Mayor Bernita Sims
• High Point native
• 62 years old
• Two sons, Steve and Rob
• Six grandchildren, three boys and three girls
• Attended William Penn and Andrews
• Graduated from Central High in Seat Pleasant, Md., in 1970 and returned to High Point in 1995
• 1970- 1995 - worked with National Housing Partnerships, working as a Senior District Manager when she left
• First African-American woman on the High Point City Council. Served for 10 years.
High Point Mayor Bernita Sims has comfortably settled into her new role as the city’s top leader.
And while she’s no stranger to the political arena, she’s excited about the opportunity to continue making a difference in the city in her new capacity.
She got her start in politics through her pastor, Robert J. Williams, head pastor at Williams Memorial C.M.E. Church, who asked her to sit on a political action committee, which later evolved into the Black Leadership Roundtable of High Point.
Sims said once the group started getting involved in various social and civic issues in the community, she realized she needed to be in politics to make an impact in the city, so she decided to run for the Ward 1 City Council seat in 2002.
“I always tell people I am not a politician. That I am a community activist that uses the whole political spectrum to impact and to advocate for people who cannot advocate for themselves,” Sims said. “That was my role, initially, when I went on council, because I felt like there wasn’t really a significant voice that was speaking to the social ills that existed in our community.”
Sims said she wanted to change how things were done in the city, and wanted to be in a position to help make some changes.
She said she believed that when decisions were made by the council “regarding things such as utility rate increases and things of that nature,” somebody else was needed at the table to say, “Whoa, wait a minute, when you make that decision do you realize how it’s going to affect that group of people or that group of people?” Sims said.
“It wasn’t based on race, but on social economic conditions. I wanted to make sure there was a voice that said before we go down that road, let’s think about what the impact is going to be on this group of people.”
Now 10 years later, her motivation has not changed. Sims continues to see herself as a catalyst for change, and is hoping that it still shows. She said she is not doing it for recognition, but to bring attention and voice to those who would not normally have one.
“That’s why I say I am not really a politician, so to speak,” Sims said. “I am not in it just for the political piece, I am in it because I really do want to be effective and be able to impact and make changes on the way we think and the way we deal with our community in its entirety. For so long, we have insolated ourselves in this community from the realities of what exists in certain parts of the community. So there is a group of people who can not tell where Carson Stout is, or the Core City or City Hall. That is the piece that I think is missing in this whole process. When we start talking about the low-wealth communities, the very wealthy communities and that group in between that is our shrinking middle class ... we have got to have a community where we look at all of it. All the dynamics that impact who we are as a city, and then make the appropriate decisions that make us a whole community.”
Sims, who has been on the council for 10 years, said her faith had a lot to do with her running for the council and the mayoral seat. She said she has depended on that faith to help her survive in her daily life while carrying out her mission. She said she hopes she has been a presence in the community and has impacted individuals while in on council.
“I continued to run because, in my mind, we were not there yet, and I felt like I was still making a difference, or I would have sat down. I attend a church that is very spirit-led. I believe that my tenure on council was something that God wanted me to do — in spite of all the naysayers over that 10-year period who felt that I couldn’t initially win and to be able to stay there and deal with things that you have to deal with in your life when being a council member.”
Although Sims is humble about the topic, she is High Point’s first black mayor in the 154 years since the city was chartered. When asked how she felt about that, she said she has never really thought about it.
“All I knew when I decided to run was that either I was going to come off council and just be a resident that had the opportunity to serve the constituents, or I was going to take all of the collective knowledge that I learned as council member and use it for the good of the entire community,” Sims said. “The city in itself has invested a lot in me. As a return on that investment I would have been remiss had I not attempted to move to the next level and use that knowledge for the good of the entire community. I want people to look at me and respect me for what I bring to the table, the collective knowledge and experience that I have that I am going to hopefully bring to this community and make sure we are a better city because of it, and I want my tenure to be about my job as the mayor, and not the color of my skin.”
As any public official will tell you, the job does not come without some bumps and bruises in the form of criticism. While Sims has had her fair share of criticism, she said she does not let that deter her from her mission.
“I think that some of that criticism comes about because of some people’s ignorance to the process and what really goes on in city government. I think some people do not understand the nature and significance of what we are trying to do,” Sims said. “Throughout my term on council, there is a recurring theme that resonates that says that I am one-dimensional and that I only concern myself with certain people or segments of the population, which is not true. That is their opinion, but they are not looking at the whole picture.”
Sims said she will continue to do what she can to help move the city forward.
“I am an eternal optimist, and I do believe that the glass is half full. I think that there are some wonderful opportunities in our community to do all of those things that I have talked about. It is not going to be a process that happens quickly, and we need a 25-year plan that says we have some short, mid-range and long term goals that include all of High Point,” Sims said.
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Sims shares vision for city
By Chanel Davis
Enterprise Staff Writer
HIGH POINT — Helping lower-income residents and growing the city’s tax base are among Mayor Bernita Sims’ top priorities as she begins her term as mayor. Here’s what she said about specific issues:
Tax base and livability
“Everybody understands the nature of our community being as large as it is in a county that has a sister city that is a little more than double our size. With the latest numbers that have come out, instead of being the eighth-largest city, we are now the ninth-largest city. Instead of being the largest city with a sister city/or county seat in the same county, we are now second. We have to grow our tax base, and that is one of the first things that we need to look at as a community. In order to grow the tax base, not only do we have to be able to provide the infrastructure that is needed, but you also have to be able to offer people a community that says we look at the whole livability aspect such as arts, restaurants and theater.
We have to provide a community where the opinions of young people matter. Young parents, young adults who are looking for a place to raise their families. What are we offering to that group of folks that will have them make the decision that High Point needs to be their home?”
Youth and families
“We need to be concentrating on youth, education and families. That is going to address this low-wealth community that we have and how that impacts our ability to educate the people that we have in our community. We are not doing very well with creating an environment for individuals that can take these new jobs that are out there. The new jobs are very technology-driven and require you to have the abiity to problem solve, and that is not being taught very well. We have to be able to read so we have some issues, particularly in this community as a part of the Guilford County Schools system, in making sure our kids are educated. As a community, we have to make sure that we are addressing the needs of those families and those children so that we create (an environment) where they can learn. We do not know in what conditions these kids are living, what is going on in their homes, what they’re eating or if they are sleeping. I think that we ought to have some very frank discussions about how we address those issues. Part of that has to do with the job piece. We can’t get people employed, they can’t make living wage, and now they are depending on the system, but the system is not perfect. How does that create an environment where children can learn? This is very high on my list of priorities.”
“Small businesses are the backbone of any community. You have the big companies, but it is small businesses that make the wheel go round. We have got to provide them whatever support we can to help them grow their businesses, help retain these businesses in our community and make them be viable. We have got to make sure they have a support network in place to make those things happen.”
“We have to determine how our Core City redevelopment will work. At some point, as we max ourselves out with our current borders, people are going to want to come back. They are going to have to come back to the inner city, and we need to be ready for that process when it comes. We need to be creating places where businesses can relocate in the core instead of offering to send them to north High Point. Let’s redevelop what we already have and figure out how to renovate the stuff that is just sitting. They are eyesores and they stop that community from seeing the big picture. I think that’s where the council should spend its time looking and trying to attract other folks to come into our community and make sure we are ready. We already have infrastructure in place, so let’s just do what we have to get people in here.”