Rome J. and Tyger Ligon contributed to this story.

Everyone’s got a few words of advice and encouragement for Mayor Brandon Johnson. After the late Harold Washington, he’s only the second popularly elected Black man to lead the city of Chicago.

Nadia Dawson’s first piece of advice to Johnson is to stick to the morals that got him in office: listening to the people who are doing the work on the ground, to help find solutions to some of the city’s most challenging problems.

“Don’t allow outside people to corrupt you,” said Dawson, a coordinator with Access Living, a disability services and advocacy nonprofit. “I don’t need somebody who is going to feed me things I want to hear. I would prefer to understand what’s going on, and why solutions aren’t working, [and] who’s stopping those solutions from working, and how we can get back on track.”

While thinking of words of advice for the new mayor, Black Panther Party Cubs chairman Fred Hampton Jr. recalled the time Johnson visited the Hampton House on Aug. 30 for a celebration of his father, the late deputy chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party Fred Hampton Sr.’s, birthday. It was a few months prior to the launch of his 2023 mayoral campaign. He called Johnson a “breath of fresh air” for acknowledging the role racism and mental health, along with other issues, has played in a segregated city like Chicago.

“What I’m seeing thus far is he’s seeing the potential of people. This is one of the few administrations that openly acknowledges Chairman Fred Hampton Sr. He’s coming through the door combating liberalism. In other words, not being afraid to acknowledge two major dynamics that’s embedded in history,” Hampton said. “And just because you acknowledge it, doesn’t mean it has to be antagonistic.”

Gayinga Washington, an Austin native, walked away from the inauguration ceremony loving Johnson’s message of unity. He represented her district on the Cook County Board of Commissioners before becoming mayor.

“I’m just hoping that the excitement of this day will not stop after today,” Washington said, as she waited in line to meet Johnson at his City Hall open house that afternoon. “Part of his message was for us to unify as a city, no matter what side you’re from, and that we can rise from whatever we’re dealing with, as long as we’re helping each other to do it.”

A little after 10:30 a.m. that morning, thousands of jubilant Chicagoans gathered at the Credit Union 1 Center (formerly, the UIC Pavilion) to witness Johnson’s inauguration as Chicago’s 57th mayor.

The ceremony, which was officially a meeting of the City Council, opened with a dance performance by the Muntu Dance Theatre and a gospel number by Destiny Worship and Praise Chorale, accompanied by Rize Orchestra. 

Alderpersons, 13 of whom are joining the City Council for the first time, took the stage first, with some of the newbies, as well as progressive incumbents, drawing cheers from some sections of the crowd. 

Dignitaries in attendance included Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, Attorney General Kwame Raoul, State Secretary Alexi Gioannoulias, Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, Congresspersons Danny Davis, Jesus “Chuy” García,  Robin Kelly, Delia Ramirez, Jan Schakowsky, State senators Don Harmon, Emanuel Chris Welch, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin and Cook County State‘s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Cook County chief  judge Timothy C. Evans, who as an alderman in the 1980s was an ally of then-mayor Harold Washington, rose to deliver the mayor’s oath of office to Brandon Johnson.

Brandon Johnson has been sworn in as mayor of Chicago. Photo by Alexander Gouletas.

“I am truly humbled and honored to stand before you as the 57th mayor of the greatest city in the world,” Johnson said.

What makes the city great, he said, is its people.

“I want to make this clear,” Johnson said, turning to address the newly inaugurated City Council. “People in Chicago are counting on us to work together to collaborate to make their lives better. Now we might not always agree, but I won’t ever question your motives or commitment, and I’ll always do my part to find common ground.”

After the ceremony, Johnson hosted an open house at City Hall beginning at 2:00 p.m. While there, he signed four executive orders to boost youth employment, establish a deputy mayor for Immigrant, Migrant and Refugee rights, establish a deputy mayor for community safety to address the root causes of violence, and establish a deputy mayor for labor relations to foster and promote the welfare of wage earners, job seekers and retirees.

Then, he greeted Chicagoans in a receiving line outside the fifth-floor office.

Inauguration ceremony

The inauguration ceremony began a few minutes after 10:30 a.m. Former mayor Lori Lightfoot entered to a standing ovation. 

Dressed in a light gray suit and silver tie, Johnson took the stage to sustained cheers and applause, followed by chants of “Brandon, Brandon!”

Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago, dressed in bright red outfits, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” with their fists raised. The song is informally considered the Black national anthem.

As a representative from the American Indian Center (AIC) delivered a land acknowledgement, several Police District Council members stood and turned their backs in protest, and a demonstrator shouted in protest from the crowd. 


Seventeenth Police District Council member Anthony Tamez and Chi-Nations Youth Council co-founder told The TRiiBE the protest was directed at the AIC, which painted an “All Lives Matter” mural in 2020 and allegedly hired an abusive person in a leadership role.

Following the land acknowledgement, Lightfoot called the City Council meeting to order, saying, “Welcome to the peaceful transfer of power.”

Following an invocation by Rev. Dr. Ots Moss III, Chicago’s first poet laureate, avery r. Young, performed “& whereas a dream can blas(t) off.”

Rabbi Shoshanah Conover delivered a blessing that noted “Chicago’s many deserts,” including food and housing deserts, and reminded attendees that “we are our brother’s keeper” to applause.

City Clerk Anna Valencia was sworn in first. She then administered the oath of office collectively to Chicago’s 50 alderperson and officially called the roll. Some alders, such as Raymond Lopez (15th) and Jim Gardiner (45th), were booed by members of the crowd. 

Cook County judge Judith Rice swore Melissa Conyears-Ervin in as treasurer. Some members of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., of which Conyears-Ervin is a proud member, were in the audience cheering her on.

Imam Hassan Aly delivered a prayer for peace and guidance for the city and its leaders. 

Grammy-winning gospel artist Karen Clark Sheard, who wore a shimmering gold dress, next brought many in the crowd to their feet with stirring renditions of “The Impossible Dream” and “Total Praise.”

Once sworn in, Johnson thanked Lightfoot for her service and her sacrifice, noting that her historic election was an inspiration to many, including his own daughter. He then thanked his family for their love and support.

“Growing up, I never imagined I could be on a stage like this,” Johnson said. “Now, make no mistake about it—that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared.” 

He noted his upbringing in a working-class family of ten where his father was a carpenter and a pastor and his mother “always made room for one more at the table — a cousin, a neighbor who needed a warm meal and a warm embrace.”

Johnson said the “soul of Chicago” was alive in its indigenous inhabitants, in Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, and in the hearts of Black people who came here during the Great Migration and immigrants who came to the city from around the world.

“That soul is what strikes me today,” he said. “I’m marveling not just at the peaceful transfer of power, or the miracle of American democracy, or the grand tradition of Chicago elections . . . I am struck by how much work it took to bring us to this moment, how many decades of slow progress” brought about by civil rights and labor struggles.

Johnson noted that there are many differences of opinion, political and otherwise, in Chicago, and stressed the importance of finding common ground.

He listed the city’s many challenges. “Too many Chicagoans fear for their safety,” he said. “Our public transit is unreliable and unsafe . . . rent in Chicago continues to go up year after year after year while the development of affordable and market-rate housing stagnates.”

Downtown businesses are struggling, as are whole neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, he said. “Our schools call out for more resources to fulfill their mandate of providing every single child in our city with a world-class education that meets their specific needs.” And too few have access to mental health care, he said.

These problems affect all Chicagoans, he said. But “the soul of Chicago is alive and well in each of us,” he said. “The tears of Adam Toledo’s parents are made of the same sorrow as officer [Areanah] Preston’s [parents].”

Johnson said the “only way we can truly confront and address those challenges is by working together and coming together,” in a deeper, sincere way “that acknowledges the strength of what makes this city so strong.”

Noting the Biblical scripture in Matthew 25, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,” Johnson said the “soul of Chicago” can manage the ongoing crisis of asylum seekers being bused to the city from border states, and that the city can honor the legacy of long-term residents while welcoming new arrivals.

“Our best and brightest days are ahead of us,” he concluded. “Together we can build a better, safer, stronger Chicago; we just have to look deep into the soul of Chicago.” He paused.

“Can I get a witness?” he said, bringing the crowd to its feet in a long standing ovation.

Johnson’s inauguration was the first Bukola Bello, a University Village resident, has attended. 

“Today is an exciting day, it is a wonderful day. I think the air is magnetic. People are excited. This is something that I think people have been waiting for for a really long time,” Bello said. “I think what I’m most excited about is someone who represents the neighborhood. He lives on the West Side, he’s part of the West Side.” 

Mayor-elect Johnson is young, he’s energetic. He’s full of great ideas, and he has the experience to lead the city forward. So it’s a great day,” Bello added.

Anthony Driver, Jr. is the interim president of the Community Commission of Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA), which oversees the police department, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and the Police Board. He viewed Johnson’s inauguration as a proud moment.

“Proud of my friend, Mayor Johnson,” Driver said. “I’m excited to see what’s next for the city. A mayor that listens. A mayor that doesn’t think that they’re the smartest person in the room all the time. A mayor to actually have the pulse of Chicago.”

Johnson, a former teacher and Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) organizer who ran a progressive campaign centered on community investment, came in second place in the Feb. 28 election and later defeated former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Paul Vallas in the April 4 runoff with 52.2 percent of the vote.

Youth voter turnout played a significant role in Johnson’s win. Voters aged 18 to 24 increased their turnout by about 5,000 votes on April 4 compared to Feb. 28, a jump of more than 30 percent. In the runoff, Johnson carried every majority-Black ward in the city, in some cases by as much as 80 percent.

Lori Lightfoot, who made history in 2019 by becoming Chicago’s first Black woman and openly gay mayor, departed City Hall in an official capacity for the last time on Friday, May 12. Lightfoot came in third place in the Feb. 28 general election with 17 percent, making her the first popularly elected mayor to lose reelection since first-term incumbent Jane Byrne lost to Harold Washington forty years ago.

In 2019, Lightfoot seemingly appeared out of nowhere amid a field of 14 mayoral challengers. A former prosecutor who previously was president of the Chicago Police board, Lightfoot positioned herself as a progressive who’d be independent from the machine. 

Throughout her four-year administration, Lightfoot was at odds with grassroots organizers, unions, police and the business community. Among her campaign promises, for example, was a commitment to stopping the construction of a multimillion-dollar cop academy in its tracks. However, she changed course once in office, increasing the cop academy funding from $98 million to $128 million. She celebrated its ribbon-cutting on Jan. 25 alongside Ald. Emma Mitts (37th Ward) and Supt. Brown.

Under Lightfoot’s administration, for the year 2023, funding for the Chicago Police Department (CPD) increased to $1.94 billion, up from $1.88 billion in 2022.

Lightfoot’s signature project, Invest South/West, which aims to pour resources into 12 commercial corridors within 10 South and West side neighborhoods, includes $2.2 billion in public and private investments. It also included a number of projects that predated her administration, a Chicago Tribune investigation found. 

In her final days in office, Lightfoot issued a slew of executive orders, including orders establishing an Office of New Americans, expanding access to visa certification for immigrants, and ensuring the Youth Commission stays in place, among other items.

The Brandon Johnson Administration

Johnson has already begun installing key figures in his administration. On May 11, he named Jen Johnson (no relation), the CTU’s chief of staff who played a pivotal role in the 2019 teachers strike, as deputy mayor of education. The CTU was instrumental in securing Johnson’s mayoral victory; the union’s political action committee and its labor allies donated millions of dollars and provided critical get-out-the-vote organizing.

Johnson has also named Cook County budget director Annette Guzman as his city budget director; Jill Jaworski, a partner at PFM Financial Advisors, as chief financial advisor; and Cook County Human Rights Commission chair Mayumi “Umi” Grigsby as policy director.

On May 7, Johnson announced a City Council shakeup, dubbed the “Unity Plan,” that cuts the number of committees from 28 to 20. The plan will install 3rd Ward alder Pat Dowell as Finance Committee chair, and 35th Ward alder Carlos Ramirez-Rosa as Zoning Committee chair. Both alders were key supporters of Johnson during the general election and runoff.

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With 13 brand-new alders joining one of the most politically and demographically diverse City Councils in Chicago history, one of Johnson’s challenges will be to coalesce enough votes to advance his progressive agenda. He has pledged to pass major pieces of legislation in his first 100 days in office: 

The Bring Chicago Home ordinance would raise the transfer tax on high-end real-estate sales to fund homelessness; Treatment Not Trauma would expand the City’s mental-health crisis response program and reopen shuttered clinics; and GoodKids MadCity’s PeaceBook ordinance would create “Neighborhood Peace Initiatives” to tackle violence. All three ordinances languished in committee under Lightfoot’s administration.

He’ll also have to chart a course amid criticism and pushback from editorial boards and politicians who supported Vallas during the election, as well as convince business interests who may fear his ambitious community investment strategy.

That said, Johnson enjoys broad support among activists and community organizations. If, like Harold Washington, he can engage such groups effectively, Johnson may be able to implement his progressive vision at the grass roots.

Sherry Williams is the founder and president of the Bronzeville Historical Society. At the inauguration ceremony, she said she’s excited for new city leadership, especially those with roots in grassroots organizing.

“I’m hoping that all of the initiatives that he’s spoken about, especially those around employment for youth, opportunities for Black males, especially that they will come to pass,” Williams said. 

Robert Emmons, a 30-year-old Auburn Gresham native, said he’s incredibly optimistic about the future of Chicago.

“We have someone who believes that every single person, regardless of their zip code, deserves a good education, high quality healthcare, clean water and clean air. So it’s just an amazing day for the city of Chicago,” Emmons said.

“There’s an entrenched Chicago machine, their deep corporate interests, who have gotten fat on the trump of racism, sexism and oppression that benefit financially from the violence that happens in Chicago,” said Jitu Brown. He’s the national director of the Journey for Justice (J4J),

J4J is a nationwide alliance of grassroots community, youth, and parent-led organizations advocating for community-driven alternatives to the privatization of and dismantling of public school systems.

Brown participated in demonstrations alongside Johnson, like the 34-day hunger strike in 2015, where parents and community members demanded the city reopen Washington Park’s Walter H. Dyett High School. The hunger strikers saved the school. Revived as Dyett High School for the Arts, its first class graduated in 2020.  

“There’s a collection of these moments that we have to remember,” Brown said. “That we have to catalog; that we have to tell stories about, so that those that come after us remember the legacy of our struggle. 

“I think it’s important for my brother [Johnson] to realize, and for the other side to realize, is this ain’t David versus Goliath no more, it’s a fight. All those victories, the fight for the Trauma Center, the 2001 hunger strike for Little Village. All those were just like push-ups for us,” Brown said. “We ain’t afraid of the machine. We will go toe to toe.”

Brown said old ways of locking [communities] out of decision-making spaces are dead. “There’s a young Chicago and a seasoned Chicago that’s, like, we ain’t dealing with that anymore.”

Watch the livestream of the inauguration

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.
is the digital news editor for The TRiiBE.
is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE and a 2023-2024 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.