Columbus City Council’s Priscilla Tyson Wants Improved Quality of Life for Local Youth

Ahead of her year-end retirement, the longtime councilwoman reflects on the Commission on Black Girls, her hopes for continued progress on diversity and inclusion, and her years of service.

Peter Tonguette
Columbus City Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson on the steps of City Hall. Tyson is retiring from council at the end of 2021.

In January, for the first time in 15 years, Columbus City Council will convene without the presence of Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson. Her work, though, will continue, notably through the Commission on Black Girls she created to improve the lives of youth across Columbus.

A Democrat whose career in the private sector included a long tenure at National City Bank and creating and leading City Year Columbus, Tyson counts high among her accomplishments the formation of the commission, which examines issues impacting girls of color.

Tyson, 66, of Eastmoor, chose not to seek reelection to devote more time to her family. She and her husband, Renny, have five grown children, four of whom make their homes in Central Ohio, and four grandchildren.

Ahead of her retirement, Tyson spoke about the lessons she draws from her family, including her mother and stepfather, who raised her after her father died when she was 9 months old, and her hopes for the future of her hometown.

What lessons did your family give you?

Family is so important. We don’t pick and choose who our parents happen to be, but I was very fortunate, and my siblings were quite fortunate, to be able to be in a household where faith was important, that we understood values. You wanted to be a person of integrity. You realized how important your name happens to be.

What drew you to serve on City Council?

I was not looking to be an elected official. That was never a goal of a career, but I always knew that I had leadership skills, and I always wanted to help people. People had discussed with me, 10 years before I came [to council], about serving in an elected capacity. I thought, “Oh, this can’t be for me.”

The third time someone mentioned it to me, I decided that maybe I should really look into this. I did, but I really waited until the very last moment to fill out my application and I also stated, “Please don’t select me if this is not what I’m supposed to do.”

Of course, I was selected, and from that point on, I then began to realize: What was the worst thing that could happen to me? The worst thing would have been that you lose the race and your name is in the paper that you lost. But the best thing that could happen from there is that you have an opportunity to serve.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

I am very excited that I am now the longest-serving woman on City Council. I think that’s an accomplishment in itself, and hopefully girls will be able to see that they could be an elected official. In terms of the work, my work has really been always about how to enhance people’s overall quality of life.

I chaired the finance committee, so that was a major accomplishment. … I chaired recreation and parks, and I was the first person to fund dog parks. During that tenure, I put dollars to put air conditioning in the recreation facilities. I also passed legislation to make sure that people were no longer discriminated against based upon their race, based upon their family status, based upon their military status, based upon their sexual orientation or a disability.

Talk about the Commission on Black Girls.

I created this commission of 25 amazing leaders in this community because the data is showing that Black women in our community are not faring well. If you’re going to change the trajectory of a Black girl’s life in our community, then we need to understand what is the current quality of life of our girls.

We received surveys back from 422 Black girls between the ages of 11 and 22. We also heard from parents and caregivers and leaders of social-service organizations that work with Black girls, and also the school system.

After two years of conversations and studies, we created the Commission on Black Girls quality of life report. The most significant recommendation is that we should have a permanent entity that will focus on the three strategies and 18 recommendations of this report.

Why was now a good time to retire?

Obviously, I have fewer years in front of me than I have behind me. When you’re a public servant, what also happens is that you do spend a significant amount of time away from your family. For me, it really is about how do I spend the next phase of my life.

I enjoy cooking. I enjoy gardening. I want to spend more time with my family and my grandchildren. I have friends I care deeply about, but I’ve not had time to spend with them. I’m a deacon at my church, and there is some more work I would like to do in supporting my church and the congregation.

What are the community’s biggest challenges in terms of diversity and inclusion? What are your hopes?

My concern moving forward is that diversity and inclusion does not become lost. Last year, in 2020, because of the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many other people, it was heightened [and] people were having an understanding as to some of the inequities that people of color face. A lot of people and organizations have begun to make changes … about ways to make sure that the city appreciates the diversity of our community. I would just hope that that momentum continues.

You still have such passion for these issues. Is it going to be challenging to walk away from the City Council?

I know that I’m ready for the next chapter, whatever that may be. I absolutely love the work and I love service, and I’ve had an incredible opportunity to be able to have served for almost 15 years and to know that the work has made a difference.

A shorter version of this Q&A appears in the Winter 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.