COLUMBIA, S.C. — Twelve years ago, history was made in Columbia, South Carolina, when Steve Benjamin was elected the first Black Mayor of the Capital City.
Benjamin says that he made it his mission to make sure that everyone in Columbia felt like this was their city.
During his time in office, he's navigated Columbia through a historic flood, worldwide pandemic and a nationwide focus on racism and social injustice.
Even though he no longer has a seat in City Hall, Benjamin says he has his eyes focused on bigger rooms with different tables.
Benjamin says whenever he thinks about the history of becoming the first Black mayor of Columbia it "fills him with warmth." He proudly wears cufflinks of Reverend John Wilson and keeps a photo of him on the wall in his office reminding him of the sacrifices that were made in order for him to have the opportunities that have been afforded to him as an elected official.
Benjamin says he has a responsibility to young people to help them realize that anything is possible and offer a lift up to help them reach their dreams.
Benjamin says he is very proud of the work that was done to "keep the city together."
"Taxes were cut citywide, 8 out of 11 years we finished with a budget surplus, we got Bull Street up and running; the largest redevelopment project in any downtown east of the Mississippi. Main Street is revitalized," Benjamin said. "There's so much that we did but we've been working our way through the greatest pandemic since 1918, the greatest economic disruption in many people's lives since 1932, the greatest social unrest that people have seen maybe since 1968 and we did it all within the span of just a few years. We had the greatest natural disaster the city had ever been through in 2015; we lost 19 precious lives."
Benjamin says he believes crisis makes leaders. He speaks on leadership often and wants people to understand that titles don't make leaders. He says, "the temporary spaces we occupy in our professional lives are just that."
Benjamin will be spending more time with his family as a private citizen. He says that he's excited about teaching at Harvard this Spring. His law firm is growing rapidly, and he will continue to stay involved in community efforts on the local and national level.
Benjamin says he wants to be remembered as the mayor who believed in Columbia, and acted every single day in the interest of all people.