© 2023 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
IPM Pinwheel Banner for Header
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Breaking the barrier in Parma: Monica Wilson, Parma's first Black council member

Parma, Cleveland's biggest suburb, marked a significant milestone in February when it swore in Monica Wilson, the city's first Black city council person.

“It’s really an honor," Wilson said. “Hopefully I can influence people, people of color, other little Black girls into saying, ‘You know I can do anything, I can be anything.’”

The latest Census report shows Parma’s population as 84 percent white and five percent Black. Wilson has lived in Parma about three decades. She’s working to change the perception that Parma isn’t for everyone.

“I heard that it was a pretty difficult community to live in for Black people, that Black people did not feel welcomed and that there may have been even some incidents here in the city," Wilson said. "I’m not naïve and I’m not belittling anyone’s experience, I just personally have not felt the discrimination and the idea that I’m not wanted here.”

Wilson grew up in Detroit. For a few years, she lived in Charleston, West Virginia, before moving to Northeast Ohio where she’s been working as a chemical engineer. In joining Parma City Council, Wilson is following in the footsteps of her parents who were also trailblazers.

Parma City Councilwoman Monica Wilson going through photos of her parents.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Parma City Council woman Monica Wilson goes through photos of her parents.

“My dad was one of the first Black executives for Sears and my mom was one of the first Black employees for the gas company up in Detroit," Wilson said.

Wilson ran for the Ward 1 seat in 2021. She lost to the incumbent, Vito Dipierro. Dipierro vacated his seat last month to fill the open council president position. Wilson was appointed to fill the remainder of Dipierro’s term.

She says her interest in running for office was in part sparked by the January 6 riots at the U.S. capitol.

“Other people said, well you know it’s Parma, you’re not going to win. And I said, you know things have changed. I don’t care what you got to say, I'm going to do this, my heart says do it, I’m going for it," Wilson said.

Monica Wilson at a Cuyahoga Democratic Women's Caucus event.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Meda
Monica Wilson has two challengers in the May primary to retain her seat.

One of her biggest supporters along that way has been Ohio Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, who is a barrier breaker herself as the first LGBTQ+ person in that position.

“She had to persevere. She had to do a lot of the hard work of putting herself in places where maybe it wasn’t comfortable all the time," Antonio said. "I think this could be very, very... such a positive not just for her but for whole community

Wilson was a big hit at a Cuyahoga Democratic Women’s Caucus event in February. Among those attending was former Warrensville Heights School Board member Michele Elba, another Black woman in politics, who said she was proud of Wilson.

“Parma always says let’s be more diverse, but then you never have any diversity to the table," Elba said. "Just to see her actually appointed shows that maybe they are ready to come into the 21st century to bring about change for women of color, for women period.”

Former Warrensville Heights School Board member Michele Elba and Parma City Council woman Monica Wilson.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Former Warrensville Heights School Board member Michele Elba and Parma City Council woman Monica Wilson.

As Parma’s first Black city council person, Wilson says she wants to be influential in the way other Parma leaders approach issues of diversity.

“Although I’m the first, I won’t be the last. And hopefully this will just be a continuance to reflect that society in Parma," Wilson said.

Wilson faces challenges to keeping that sense of diversity on council in the months ahead. She lost her 2021 council bid by a large margin and has two challengers in the upcoming May primary. But this time she’ll have the advantage of incumbency.

Corrected: March 3, 2023 at 11:57 AM EST
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Vito Dipierro and Michele Elba.
Gabriel Kramer is a Filipino American journalist from Medina, Ohio. He studied journalism at Kent State University and is a proud member of the Asian American Journalists Association.