As Rochester’s 71st mayor, Malik Evans hopes to use the power of people in neighborhoods to transform the city.
Evans took office on Jan. 1 in a scaled-back, virtual ceremony at the Eastman Theatre. The event was not open to the public due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. (Evans informed the community on Dec. 31.)
A Rochester native, Evans, 41, attended the University of Rochester. A year after graduation, he ran for a seat on the city school board and won; at 23, he was the youngest person ever elected to the board. Evans served as president of the board for three terms. He was first elected to City Council in 2017. A few years later, Evans announced his plans to run for mayor. He most recently was a financial wellness manager at ESL Federal Credit Union.
In the June 2021 Democratic primary, Evans received 66 percent of the vote in a landslide victory over incumbent Mayor Lovely Warren, paving his way to City Hall. He ran his campaign on a platform that acknowledged the city’s challenges and aimed at unity. On Saturday, he reiterated his intent to take Rochester to the next level—as the city addresses issues like public safety, employment, homeownership, education and pandemic recovery. Evans also signaled a strong partnership with Monroe County.
“We must always ask what is next for Rochester,” Evans said in his message to Rochesterians.
Following is a transcript of Evans’ inaugural message:
“Today we mark the start of a new year with a new mayoral administration. Thank you to my partners in government, all my family and friends. To my beautiful wife Shawanda—as the song by the great vocalist Freddie Jackson says, ‘you are my lady, you’re all I need and more.’ To my sons, Cameron and Carter, thank you for your inspiration and for sharing your dad with the Rochester community.
Today we mark the start of a new year with a new mayoral administration. The transitions of administrations from local to federal is a demonstration of our democracy but also a reminder of the passage of time. We have a past to remember, a present to live, and a future to build. This serves as our foundation to build; today, let us focus on working together on building a future that will take our beloved city to the next level. Like many cities, we have our challenges; I will not take time to recount them. All too often, people are experts at problem defining but lacking in specific, coordinated plans to tackle our most pressing challenges.
I come to the office of mayor understanding full well what can be, because of the blessings that my God and my late parents Gwen and Lawrance Evans provided for me. I was not born into means, there were no silver spoons in the Evans household, but there was faith and the belief that anything was possible, and that we should always keep the faith—even if it was as small as a mustard seed. If anyone has ever tried to find that seed, you will see that it is almost impossible to see. My mother would always end phone conversations with me, especially during my college years, by saying ‘Leeky’ or sometimes ‘Whoopa, keep the faith.’ I’m breaking news here for the first time in public; those other than my siblings now know ‘Whoopa’ was one of the nicknames my mom used for me. I was taught that we would have a strong finish because we had strong faith.
I was raised in a neighborhood that when I walked to school, my neighbors such as Ms. Penny and Ms. Bailey would stand on the porch as I passed by with my siblings and our friends. We could play in our front yard, and we never worried about a car driving 80 miles per hour down the street. This sense of community helped raise me. Neighborhood groups like the Southeast Area Coalition and the South Wedge Planning Committee, if they didn’t like what they saw in the neighborhood, worked to change it; young people like my parents were integral in charting the new path they wanted to see in the neighborhood by working with these organizations. Neighborhood empowerment was not just a word; it was a practice.
As we seek to transform our city, now more than ever, we must tap into the power of our people in our neighborhoods. Let today be the day that an army of citizens stand together with me and City Hall as your partner. Let’s usher in the Rochester way. We will take control of our neighborhoods and work to eradicate violence and blight.
Let today be the day that we say we can have public safety with the community at the center while also having accountability simultaneously.
Let today be the day that we reaffirm the preciousness of life and say that one homicide is too many and that violence and destruction must never be normalized.
Let today be the day that we provide jobs for any youth that wants one. This will be one of our best violence reduction strategies. Economic opportunity and public safety are linked, and we must say so.
Let today be the day that we redouble our efforts to ensure that our COVID recovery plan leaves no one behind and that we use the resources we have received wisely and collaboratively.
Let today be the day that we redouble our efforts to ensure that homeownership is not some esoteric concept that we sit around and talk about but something that is a reality for those who seek it.
Let today be the day that we continue our work to transform Rochester not by nibbling at the edges but by thinking big and getting over the things that may not have worked in the past but imagining a place where we leverage our assets, and we work to take Rochester to the next level.
We know that education is the passport to the future, and the future belongs to those who have it. I am a testament to this. My siblings, many who are here today, are all graduates of the Rochester City School District, and they have all gone on to have successful careers. We must commit to building a strong school system using the model of a three-legged stool, consisting of schools, community, and households working together. As your mayor, I am committed to doing my part, but change will only come by the broader community—led by parents and our school system working hand in glove.
Let today be the day that we usher in the strongest partnership since Morin-Ryan—with the county and city working together so that decades from now, people will reference the Bello-Evans partnership
Let today be the day that we say to our city employees that we value you and that your work will transform our city
Let today be the day that we redouble our efforts to rebuild the middle class by partnering with the private sector, organized labor, nonprofits, and education to say that our poverty rate must not stand
Rochester has a history of being on the cutting edge of technology and information. This does not have to be seen as our history; this is our future. We can lead the way in green technology, data science, health care, and cannabis preparation. We will create the conditions for entrepreneurship to thrive. We must always ask what is next for Rochester. Many have heard me tell the experience I gained at my first job as a youth working at the Genesee Valley ice rink. There was this young man that was an amazing hockey player. When I asked him how on earth he was able to score all of those goals, he said he followed the Wayne Gretzky School of Hockey. When I asked what that was, he simply replied he didn’t go to where the puck was but where the puck was going to be. Let this be the Rochester way. We must always be in pursuit of future opportunities. Where is that puck going to be next?
As we start this journey together, there will be questions such as why we should pursue this quest of working to better our community when it often may feel as though it is an uphill climb to the mountaintop, when at times it will feel like we are going through a blizzard with the winds blowing 100 miles per hour. I am often asked this—why bother? I pause—and hear the words of the children of Selma and the words of the freedom song that says, ‘someone prayed for me, someone sung for me, someone marched for me, someone suffered and died for me, and they didn’t even know me. Marching over rivers that seemed uncrossable, down streets donned with bullwhips, bulldogs, and Bull Connors, and they didn’t even know my name. Someone sang for me, precious Lord, take my hand, ain’t nobody going to turn me around because I woke up this morning with my mind set on freedom.’ These words remind us that to whom much is given, much is expected. We all have an obligation to make sure that those who paved the way for us, their collective work and toil must not be in vain. And that is why I stand here today, embracing this awesome responsibility that you have entrusted in me.
As a preacher’s kid, I leave you today guided by John 11:21—Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here Lord, my brother would not have died. But I know even now God will give you whatever you ask him for.’ In this verse, Martha had thought her time and Lazarus’ time had passed, but she reminded herself that even through the tough times, it was not too late. Rochester, our time is now, a new year is a new beginning, and together we will chart a path that will build a bridge to Rochester’s future. Today we mark the start.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.