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Inside The Arena During Brandon Johnson’s Mayoral Inauguration

Written by on May 15, 2023

Brandon Johnson was sworn in as mayor of Chicago the morning of Monday, May 15 at Credit Union 1 Arena at UIC. Vocalo community and audio storytelling producer Ari Mejia was in attendance and spoke to Chicagoans about their feelings post-inauguration, and their hopes for the new mayor’s plans to work toward a more united city.

After winning the 2023 Chicago mayoral election in the April 4 runoffs, former Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson officially became the city’s 57th mayor on May 15. 

Johnson, a member of the Democratic party, has served the Board representing the 1st District since 2018. Johnson is also a resident of the Austin neighborhood, making him the city’s first West Side mayor in 90 years. As reported by Block Club Chicago, Johnson received strong support from his immediate community, claiming 66.57 percent of the vote in the 29th Ward and 80.39 percent in the 37th Ward.

In his Inaugural Address, Johnson vowed to support underserved communities and neighborhoods — including Austin — especially those located on the city’s South and West Sides.

“The very fact that the mayor of Chicago lives in one of the most disinvested and violent communities in the city, it shows us what’s possible,” Johnson said.

According to a 2015 report from Virginia Commonwealth University, West Side residents have a life expectancy lower than other Chicagoans; Block Club Chicago also reports West Englewood residents have a life expectancy of 69, while residents of the Loop have an expectancy of 85. Chicago residents like Bilaal Evans of the Restorative Project, an Englewood nonprofit which supports young people dealing with trauma, feel hopeful for the change Johnson’s administration may bring.

“When you come from years of disinvestment in these communities, it’s not hard to become a bit [skeptical],” Evans told Vocalo’s Ari Mejia at the inauguration. “But I have faith that … this change is a different tide today.”

Mayor Brandon Johnson makes his inaugural address Monday at Credit Union 1 Arena. Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Johnson emphasized the soul of Chicago is to support its residents no matter their neighborhood, race, socioeconomic background, education level or mental health struggles. A former teacher at East Garfield Park’s Westinghouse College Prep and Cabrini-Green’s Jenner Academy Elementary, respectively, Johnson said he will work with city officials to give every Chicagoan access to educational opportunities. He advocated for the Chicago Public Schools Board and the Chicago Teachers Union to work together for the betterment of the city’s public school system as a whole.

Throughout the address, Johnson also voiced his dedication to housing security, childcare for all, public transportation and reopening the city’s mental health centers, all in pursuit of a stronger, safer and more united Chicago.

“There is no limit, Chicago, to what we can achieve when we do it together,” Johnson said amidst a cheering crowd. “We can lead Chicago to a new era. Together, we can build a better, stronger, safer Chicago.”

Vocalo community and audio storytelling producer Ari Mejia spoke to several attendees at the inauguration, including Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Zwelivelile Mandela, who traveled from South Africa to see the historic moment.

Check out Ari’s audio above, and the full transcript below.

Ariel Mejia: This is Ari Mejia, and you’re listening to Vocalo Radio.

On May 15, 2023, I had the honor of bearing witness to history. As mayor-elect Brandon Johnson was sworn in as the 57th mayor of Chicago.

The ceremony featured many performances, including the Chicago Children’s Choir, singing the Black National Anthem, Chicago Poet Laureate avery r. young, and legendary gospel singer Karen Clark Sheard. Religious leaders from an array of denominations offered prayers and blessings before the mayor-elect was sworn in and spoke to the people of Chicago.

Brandon Johnson (during Inaugural Address): By imagining what is possible, by doing this, we can create a prosperous city, which no one is too poor to live in one of the richest cities… 

AM: Former teacher, longtime organizer and resident of the West Side, Mayor Johnson opened his address honoring Chicago history, the native tribes of Chicago and working-class struggle.

He spoke to the issues his administration plans to center and the work ahead, prioritizing public safety, affordable housing, and investing in schools and health centers. 

Johnson (during Inaugural Address): We’ll invest in housing, mental health, in new jobs and higher wages, and real economic development in every community. There is no limit, Chicago, to what we can achieve when we do it together. And we can. And we will deliver for every single person in the city of Chicago.

Ari Mejia/Vocalo Radio

AM: Attendees filed out of the Credit 1 Union auditorium full of hope, and are looking forward to see how Mayor Johnson plans to honor his promises and commitments to unity. 

Chi Williams (attendee): I actually have hope for the city, the first time in a really long time. 

Ashaki Williams McClain (attendee, Chi Williams’ s mother): I’m so happy and excited that all of us are in this together to make huge change. 

Bilaal Evans (executive director of Restorative Project): When you come from years of disinvestment in these communities, it’s not hard to become a bit [skeptical]. But I have faith that … this change is a different tide today. 

AM: I spoke with attendees old and young, locals and visitors, including Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Zwelivelile Mandela, specifically to see this historical moment for Chicago. 

Zwelivelile Mandela: This has been exciting, having traveled all the way from South Africa to be her. Want to wish him well for the challenges ahead, and I hope that he can truly achieve the soul of Chicago.

Attendee (asked to remain anonymous): I want to say congratulations to him, and that the city should get behind him. And we’re so proud of him. Looking forward to the great work that he has promised, but we have to be part of it.

AM: I’m Ari Mejia, for Vocalo Radio.

Produced and edited by Ari Mejia

Written introduction and transcription by Morgan Ciocca

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