Mayor Yemi Mobolade is not your typical politician. The soft spoken and highly cerebral business administration and computer information systems graduate from Bethel University made history when he was elected as the first Black immigrant and non-GOP mayor of Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

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This immigrant from West Africa moved to Colorado in 2010, where he started a family, built three small businesses, launched a church, and became a public servant and community leader has a burning passion to effect real change for the people of Colorado Springs. Listening to him speak, one can tell that he genuinely understands the challenges of the people he leads and has practical solutions to help them make their lives easier. Make no mistake, getting him to have this interview was a herculean task due to his very busy schedule but the time spent was well worth the wait. He seemed in control, was relaxed, articulate and exuded confidence in his ability to get things done. Tolulope Omotunde of Afrik Digest Magazine conducted this interview with him over the phone where he talked about his upbringing, faith, passion for service and his plans for Colorado Springs. Enjoy

Yemi Mobolade raises his right hand as he was sworn in as Colorado Springs’ mayor at the Pioneers Museum on last year. Credit: CPR.com

 

Afrik Digest: Congratulations Mayor once again for emerging as the first African-American Mayor of Colorado Springs. How has life been in office so far?

Mayor Mobolade: You know, its politics and politics is not for the faint of heart but in the end, I say it’s the hardest job and the most rewarding job I’ve ever done. So, I guess it’s like being a parent. You know, you have those two intense emotions happening that you love your kids and it drives you crazy.

 

Afrik Digest: I know you’ve talked about your childhood in previous interviews, but did your upbringing have any effect on the person you are today?

Mayor Mobolade: Oh, completely, Hands down. First of all, the immigrant story of being an outsider and giving me the empathy to be able to see and pull people into the decision-making table because when you’re an outsider and now an insider, you never lose sight of that. I think about the values that we were taught growing up in Nigeria and I often say though, even the whole village mentality. I say it takes a village to raise a kid, it’s not just a nice statement, It’s an actual experience of being raised by not just mom and dad but uncles and aunties and neighbors and grandma.

You know, success comes from a diverse village. So, it’s one of the things that I bring into my mural leadership is understanding that success also takes a diverse village who are leaders and people who help create success. One of the things in terms of my own parents’ story was education which was very big, especially for my dad.

You know, my dad grew up in a time when the British were still in Nigeria and when his dad passed away at age 13, he dropped out of school and a couple of his British teachers fought for him to stay in school and convinced his mom and grandma, who is deceased now, and that was a game-changer because that, being able to go back to school, finish school, go to university and gain employment allowed him help send his own siblings to school. And so, as a young kid, two things were ingrained in us. One is, you know, to just make sure we’re educated and then two, my dad would always say the sky’s the limit.

The sky’s the limit. There are no boundaries. And then, growing up in a faith household, you know, Household of Faith taught me all the values that I implement in office today. Values of courage, values of empathy, values of humility as well.

New Colorado Springs Mayor Yemi Mobolade speaks to a crowd in front of the Pioneers Museum after being sworn into office. Credit; CPR.com

Afrik Digest: What actually motivated you to get into politics?

Mayor Mobolade: One, I wanted to be the change I wanted to see in the world. At some point, when you see what needs to change, instead of looking around you to see who is going to do it, you have to step into the arena.

And so, I wanted to be that change and I believe I had something to contribute to the conversation. I wanted to disrupt politics in the best way because there’s a lot of hopelessness when it comes to the direction American politics is going. And sometimes it takes an outsider, it takes an immigrant to remind us of what’s best of us as Americans and our foundation and our formation.

And so, I felt like I could contribute something to the arena, to the story I’m bringing so many people along with me. I felt like as a political independent, I have an opportunity to put people over politics and keep the main thing the main thing. So, those are my… And then, one last motivation is the Greek word for love of city, topophilia. And love makes you do crazy things like run for office. So, I love this city. I love Colorado Springs. This is home for my family and I and, you know, I used to say I love it for what it is. I also love it for what it could become. And so, love makes you do crazy things and then you find out you’re running a campaign.

Yemi Mobolade as a little kid growing up in Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Denver Trust

 

Afrik Digest: The homeless issue in Colorado Springs is well documented. What steps have you taken or do you plan to take to address this?

Mayor Mobolade: Yeah, the homelessness one is not peculiar to Colorado Springs. It’s also nationwide. It grounds my story and what many growing cities are experiencing and a lot of contributing factors to homelessness, whether it’s mental health, drug abuse or housing. And one of the things I’m proud of in my city is how we’re responding. We take politics away from it, which is very important. We don’t pursue political decisions.

We pursue pragmatic decisions. I’m proud to say Aurora, Mayor Kaufman, and Mayor Johnston are also looking at Colorado Springs to say, what are you guys doing? And that is, how are you moving the needle. Now, I just want to be clear that we talk about ending homelessness in the city of Colorado Springs, but we put that big vision ahead of us, even though we would never end it, you know, if you’re a person of faith you’ll remember the scripture passage that says, Jesus says you will always have the poor with you. But what I’m happy to say is that we’re making progress and we’re back to numbers that we haven’t seen since 2016. So we’re going the right way. We’ve moved from, I think, 1,600 now to 1,200 homeless residents.

About 700 plus of those are people that are sheltered. I know that 300 plus are unsheltered. And so we are seeing a lot of progress. But in terms of what we’re doing really well, boil it down to three things. One is, in our city, we invested in cleanups to ensure that we clean up our city, as well as ensuring that we don’t have those fire dangers, because in the homeless encampments, they start fires. And then as we do cleanups, we’re able to provide the next steps for those residents. Two, we’re relentless about partnerships. We know as a government, we can’t do it alone. So we depend on the business community, the nonprofit community, and we partner with them.

And one of the partnerships that we actually have with one of the local rescue missions is this program called WorkCOS, where formerly homeless residents who are ready to work, actually come and join the city in a program called WorkCOS, which has to do with cleaning up our city. And then the third emphasis that we’re taking is behavioral health, understanding that we have to get to the root cause of homelessness, and a lot of it has to do with an unhealthy mind. So we are pushing that we have behavioral health outreach people that are out there on the streets, meeting homeless and vulnerable homeless residents and trying to get them off from the streets back into housing, health and work.

 

Afrik Digest: Okay, yeah, you mentioned something when you were giving me your answer. You said you take all the politics out of this knowing full well that you ran as an independent. How do you plan to walk across party lines to achieve all your goals? Knowing full well that say, for example, you need to pass a bill, you have Democrats angling for something, you have the Republicans, you know, how do you how do you intend to manage all of this?

Mayor Mobolade: And that’s the secret of being an independent is that I don’t have a home, but my home is Colorado Springs. In fact, one of the Colorado senators told me, he said, stay an independent as long as you can Mayor. And I said, why? He goes, because you get to pursue the right policies, without being beholden to a group of people or party members. And so when you look at my policies, let me for instance, let me give you my vision for the city.

My vision for Colorado Springs is that it will be an inclusive, culturally rich, economically prosperous, safe, vibrant and a world class American city on a hill that shines brightly. Now, when you take that apart, if you look at those elements, if you lean more left, you’re probably excited to hear things like inclusive, culturally rich, if you lean more right, you’re excited to hear things like economically prosperous, safe, safe city. And that’s it.

All these elements are really important. America is both left and right. And I think the political challenge we have today is trying to divide us over party politics. And most of us Americans are not easily divided. It’s complicated. And so part of the joy and the wisdom of being an independent is I am independent in my own leadership decisions and not bound to any group, power brokers or political parties.

So I make decisions as an independent and I pull people from both parties. I pull wisdom from a cross section of people. I build teams of rivals, diverse thinking and diverse perspectives and bring them together. And we sometimes duke it out and then we come out of that boardroom with a meaningful solution.

 

Afrik Digest: Thank you.  Also, moving on. How do you plan to assist your residents of your city who are struggling with the ever rising cost of living? We know inflation is probably everywhere and I’m sure America is affected by it as well. So what do you plan to do to help ease that burden?

Mayor Mobolade: Yeah definitely, America is affected by it. We live in Colorado where unfortunately we’re becoming one of the hardest places and most expensive places to live. The state of Colorado is no longer a best kept secret because everybody wants to move here now.

I think it was three or four years ago, the U.S. News and World Report released that top five ranking in terms of best cities and four out of five Colorado cities were in the top five. It’s a matter of supply and demand. So a lot of people want to move here and you don’t have enough housing. The cost of housing goes up.

So it’s getting more and more expensive to live here, but we’re not just sitting back and watching it happen. So basic math is that we’ve got to increase the housing supply and that helps bring down the cost out of housing. So we’re short in supply and we’re working on that like I highlighted earlier. We’re also working on diverse housing options.

We’re participating at the state level in terms of legislation, meaningful legislation to unlock the supply of housing. I’m personally involved in the House Bill 106 to ensure that we can unlock the supply of more condos and tree level housing. One of my first decisions as a new mayor was to appoint a chief housing officer because it’s that important that my chief housing officer is tasked with ensuring that we’re moving the needle.

We’re accelerating housing projects. We’re providing incentives, financial incentives for more housing. We are pursuing housing innovations and thinking of new ways of building homes because the traditional ways are no longer working. And then the number five that I do want to talk briefly about is there’s only so much you can do to bring the cost of housing down because a lot of building materials are involved. At the end of the day, we have to figure out how to put more money in the pockets of Americans.

And that’s where economic development is an important part of this equation in terms of high paying jobs. And I am very proud of my city and the work that we’re doing in this regard. Many of the record breaking announcements that we’ve had last year, last two years and this year are that a lot of the residents of Colorado Springs are now in jobs that are paying between $80,000 to $150,000.

So when you pay people more money, it equips them with the ability to live comfortably in our communities.

Mayor Mobolade and his family. Credit: CNN

Afrik Digest: Moving further, how do you propose to reduce crime in the city while at the same time ensuring fair policing? Ensuring that your citizens get the best possible policing they can get and that they are not being racially profiled, they are not being harassed unnecessarily. You know, what are your plans to ensure that the police are actually doing their jobs and they are not going overboard?

Mayor Mobolade: That’s a great question and I want to answer this, but just setting the record straight that a lot of the issues around policing are political. There are efforts and improvements that need to be made. Granted, but a lot of it is strictly political and I’m not about political grandstanding.

The numbers nationally show that a lot of the issues around policing, it’s about 5% of officers. So 95% of officers nationally, actually public servants are doing the job because they want to serve people. The scripture says that, um, no greater love than a man would lay his life down for their brother.

I don’t know how many people sign up for a job knowing that today could be the last day and not be there for the family. So I want to be clear about what we’re talking about. 95% of our officers are in it for the right reasons.

And being mayor, I get a front row seat into this job and, and I get to witness how hard it is to actually become an officer.  Very soon I’ll be graduating thirty new officers in our program and doing the oath of ceremony. And you know that list starts with two thousand people just to get to the academy, and then you’re in the academy and not everyone makes it.

So you have to be the best of the best of the best of the best of the best in the community. My pastor’s son wanted to become an officer and he got told no. Yeah, it’s that hard. I mean, you have to have almost like a perfect record to be able to. So that’s really important.

It’s a story that’s not being told in this arena. Now it’s that 5% that we need to work on. Like every industry, you have good employees and you have bad employees, and you think of things like how do you retrain, how can you help, what can we do better, how can we improve.  So it’s important that as mayor, public safety has to be paramount for me.

And it’s because no other entity can take that on. You know, I can’t go to the private sector, I can’t go to the nonprofit sector, and the most essential function of your government is public safety. So when people call 911 in a time of distress they need people there to come to the aid. That is my job and I take it seriously. So we’ve had a shortage of officers because of the political pressures on the job. We’ve had to deal with early retirements because people don’t want it.

And so we’re trying to make it a more conducive environment for them to work. And we’re trying to improve our response time. And we’re doing that here in Colorado Springs by trying to get to maximum strength. As it stands, we need about 818 officers to take care of our city.

And we’ve been short, but we have a plan by the end of this year to get to that number of authorized strength. That would be the first time since 2019 we have had that.

And then once we get to that, you see that our response time improves. So when you get into a car accident, instead of just standing there and nobody shows up, because you’re short on officers, we have to prioritize and answer the most life threatening needs. I’m hoping that we get back to a place where, when there’s a car accident and somebody needs to show up, you actually have somebody there.

So that’s important and let me end this segment by saying this, what I’ve explained to you is strictly the downstream solution. We also have to go upstream, so it’s both.  If you’re at a stream or a river, and you see debris coming through the river, you keep cleaning it, keep cleaning it. At some point, you have to ask, why is all this crap coming through the river? I have to go upstream to see what’s going on.

And so now we’ve got to go upstream, and as mayor, it’s important to me to partner with community organizations that are stopping violence and gang prevention, and also providing opportunities for residents, economic opportunities for residents, business trainings, folks that are coming out of the prison system to ensure that they have the tools to be successful in life.

So crime does not even become an option. So we have downstream, and we’ve got upstream. That’s how we solve crime in our community.

 

Afrik Digest: Who has had the greatest influence on your political career?

Mayor Mobolade: Oh, man. I’m a product of good mentors and people. I don’t know if you remember the Yoruba proverb that says the wisdom of others keeps the king from being called a fool. Yeah. So sometimes the wisdom of others and the mentors come from people that I’m meeting with.

So I have mayors, former mayors that are mentoring me today. I have people that are mentoring me that I don’t even know of because I read about them in books. But I would say as a Nigerian American, as an immigrant who became an American citizen seven years ago, I look to other American figureheads and leaders to help inspire my own American leadership. And one of my greatest inspirations is the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. You probably see I have a couple of his books in my back.

And I’m reading the book Team of Rivals again. Abraham Lincoln was masterful as just being a courageous and empathetic leader. A leader that was humble and he was a frontline leader.

He was not above anybody. He would go meet with the soldiers who were in the front lines in the war; he had an ability to use humor. He was funny and was a very gifted communicator. He was just a down to earth person, very likable. But it’s more than just all these gifts. It’s how he used them to accomplish great things. And one of the greatest things that he accomplished was holding the union together that we know as the United States of America.

It was going to be fractured for good. And if not for the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln and his leadership and his ability to work with rivals, we wouldn’t be the country we are today. That’s a type of leadership that inspires me.

And that’s the type of leadership that I’m putting into practice. If you look at some of my team members, for example, one of my core team members is one of the persons I ran against during the campaign. Another leader on my team is the other leader that I ran against in a campaign.

We did the runoff against each other, Wayne Williams. He is on my advisory council. And so the ability to find common ground, find ways to pull even opponents together, knowing that together we can work for the greater good has been inspired by Abraham Lincoln. And it also happens that we share the same birthday on February 12th.

And I’ll tell you, I always give a nod to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I sit on the shoulders of giants, if not of his work and leadership. I don’t think as a black man and immigrant mayor, I don’t think I would have the opportunity to be a mayor of a top 50 U.S. city.

Yemi Mobolade at a photo shoot session during his campaign for mayor. Credit-photopit.com

Afrik Digest: You became a naturalized citizen in 2017. When you were elected in 2023, Good Morning America said you had lived the American Dream. But you’ve said in interviews that the American Dream is further out of reach of some people in Colorado Springs. How much can you do, as a mayor specifically, to turn the tide and give more people a shot?

Mayor Mobolade: It all starts with a young man who started out as an immigrant from West Africa, became a citizen only seven years ago, and now is a mayor of the 39th largest city. It starts with the face of the city and how that brings about hope.

I know I’m now in a privileged position to be able to open those doors. For some people, it’s just that crack they need. Just open it a little bit and they can feel the breeze. That’s a breeze of hope. For some, it’s just being able to open the door wide open and say, walk and come on in. And so it starts with leadership. It starts with good leadership that prioritizes people over politics. And that’s what I mean by not having access to the American Dream, which in my experience has become about partisan politics. In fact, my criticism is that we are obsessed with White House and national politics.

And I believe the most important politics is local politics, the decisions that affect your neighborhood roads, your neighborhood street, your schools and your mental health. These are the issues. And this is why being a mayor is a very attractive job for someone like me that wants to make a difference and wants to make an impact in the life of others.

Because we get to brass tacks on what the most important issues are and how can we increase access for others. So we’re doing that. For me, we’re doing that in five different pillars.

We talked about public safety, economic mobility, infrastructure and also community activation. And I’m missing one. What’s the last one? Public safety, economic development, community activation, infrastructure. Yeah, there’s one more. Did I miss it? Okay. But those are the five. These are the four.

I’ve mentioned four of the five areas where we’re trying to improve access and give access to make it easier for people to obtain the American Dream. oh, the fifth one is housing. Housing. Yes, housing. Those are the five elements.

So public safety, infrastructure, housing, economic development, and community activation.

 

Afrik Digest: Do you see yourself holding statewide or national office in future?

Mayor Mobolade: For some reason, everyone keeps asking me that question a lot. (General Laughter).

Well to answer your question about political aspirations, I’m just about a year into my job and I’m like, people, give me a chance to figure out being mayor first before the next step. I talked to a state leader just recently because he’s in touch with me and Mayor Johnston up in Denver. And this state leader literally says on the phone, it is my goal to get you to be governor. I am going to do everything within my power to make sure that you’re governor. And I went, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Who says I want to continue in the realm of politics? Politics is a blood sport.

And so when people tell me that, I take that as a compliment. I hear that as a “we appreciate the way you’re leading and how you’re leading differently”. And I receive that as a compliment because what people are saying is, we need more of it.

But honestly, I don’t know if that’s of interest to me. I never want to say never because I said I’ll never run for mayor, and here I am. And so God has a sense of humor. But I’ll say at this point, I’m not interested. My goal was never to become a politician. My goal is always to serve my community. And so I don’t know what the future holds. Okay. Maybe I can have, there might be some other Africans that might decide to run for governor. I can support that.

And honestly, my goal is for other minorities to see themselves in me. It’s one of the best compliments I hear when I meet young kids and meet other Africans that go, man, I feel like I can do that too. I can run. The sky’s the limit. For the barriers to be removed, I mean, that’s music to my ears.

Lt. Gen. A.C. Roper, Deputy Commander, U.S. Northern Command, welcomes Colorado Springs Mayor, Yemi Mobolade to the NORAD and USNORTHCOM headquarters on Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado. Credit – dvidshub.net

Afrik Digest: How do you balance your political career with your personal life? How has it been?

Mayor Mobolade: That’s a tough one. That’s a tough one. The job is never ending. Yesterday I went home to be with my family, and then I came back here and I didn’t leave until midnight. But it’s what I signed up for.

I just have to fight for it. I’m almost a year at this, and I was trying to give it a year to get a sense of the life and rhythms of my city and determine the best time that I can take time off. I’ve come to realize there’s no best time. I just have to go. And so it helps to be grounded. I have three core values that I operate from.

I don’t know if you can see my challenge coin (shows me the coin). It says courage, empathy, and humility. And the value of humility keeps me grounded, and I have other people speaking to my life.

I have an executive coach. I have mentors. I have a spiritual director. I have advisors, teams of advisors, and many of these leaders are good at saying, are you taking time off? Make sure you’re spending time with family and reminding me how family is important. So having them around me is a way that I try to ensure that I’m staying grounded with my own personal life as well. Family is important.

I try to make sure I’m there for my kids. And for me personally, I would tell you that now that this weather is getting warmer, I love landscaping. I love planting. I’d probably start getting into gardening again. It’s more than a hobby. It’s Sabbath for me.

It’s allowed me the opportunity to not just recreate but to recreate in a way that is different, that is life-giving. So as long as I’m chasing after my family and those habits that give me life, then I’m successful.

Mayor Mobolade and his entire family during a visit to Nigeria. Credit: CPR.com

 

Afrik Digest: What legacy do you hope to leave behind at the end of your term?

Mayor Mobolade: That this mayor loved people. That I was a mayor for all people and that people’s personal lives were flourishing and their families flourished and lives were enhanced because of my leadership. I want people to look back. I want people to feel inspired to do great things. The word inspiration is one that has been associated with my leadership for years.

And I want people to be inspired. We live in a time where hope is becoming a scarce commodity. And I want people to hope again. We’re going to get a lot of stuff done Tolu. No doubt about that. I have a great team. We have a 3,000-person team. They’re all badasses. They can get things done.

They’re great leaders in their own right. And I’m so honored to be around them. So we’re going to get a lot of stuff done. We’re going to do the typical, in four years or eight years, the American thing that we tend to do a lot. During his time as mayor, we did X, Y, Z, you know, all the data around that. But even more than that, I want people today to look at my leadership and be inspired to lead the same way. I often tell my team that the process is as important as the outcome. So I want people to look at the process, not just what we got done, and be inspired on how to lead.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted with – this quote is attributed to him that says, Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend the first four hours chopping the axe. Yeah. I want people – I don’t want people to see that the tree is chopped down.

I want people to look at the four hours of the axe being sharpened and to see that as an inspiration for them to – for their leadership as well and their quality of life.

Afrik Digest: Thank you so much, Mayor. I’m so grateful for taking out the time to have this interview with me. I know you’re a very, very busy person, so I’m going to let you just get back to it.

Mayor Mobolade: Thank you very much Tolu, it’s been a real pleasure

 

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