By ROXANNE READY — For the first time in the city’s history, Hyattsville’s top three leaders — Mayor Candace Hollingsworth, Police Chief Amal Awad and City Administrator Tracey Nicholson-Douglas — are all women.
Each also represents a first for the city individually, and they are well-worth another look this Women’s History Month.
Awad, the first female, first African-American, and first LGBT police chief in Hyattsville’s 132-year history, said she finds it inspirational to see so many women in government and other professions today achieving their goals and helping each other.
“It’s encouraging, it’s uplifting, it’s exciting, and it gives many younger folks … inspiration to just deliver their best and be their best,” she said.
All three also said they are grateful for the opportunity to work alongside one another, and that they appreciate how they hold each other accountable.
“It’s just been really great to serve in office alongside other women,” said Hollingsworth, who in 2015 became Hyattsville’s first African-American and second woman elected as mayor. “They’re badass.”
Hollingsworth said many women bring a sense of compassion to leadership because their own experiences may have involved struggle.
“That’s not to be confused with niceness,” she added. “It’s just understanding all of the ways that your actions can impact other people. … Our lens is a bit clearer, I think, at times, and it’s a bit more refined to [help us] see who is vulnerable and how.”
“As a female, I did have to work very hard [throughout my career],” said Douglas, who in 2014 became the first African-American woman to serve as city administrator. “I did have to make sure I had a seat at the table and could be heard among [my] male contemporaries.”
Douglas was the city’s third administrator in as many years and took on the challenge of catching the city up on five years of overdue audits.
Douglas said her previous position as an executive officer in the U.S. Army, overseeing more than 150 military communities, prepared her well for the job, and that the move to city administrator was “not a particularly difficult transition.”
“I viewed it more as a challenge,” Douglas said. “I was fortunate that I walked in with a wonderful treasurer in the seat … and the two of us just got to work.”
The biggest challenge Douglas faces now, she said, is fitting her aspirations for the city within the realities of the budget. She listed youth programs, care for seniors, affordable housing and improvements to city communications as examples of some of her priorities for the city.
One of the things Douglas is most proud of, she said, is the city’s Teen Center with its affiliated mentorship program.
“I take the responsibility [of] being a role model — a leader and mentor — very seriously,” Douglas said.
The city council increased the Magruder Park Teen Center’s budget this year after retired police Sgt. Suzie Johnson started the program in 2017. It began as a drop-in club available up to three nights per week and now holds drop-in hours five nights per week, with scheduled events including tutoring, art activities and sports.
Hollingsworth also mentioned the Teen Center as something she is proud of helping grow in her time as mayor. She said the center helps teens “embrace their community [and] feel that their community has embraced them.”
Hollingsworth said she moved to Hyattsville about nine years ago in search of an affordable area where she could find a sense of community.
Although she has “incredible stage fright” and considers herself an introvert, Hollingsworth said she went into government because she wants to contribute to something greater than herself and leave behind a strong community for her children.
Hollingsworth said her high school instilled a sense of community responsibility that she carried with her to college, where she became involved in campus leadership.
“I never thought I would be an elected official,” she said. But “I realized [community leadership] is a sweet spot for me; it’s where I feel alive, and where I feel like I’m contributing to something much greater than me.”
Hollingsworth, who is up for re-election this year, said if re-elected she wants to focus on deepening the city government’s relationships with the community.
“My focus the first four years was really focusing on good governance,” she said, explaining that to her, this meant building up a committed staff behind the scenes. She added that next term, she would spend more time on policies that improve early childhood education, affordable housing and small business growth.
Like Hollingsworth, Awad, who became Hyattsville’s police chief in 2018, did not expect to find herself in her current profession.
Awad said when she was younger she saw herself as an artist or designer, but when three of her friends became police officers, she was intrigued by “the action, the opportunity to serve others [and to] help folks who are in need or in distress” and the chance for “giving back to the community.”
Awad said she is proud of the work the police department does to build community relationships, including holding quarterly Coffee with Cops events at local coffee shops, hosting open houses at the station and starting up the Teen Center.
But it’s the officers she works with and the sacrifices they make, Awad said, who make her the most proud.
All three leaders are aware of their place in history as women, but they are focused on the jobs they have to do.
“I’m excited that we have a month to celebrate our history,” Awad said. “But every day should be a celebration for us. We accomplish great things every day.”