Eboni Johnson, College Librarian, Enters City Council

On Tuesday, Eboni A. Johnson, outreach and programming librarian at Oberlin College Libraries, was elected to Oberlin City Council in an uncontested election, winning a narrow plurality of the vote. Johnson is one of two new members of City Council, and the only one with no former Council experience. She is the current chair of Oberlin City Council’s Human Relations Commission, where she has served for three years. We sat down with Johnson to discuss her experience running for Council during a pandemic and the areas in which she hopes to effect change once she is elected.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What do you hope to accomplish on City Council?

Environmental sustainability and climate change — that’s a thing we have to deal with and figure out how to prepare for. Another one would be housing. I just bought a house in Oberlin — I feel really lucky to have been able to do that — but I think having enough affordable, appropriate housing for people is just lacking here.

Another point is transportation — thinking about safe and reliable transportation options. I’ve seen people just recently walking or biking that stretch of Route 58 between town and Walmart. Walking or biking there is dangerous; I’ve even seen it happen at night, and when they’re wearing dark colors, it’s hard to see them. Can we figure out how we can not only make a safe passageway down there, but also north, if you’re going up to Drug Mart? There are lots of resources in town that people might not be able to access by car, so can we make it as safe as possible if they want to bike, or have to walk, or whatever the case may be?

The other thing that is really important to me is representation on the City Council, the boards, and commissions from people all over the city. Most of the people currently on the Council, boards, and commissions live on the west side of town, and most of those people on the West Side live in the Northwest Quadrant.

And what are the demographics of those areas?

I don’t have the exact demographics in front of me, but I think in general, Oberlin is kind of a segregated city. Most of your poor people and people of color live in the South and Southeast. And mostly people who are the opposite of that live on the Northwest Side. That’s my impression. I’ve heard from people who live on the Southeast side that they feel unheard and uncared about — an afterthought, as far as City government goes. So I really want to figure out how to encourage participation from people all around the City. I’m not sure how to do that, but it’s a thing that I really care about doing.

Do you see your upcoming tenure on City Council as a venture into the political sphere, or is it just a natural next step in the work you’ve been doing to help the community?

I think it’s a next step. My mother thinks that my next step is running for Congress, and I’m like, “Hang on, I’m running for Oberlin City Council right now!” I never envisioned myself as a politician, or even doing anything remotely like this, so I’m completely out of my comfort zone. But it’s fun, and I think it’s rewarding, and I’m enjoying it. Well, I’m not actually on the Council yet, but I’m enjoying the process of running for a seat and seeing what happens. I’m hoping I can really make a difference, and I think in a town like this, I can.