October 20, 2021 FALL 2020

Responding to the Call

Alumna Shawyn Patterson-Howard ’05 makes history as the first female Mayor of Mount Vernon, New York.

By Andrea Dawn Clark

SHAWYN PATTERSON-HOWARD, who earned her master’s degree in Public Administration in 2005 from John Jay College, never intended to run for elected office. But when she saw her city in turmoil, “I responded to the call of my community,” she says, becoming the first female Mayor of Mount Vernon, New York, and one of only four African-American mayors in the state. “For me, it was never about trailblazing. It was about seeing needs that were not being met, drilling down, pulling together resources, and really seeking to make a difference in Mount Vernon. I’ve always enjoyed working at the intersection of government, community, civic business, and the faith-based community.”

As a non-traditional student, Patterson-Howard took several online and in-person classes to earn her M.P.A. “One of my favorite parts of the experience was learning from my classmates. We had dynamic conversations. There were quite a few people in my class from other countries, and the international presence of law enforcement and government leaders from around the globe helped us discuss innovative solutions to community problems,” says Patterson-Howard. It’s those globally informed strategies that have guided the way she leads today, especially during challenging times, like the current Covid-19 health epidemic that has hit Mount Vernon particularly hard. “We can’t just do things the same old way that we’ve been doing them. We have to make sure that within a government framework, we can still be responsive to the emerging needs of a community, as well as continuing to deal with longstanding challenges.”

Actress and activist Lily Tomlin once famously said, “Somebody should do something about that! Then I realized, I am somebody.” Before Mount Vernon’s 2019 mayoral election, Patterson-Howard realized that she was the “somebody” that folks needed to lead them. “After our previous mayor had been indicted, our community was in turmoil,” she remembers. “I went on Facebook and I started making points that I thought were important. After a while, people started saying, ‘Well, why aren’t you running?’ People were asking me to step up.”

In less than 72 hours, Patterson-Howard responded to their call and threw her hat in the ring. “I never saw myself in elected office because I worried that I would lose my voice. But I still very much speak truth to power, I’m still very committed to serving the community in a way that is authentic, and I still put the citizenry and our stakeholders first.”

After winning the election, Patterson-Howard felt the first thing that needed to be done was to reengage the community. Her team put together seven transition teams with over 25 community members on each team, along with experts on the subject matters. She’s also been focusing on critical economic development for Mount Vernon.

In true John Jay form, Patterson-Howard is committed to social justice issues. She’s worked for over 25 years on prisoner-reentry programs and criminal justice reform.

“After people have been prosecuted and served their time, when they come back into the community, there are essential services and supports that they need to ensure that they don’t recidivate. This is not only for their betterment, but also for public safety.” For the past 10 years, Patterson-Howard has run a program called SNUG (which is the word “guns” spelled backwards) that helps lower community violence by employing system-impacted individuals to be change agents and credible messengers. “I had one gentleman who went in for second degree murder at the age of 18. He came out at 44,” says Patterson-Howard. “He knows what it’s like to make one stupid decision that changed the trajectory of his life. For the past six years, he’s been working hard to reduce the potential of that happening to more young people like him.”

With tens of thousands of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Westchester County, and sadly hundreds of deaths as a result of the disease, being the Mayor of Mount Vernon during these challenging times would test the mettle of any leader. Luckily, Mount Vernon has an inspiring leader at the helm. “As businesses started to shut down, people started to feel anxious. But instead of panicking about the situation, I suggested that they let their anxieties drive them to plan, prepare, and prevent. Use the time at home to connect with your family. We have to take this deadly disease seriously, and as a community we have to practice precaution on the front end to save precious lives.”

Photography: Courtesy of the City of Mount Vernon


President’s Letter

“We’re living through challenging times.” I’ve found myself writing, saying, and contemplating those five words countless times this year.

Campus News

CUSP Takes Center Stage at 2020 Davos World Economic Forum

In the Media

“YOU’RE SEEING MORE PEOPLE OF COLOR, more working class folks starting to find their voice a little bit more. That’s...

Breaking the Cycle of Intımate-Partner Violence

In Kingston, New York, NNSC’s new approach has significantly reduced the deadliest forms of intimate-partner violence. By Michael Friedrich

Measuring the Impact of Reform

The Data Collaborative for Justice evaluates the success of New York City’s Criminal Justice Reform Act.

On the Front Line

Despite the hardships and health risks, John Jay students, alumni, faculty, and staff continue to keep our communities safe throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. By Andrea Dawn Clark

Educating Through the Crisis

How John Jay students, faculty, and staff successfully transitioned to a distance-learning model. by Mary Anderson

Charting New Territory

Olivia Orta, Ph.D. ’07 blazed a path for John Jay alumni, being the first John Jay grad to earn her doctoral degree from Harvard. By Andrea Dawn Clark

A Voice for Victims

Political Science Associate Professor Verónica Michel Explores Victims’ Rights in Latin America. By Shirley Del Valle

Donor Profile: Living with Integrity

Nasser J. Kazeminy, Chairman of the Ellis Island Honors Society, shares how he’s faced every challenge in his life with curiosity, compassion, and integrity. By Andrea Dawn Clark

Flashback -1984

Reverend Jesse Jackson, a potential democratic nominee for president of the United States spoke at John Jay one evening in...

Understanding the Legacy

John Jay students, faculty, and staff visit the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and contemplate the unsettling history of race in America. By Andrea Dawn Clark

LEAP Forward

The newest student-success initiative that supports second-semester freshmen, through their sophomore year, with intensive academic advisement, experiential learning, and career-focused internships. By Mary Anderson

In Solidarity with El Paso

Through its ties with the University of Texas at El Paso and the El Paso Project, John Jay’s Latin American and Latinx Studies Department seeks to educate, encourage, and empower our Latinx community. By Shirley Del Valle

Class of 2019 Then & Now

This past May, the class of 2019 graduated from John Jay College. We checked in with a few of them to find out how they’re launching their careers

Karol V. Mason

Vice President for Public Affairs
and Strategic Initiatives

Laura Ginns

Chief Communications Officer
Rama Sudhakar

Senior Editor/Writer
Editorial Director

Andrea Dawn Clark

Shirley Del Valle

Contributing Writers
Mary Anderson
Michael Friedrich

Senior Designer/Art Director
Laura DeVries

Stephanie Birdsong

Copy Editor
Carey Ostergard

Arpi Pap
Andrea Dawn Clark
Gabriel Hernández Solano

Victoria Stewart-Meyers