Donya Sartor is the first Black Woman to qualify and run for mayor in Jonesboro, Georgia. The small community with many stories sits just south of Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Thousands of tourists visit the city each month to learn more about Margret Mitchell’s inspiration for Gone With the Wind and to see reenactments of the Battle of Jonesboro.
According to the city’s website:
The Battle of Jonesboro was the most crucial engagement of the Georgia Campaign during the civil war. It was one of the most important battles, for it directly resulted in the fall of Atlanta. Since Atlanta was the Confederacy’s most important center of munitions and war supplies, its capture was the objective of the campaign. The Battle of Jonesboro was primarily lost through a tragedy of errors on the part of the Confederate high command.
Sartor’s Journey to Jonesboro
Raised in a close-knit, military family Donya moved to College Park, Georgia when she was five years old. She classifies herself as a true Georgia Native.
Shortly after she graduated from Emory University, Sartor gave birth to her son.
“I knew that if I wanted to be successful in my life, if I were to attend grad school, I would have to be near my mother”.
Since she’d never imagined herself moving far away from her family, she followed her mother to Clayton County where she purchased her first home in Point South, a home development community, just north of the city of Jonesboro.
While the point south house was her first home, it was not her dream home.
“For as long as I can remember, I always dreamt of owning an old victorian house. during all my travels I would always visit a small town and see a victorian home and say to myself, I am going to own one of these homes one day.”
In 2005, while out house hunting, there it was, her dream home.
“One day I was driving from a new Noah’s Arch community when I saw a ‘For Sale by Owner’ sign in the yard. Now mind you, this house looked terrible on the outside”.
Even though the exterior was not up to her standard, Sartor says she couldn’t believe the beauty of the home’s interior. She had no idea the previous owners had made so many custom upgrades and renovations.
After settling into her new dream home Sartor started attending local council meetings and immediately noticed that the city’s leadership did not represent its diverse population. According to the 2020 census, the City of Jonesboro’s population is 4,235: 53.06 % (2,247) are Black/African Americans, 26.59% (1,123) are White/non Hispanic, and the remaining 20.22% (856) of the population is Asian Pacific Islander, Mixed/Other or Hispanic/Latino.
“People often ask me why I got into politics, they often wonder if politics was a life long goal of mine, the answer is no. I never planned on getting in to politics. I ran for city council because no one on that council represented me”. It was important for Sartor that the majority of the city’s population be represented.
In 2007, Donya threw her hat in the ring to become an elected official. At that time the city was still using paper ballots. Votes were tallied and transcribed on a dry erase board by a show of tick marks. This all took place at the old fire station (now a restaurant).
Sartor recalls feeling a gamut of emotions during that vote tally.
“I just remember feeling scared and then petrified (in an excited way) that I might win
and then I felt embarrassed because there I was, the only African American competing to represent a predominantly black city. It was just me and my mother sitting there as they tallied votes for me.”
That Will Never Happen Again
“Even though everyone was generous and kind to me that night, I couldn’t help but think, ‘this is a body of people who govern a predominantly black city but none of them are black’ ”.
That first experience as a political candidate was transcendental for Donya. She felt an irrevocable connectedness to what wet moms, domestics, and enslaved women must have felt.
Not only were these women misrepresented by their oppressors but they also must have felt the injustice of how politics did not work for their lives.
“Those women couldn’t have felt pride in the presence of people who did not have their best interest at heart, says Sartor”.
After losing by only 48 votes, she promised herself THAT would never happen again.
Intentionally, I wait
As life would have it, after the election in 2007, Sartor’s professional career as an educator blossomed. “My father always taught us to do our very best in what ever field we pursued. Education sort of fell in my lap and I took full advantage of every opportunity that was presented to be the best”.
Even though she earned a masters and a doctorate degree in education, and is a national board certified educator, she never desired to move up the education ladder.
Gifted with excellent communications skill, Donya became a master trainer/presenter with McGraw-Hill and began to travel the world.
It would be nearly a decade before politics popped back on her radar.
Madam Council Woman
In 2019, Donya L. Sartor was sworn in as the City of Jonesboro’s first Black female council woman. Traveling the world rendered Donya lessons that have become maxims for serving. These core values serve as powerful tools when making decisions for her constituency.
“During my world travels I began to notice a theme about people; no matter what our station in life, whether we live in a palace or in a shanty along a river, in a metropolitan city or in a rural part of the world, all of us have the same core essence. As humans we are the same, yet different”.
Having an understanding of humanity’s sameness, creates an atmosphere for diversity. Diversity creates progressive change and progressive change creates a thriving community for all.
“When I am sitting on that dais and am making decisions for land owners, businesses and other people who live here, I am always remembering our sameness. I believe knowing this affords me the opportunity to make the best decisions and recommendations for all”.
Plans, Priorities and Purpose
Donya’s genuine interest in serving people is her secret weapon.
“As leaders we must be conscious and intentional. In others words, we must recognize that everyone thinks of themselves first. Sometimes citizens are in survival mode when they come to city council meetings upset. As leaders we have to be conscious of that. We must also be intentional and deliberate about meeting their need, no matter what the situation is”.
As mayor of Jonesboro, Sartor’s top 3 priorities are civic engagement, fiscal responsibility and equitable practices among mayor and council.
Known for its summer concert events, Lee Street Park has become a gathering place for citizens across the southern crescent and beyond.
“We have a problem with civic engagement and as politicians we MUST own up that fact. That problem is on us. Having thousands of people show up for a concert is not civic engagement. Civic engagement is getting citizens to understand the importance of representation, encouraging them to join our boards and teaching them how to be proactive”.
Fiscal responsibility is a priority because Sartor believes the city needs to undergo a human capital analysis. Her desire for analyzing human capital is to ensure that all employees have fair pay and are supported equally.
Finally, equitable practices for the city’s mayor and council is a top priority because the city is ran by a charter.
“A lot of people may not know this but our charter is not gender neutral. It is gender specific. It is hard to believe that even though we’ve had other women on the council, no one thought to make that one specific change for diversity and inclusion.”
Council woman Sartor also plans to ensure the procurement process for small business is equitable.
She takes pride in knowing that once elected as mayor she is ready, willing, and able to serve.