An elegant evening unfold- ed on January 2, 2020 at 6:30 p.m., as the Honorable Mayor Van R. Johnson II and eight Aldermen were inaugurated into Savannah’s city council.
The Civic Center’s Johnny Mercer Theatre was filled to capacity as citizens of Savannah came out to celebrate the inauguration of Mayor Van R. Johnson II and the city’s Aldermen. Hosted by Dr. Bertice Berry and Juanita Adams, the event was rich with selections by talented local artists. In addition to the anticipated selections, a surprise performance by national award-winning gospel artist, Donnie McClurkin, left spectators in awe. The event concluded with a reception filled with live music, food, family, and celebratory laughter.
Mayor Johnson and the aldermen were elected for the years of 2020- 2023. The aldermen and women are: Kesha Gibson Carter, Alderman-at-large Post 1; Alicia Miller-Blakely, Alderman-at-large Post 2 Bernetta B. Lanier, District 1; Detric Legget, District 2; Linda Wilder-Bryan, District 3; Nick Palumbo, District 4; Estella E. Shabazz, District 5; and Kurtis Purtee, District 6. Oath of office was taken by the council members as they were joined by their immediate families. Alderwoman Shabazz was given the honor of delivering the acceptance speech on behalf of the council. Mayor Johnson’s oath was administered separately by the Honorable John E. Morse, Jr., Superior Court Judge.
Following his oath, Mayor Johnson gave the inaugural address. Mayor Johnson offered an anecdote recalling his memories of having dinner with his family during the holiday season. He explained that on a regular day, the dinner table was large enough for his immediate family, but during the holidays, more space was required to accommodate the additional family members that came from all over to have the holiday meals in his home.
There were more people to feed, but the quality of food was never diminished… Beloved, that is my vision for Savannah,” Mayor Johnson said.
“There are those of us who have been at the table for a very long time, and I have news for you, you will continue to eat, but we’re going to pull this table apart… we’re going to make this table bigger… we’re going to bring more chairs, and we’re going to make more room because we have more people to feed. It doesn’t mean that we will diminish the quality of the food. In fact, everyone at this table called ‘Savannah’ will bring their best to the table because we will all eat better.”
Following the inaugural address was a prayer for the city of Savannah by Pastor Charles P. Roberson from Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship church and a heartwarming selection by Charlesetta Blake and Huxsie Scott.
Before the program proceeded, the mayor interrupted with an announcement. “I was having a conversation with one of my musical idols… in this conversation this young man, who is also a pastor, said, ‘Why don’t you run for mayor?”, and it just came out of the clear blue sky. I said ‘I hadn’t really thought about it.’ He said, ‘Well, you should run. People like you, they love you, and I see you being mayor of this city.’ I said alright I’ll play along— ‘[If] I run for mayor and I win, you’re going to come back and sing at my inauguration’… Fast forward two and a half years later… I sent out a message. He remembered Savannah, he remembered me, and he remembered our conversation,” Mayor Johnson said before introducing the audience to gospel artist and pastor Donnie McClurkin. He sang two selections that administered the crowd into a standing ovation.
The Ecumenical Benediction followed Donnie McClurkin’s performance, and it was inclusive of 12 leaders of varying faiths. Ministers from Christianity, Judaism, Islam and more were invited to pray over the city. The array of ministers were invited to display the diversity of the citizens of Savannah and their beliefs.
Mayor Johnson provided acknowledgment and the adjournment, concluding the public program. Afterwards, a reception was held, allowing the newly elected officials, their families and other citizens to mingle and engage in fellowship.