Department: Portrait of a Gentleman
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Ithaca, New York faces a variety of challenges. They range from housing costs to transportation issues to a sinking budget in a tough economy. Svante Myrick (Cornell ’09), Ithaca’s youngest and first African-American mayor, stands to face these obstacles.
“We have unique challenges,” Myrick said. “We’re looking at a $3-million budget deficit. How do we deliver services to the people of the city that they’re counting on? We have a housing shortage and unique topography that makes transportation difficult. We’re also looking to create jobs and cut down crime.”
The mayor draws from a background all too familiar with trying to accomplish a mountain of issues with few resources at his disposal. Myrick and his three siblings were raised by a single mother and their grandparents. His mother worked in multiple jobs trying to support her children, but it was rarely enough to keep the family afloat. Budgeting is a concept the 25-year-old mayor learned at a very young age.
“It taught me at a young age to make hard decisions. Sometimes we couldn’t afford both the rent and the heat. Then what do you pay? You have to decide between those sneakers and these groceries. What do you do?”
Myrick answered a higher calling after high school and enrolled in Cornell University. During his time as an undergraduate, he served as the IFC Council Vice President of University and Community Relations; contributed to the editorial board of the Cornell Daily Sun and the Public Service Center’s leadership council; and took on a role as tutoring and mentoring underprivileged youth in Ithaca for the Raising Education Attainment Challenge, or REACH.
“There were 13 different REACH sites when I joined the board. After two years, there were 30. I learned about conflict and personality management during my time there. I also learned what young people in this community needed,” he said. Myrick’s work with REACH motivated him as mayor to establish the Ithaca Youth Council, a group of teenagers who mimics the city council and works with the council members to improve the quality of life for teenagers.
Myrick also ran for and grasped a city-council seat as an undergraduate when he realized the housing strain the community faced. On top of all of this, he served as Eminent Deputy Archon to provide leadership for his chapter.
“I learned a lot about personality management and conflict resolution,” Myrick said. “Dealing with 60 to 70 guys with different personalities and aims is good preparation for dealing with personalities on all sorts of levels. Finding ways to resolve conflicts while making sure everyone feels included takes a lot of practice, and the Fraternity provides me with that practice.”
According to the mayor, the key step in moving forward after university life is to find a mentor. “That is why I think the fraternity system is so successful at building leaders. There’s a built-in succession plan. You watch older guys, learn from their styles and incorporate the best of their skills. The same holds true professionally.”
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