Black in Arizona: Politics
Feb. 15, 2023
Explore the experiences of two Black women who have become political leaders in Arizona: former Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans, the first Black woman to serve as mayor in Arizona, and Chandler Councilwoman Christine Ellis, the first Black woman to be a council member for the city of Chandler.
Listen to their stories, share in their experiences and celebrate these remarkable “firsts” as we learn about the challenges of overcoming stereotypes and the impact their roles are making within their communities.
Coral Evans began her service to her local community as a city council member, ultimately serving on Flagstaff City Council for eight years. Evans continued her support of the community as mayor of Flagstaff from 2016 to 2020. But getting to know Evans means learning about more than stats to understand her story and her experience.
Evans grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona with her mother and brother. Growing up in Siler Homes, a public housing project on the east side of the city, Evans could not have imagined where her service to her community might take her. When Evans talks with young people today, she openly discusses her origins in hopes of inspiring them to succeed as she did.
“I am a product of my community,” Evans says. “I am a child of the village. There is no way I would be standing here today if there hadn’t been a village.” She adds, “That’s why I love my community so much because I feel like my community loved me.”
During her time as a council member, Evans realized Flagstaff needed a strong leader who wanted to listen to the public. One particular city council meeting stands out in her memory.
Residents of a trailer park, many of whom didn’t speak English, were advocating to keep their homes after being notified they were slated to be demolished to create student housing. As residents approached the microphone during the meeting, Evans remembers one woman who was in tears as she spoke Spanish and fought to be understood.
“I remember sitting there and looking at her, being just horrified by what was going on,” Evans explains, “and then I heard this banging of the gavel.” Evans says the then-mayor told the woman to pull herself together so that the meeting could move on to other business. “I thought to myself, ‘Even if you don’t understand the language, you understand the emotion.'” This event solidified her decision to run for mayor, and Evans became mayor of Flagstaff in 2016, the first Black woman to serve as mayor in the state.
After growing up in a small village in Haiti, Christine Ellis moved to the United States when she was 17 years old. She flew into New York City with just three dresses and never imagined herself living in Arizona. All her family knew about Arizona was tumbleweeds and snakes. But in January of 2021, she was sworn in as the first Black woman to serve on Chandler City Council.
With her background in community work both in Arizona and Haiti, Ellis realized she wanted to stand up and become a voice for the community, but it wasn’t easy. After receiving pushback from detractors both in business and as she ran for city council, Ellis said she developed a sense of sheer determination to prove she was qualified.
“I had someone literally look at me and say, ‘Well, I don’t know if you can transition from being a servant leader, helping the homeless and doing all these things you’re doing in Haiti to being on the Council,'” Ellis says, proceeding to list off some of the social work and teaching she has done over the course of her career. “They didn’t think I was going to win,” Ellis explains. “I was a woman, I was a black woman, I have an accent… All these odds. I have to defy them.”