independent-minded community activist, Russell worked on Lampi’s Community Engagement Initiative, which is credited with closing the gap between Brooklyn Park’s white, black, African and Asian communities. He has worked to help Liberian kids navigate the local public schools and has worked on HIV/AIDS education programs.”

Russell, who is a writer and a researcher, told Minnpost.com, “I’m not running as a Liberian mayor. I am of immigrant stock, yes, but I’m running to reduce crime and to bring this community together.”

“We are inspired! Congratulations, Wilmot J. Collins!” Russell said in a Facebook post.

On Collins’ victory, Helena Independent Record reported that he (Collins) commended the outgoing mayor Jim Smith for his work over the past decade and a half. The newspaper also said Collins received a call from U.S. Senator Jon Tester congratulating him on his victory.

“I commend Mayor Smith. He’s done a great job for the city, and I hope to work with him in the future,” Collins said.

Collins’ who ran as an independent candidate, according to Helena Independent Record newspaper said he would address teens and veterans’ homelessness, improve tourism and ensure access to clean water.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

    The people of Helena, Montana, a predominately white City did not judge Mr. Collins by the color of his skin nor judge him by his place of origin, Liberia. The people of Helena elected Mr. Wilmot Collins based on the content of his character and on the content of his qualification.

    I pray that Liberia will one day emulate the exemplary conduct the people of Helena, Montana showed towards Mr. Wilmot Collins in electing a black man to become Mayor of predominately white city. Liberians have the tendency to discriminate among their fellow Liberians on the basis of ethnicity and discriminate against Liberians returning from the Diaspora.

    It is a pity to see the brain-drain going on in Liberia because of our unwillingness to amend our racist constitution and our unwillingness to allow dual-citizenship that embraces thousands and thousands of talented Liberians living in the Diaspora.

    Again, congratulation Mr. Wilmot Collins on becoming the mayor of Helena, Montana. May God bless you in executing your duty as mayor-elect of this beautiful Northwestern city called Helena.

  2. Good ever to note this, but can he be a one to contribute to this Country Liberia or is this just fo history of Liberia?

    • Mr. Doe
      please look at the man record, he is Mayor of Helena Montana, and not Mayor of Monrovia. He is gong to do what he told the people of Montana. The next thing is that Liberians now and than do not like people like Mr. Wilmot J. Collins who have got the respect of the people of Montana, if he went to Liberia today , the first thing you will hear is that he has come to take the people’s job instead of saying this man got something that the country needs, let him help us. Another thing is that Liberians will cry wolf, oh he is an American Citizen, why should he be working for the Liberian government, on the other hand the same people who will not accept Mr. Collins, will prefer a born American citizen to lead them, instead of accepting Mr. Collins a Liberian, who wanted to improved his condition and has to changed to do that.

  3. At least, the people of Montana did not judge him by his religious belief, or his origin, but rather, his component.

    Watch out Liberia…. This is Mamadu Bah

  4. Congratulations to you Mr Wilmot Collins for your hard work and making your dreams come true. And also to the people of Montana who does not judge you by color or origin. I hope Liberian citizen can follow the foot steps of the people of Helena, Montana to Help improve the lives of the African.

  5. Congratulations. Liberian here say you are a foreigner who must not have citizenship. Montana embraced you. Go make a difference. Let Liberians here sit down talking about foreigner and no dual citizenship. Go make Montana proud.

  6. Thank you brother…. Your name is Wilmot Collins, you are black, from West Africa, Liberia. The people of Montana didn’t care about your background of religious belief.

    My name is Mamadu Bah, I blog on this site everyday. I was born in Liberia. I went to school on Liberian taxpayers’ money. I owed Liberia a lot. When I was at the university of Liberia in the mid 90s ( 97,98,99….) I attempted to run for class secretary. All I could hear was…”he fullah man, he’s a Guinean. ” A Muslim man can’t rule us”. He’s a foreigner”. Even though, I speak vai and grebo…

    Let our Liberian brothers and sisters learn from the people of Montana. If I m a Muslim , Christian , or my Father from elsewhere. Ounce I declare myself a citizen of a particular nation, it is my components that will count.

  7. Would Wilmot Collins as Liberian-American won a mayoral election in his native Liberia today? The citizens of Helena, Montana however have given him a chance regardless of his place of origin.

  8. I concur with you, Mr. Bah. America will continue to be great precisely because of the sentiments you have just echoed. Successful and progressive societies are mostly interested in innovative ideas to maintain their superior edge in global affairs; this is not to say that they can’t be tribal or parochial. Sometimes, the solutions to our problems can come from someone we perceive to be an “outsider”. If only so-called “Liberians” will judge people by the quality of their ideas and content of their character, the country could become a force to reckon with in the sub-region. Imagine, even diaspora Liberians are not spared this bigotry. Lest I forget, bravo to Mr. Collins!

  9. Congratulations Mayor Collins. I am proud of you as a fellow Liberian who immigrated to this country. And Thanks for making my and many other Liberians dreams come true for becoming the First Liberian Mayor in the United States. Thanks for creating the path for many others to follow.

  10. Another Liberian in MADISON HEIGHTS, Michigan ran for City Council seat 2017.

    — A few years ago, Johnnette Eggert lost both of her parents.

    “My mom got sick and went to the hospital and never made it out,” Eggert said. “My father couldn’t handle that. Six months later, he died of a broken heart, and some other underlying factors.”

    But Eggert internalized their love, and their desire to help others. Her parents are the namesake of the John and Minnie Wulu School System in Monrovia, a city in Liberia, West Africa. The private organization is dedicated to educating the youth there as the capital city pulls itself back together after a bloody civil war.

    Eggert, an immigrant from Liberia who now resides in Madison Heights, continues to oversee the work of her family’s organization. She also substitute teaches in the Lamphere school district while raising her two children, ages 16 and 7, with her husband.

    Previously, she was a business owner who dissolved her clothing boutique, Upscale Fashion, when it came time to focus on her kids.

    Now she’s bringing her perspective as an immigrant, entrepreneur and educational advocate to local politics, announcing her bid for the Madison Heights City Council, an increasingly heated race that already includes two other confirmed newcomers, Roslyn Grafstein and Emily Rohrbach.

    “My parents always treasured education and public service all their lives. They were always doing something for the community and the school system,” Eggert said. “Now this year, I’m running for council.”

    Eggert carries the endorsement of City Councilman David Soltis.

    “I didn’t know (Eggert) until she served on the (city’s) Multicultural Relations Advisory Board, but coincidentally I had worked with her husband before, back when he was a security officer for a hospital I used to work at,” Soltis said. “Once she joined the board, I got to know her better, and I’m so impressed by her background, her accomplishments, the challenges she faced as an immigrant. She’s a fantastic case of the American dream. I think her diversity is one of her many strengths and will complement the local government very nicely here in Madison Heights.”

    Soltis said Eggert was one of the volunteers who helped make last year’s senior bus trip to Lansing a success. He also noted that, in addition to Eggert, he supports Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss in his bid for re-election.

    As a council person, Eggert said she would focus on making sure local law enforcement has the resources it needs to protect the community.

    She wants to stop reckless drivers speeding down neighborhood streets and to make sure lights are working properly on all streets. She wants the city to do more to support small businesses and to help seniors stay in their homes. She’s also interested in a possible community center that would exist alongside the senior center — an all-ages place for families to recreate together — and in researching ways to make EMS response times even faster.

    Eggert also wants to be accessible at all times to everyone in the community, and as such she’s making her phone number publicly available.

    “I don’t believe a city can be very effective if its elected officials are unapproachable or unreachable,” Eggert said. “Transparency and openness are so important. We need to understand the needs of the people in the community.”

    Eggert says she’s felt God’s presence all throughout her life.

    She arrived with her parents from Liberia in the summer of 1988. Her parents became legal citizens of the United States, and for a time they lived in Ohio. This was shortly after Eggert had completed high school.

    One day, after moving to Michigan, Eggert got off a bus in downtown Detroit and saw a large gathering nearby. She asked someone what was happening and was told it was a college campus: the University of Detroit Mercy. Eggert had previously completed community college, with her GPA around 4.0, but she didn’t have money for a four-year education. Still, she saw this as a sign and took a chance.

    “I walked into the front office and I told them I need an education, I need a place to stay, but I don’t have the money. And the director told me, ‘Wait right there — I’ll be right back,’” Eggert said. “And then she made me an offer to stay there on a work-study scholarship” — where the student works for the college while living on campus and attending school — “and they’d provide all the amenities I need. Four years later, I graduated on time.

    “They helped me bring my dream of college to reality,” she said. “It was just an unbelievable blessing from God.”

    After graduating from college, Eggert decided to work for herself. She opened her own business, Upscale Fashion, in Southfield. Less than a year later, a woman came into the store and made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: moving her business to Northland Mall in Southfield.

    This proved to be another blessing, in more ways than one. Not only was it good for business, but it was at the Northland Mall location where she met John Paul Eggert, the man who would become her husband. John Paul was working mall security at the time, and he had brought her papers she needed to fill out for mall management.

    “I asked him, ‘Anything else?’ And he replied, ‘Why not a date?’” Eggert recalled with a laugh. “He took me to a Red Wings game. I’d never even heard of hockey before. It’s amazing, because from that day we’ve never been apart.”

    The two wed in 2000 and moved Upscale Fashion to downtown Detroit. Their first child, Sarah, was born a year later. She’s now an honors student at Lamphere High who wants to be a doctor someday. The couple also have a son, Johnny, who attends Simonds Elementary.

    Wishing to spend more time with her kids, Eggert decided to dissolve her business and get involved with the Lamphere school district as a substitute teacher working for all grades and schools. This has been her occupation for the last couple of years, alongside running her late parents’ organization back in Liberia, making sure the schools stay open and the teachers are paid.

    Now she has her sights set on the City Council as well.

    “I’ve lived here (in Madison Heights) for 17 years, and I’ve worked in the Lamphere district and listened to the families here. I’ve also had the privilege of going door to door, meeting seniors who opened up about what they’ve lived through — their joys, their pains,” Eggert said. “I want to help meet all of their needs.”

    If you would like to know more about Johnnette Eggert, call her at (248) 242-0063.

  11. Bah,
    If you were born in Liberia, you are a Liberian every inch of the way. Even if your dad and mom naturalized in Liberia, they are Liberians.
    Don’t feel bad that you have a Fullah or Mandingo name. You are a Liberian from A to Z.
    Mandingos were in the Grain Coast before it became known as Liberia. Too much prejudice! It’s got to stop.

    Whether Liberians like it or not, the country is becoming multicultural. There are:
    1. Middle-eastern Liberians,

    2. European-Liberians…. consider pres. Johnson-Sirleaf to be one. Her dad was a German. She is a Liberian.

    3. Asian-Liberians… a Liberian-born Indian doctor who now works at Harvard University medical school in Massachusetts is a typical example. Bah you are a Liberian!

    My problem with you is that you and others who espouse CDC’s gospel are reluctant to tell your readers the truth and nothing but the truth about your leader’s legislative achievements. Am I wrong Bah?

    Just today, you provided another unknown information. You claim to speak Grebo. Right Bah?
    Okay, who taught you how to speak Grebo? A girlfriend of yours? Stop bragging about Grebo, Bah.
    Finally, I will defend you whenever someone questions your nationality as it relates to your place of birth. Count on me.

    Your refusal to tell us why you think that Weah should be the next president is a mystery. It really boggles the mind!

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