Here to Make More Than History
Updated: May 5
By Amber Sellers
Amber Sellers is the recently elected member of the Lawrence City Commission and the first Black woman elected to the position.
On November 2, 2021 (9:20 p.m. to be exact), history was made in Lawrence, KS when I was elected as the city’s first Black Commissioner.
According to local records, it is believed the last Black person elected to the city’s governing body was 1912. From 1886-1914, at least three Black men had been elected to multiple terms on Lawrence’s city council from the Sixth Ward, the district where most Black residents lived. On December 7, in a town that promotes itself as a welcoming and connected community, I will be sworn in with Black council member Nathan Littlejohn, and we will be the first Black commissioner and council member respectively in more than 100 years.
These last few weeks have truly been an emotional rollercoaster for me. When I decided to run, I wanted the motto for the campaign to be “transformational change requires transformational leadership.” I was not quite sure how it would resonate with the community but from the start, I knew it was my authentic truth and I wanted Lawrence to know what my campaign stood for. I see Lawrence as an extension of my family — and just like one wants the best for their family, I want the best for my community. As the campaign progressed, my desire to motivate my community to get excited about doing difficult work was recognized. While many saw it as provocative, I saw it as an opportunity to challenge my community to live up to what we tell visitors and bordering neighbors: we are at the core— a welcoming, connected place.
As a result, I turned a fourth-place finish in the primary into a third-place finish that resulted in me beating an incumbent for a seat on the Lawrence City Commission. The next two years will be filled with a great deal of learning, connecting with constituents, and being an ambassador for the voices both heard and unknown, that give Lawrence its unmistakable identity. Reflecting on this historical accomplishment, I can’t help but be reminded of the arduous journey Shirley Chisholm confronted before and throughout her work in civil service. Uniquely qualified on so many levels, Chisholm still faced ongoing criticism and doubt, yet she stood firm, unbought and unbossed in her belief and rose above the naysayers to serve as the first Black Congresswoman. From the New York State Legislature to Congress, and finally to seeking the nomination for president of the United States. Chisholm was the candidate to rival all candidates, a true catalyst for change. I along with many others have used her testimony as the blueprint for success and as a tool to blaze new trails for other Black women.
During this season of public service, I'm committed to building out space for Women of Color to serve on our local boards and commissions, sharing their time and talent -- our city needs you in these seats and beyond. If I could share any advice with others looking to impact their community it would be to stop doubting and start doing. If you have a desire to learn, to ask questions, and to make yourself available to hold your elected officials accountable, then you are the best candidate to serve on a board or run for office. Doing so will be transformational.