Keshia Stewart Ford, Mayor of Woodville
Keshia Stewart Ford, Mayor of Woodville

Keshia Stewart Ford was elected mayor in 2017 as the second woman mayor of Woodville (Wilkinson County, pop. 1,096). She has an accounting background, worked in corporate finance for most of her career, until recently returning to her hometown to be near family and deciding to dig into a leadership role.

She also owns a small business, a daycare, in Centreville. Read on to see why this part-time mayor treats her job like it’s full-time and how she wants to shake the small, sleepy town trope.

 

Mississippi Today: How do you go from coming home to help take care of your parents to suddenly being the mayor of town?

Mayor Keshia Stewart Ford: I’m very outspoken, outgoing. I’m a people person. So basically, when I moved back, that energy that I had when I was away didn’t leave. Just because my environment changed, I didn’t change. My motto has always been, “make it happen.” When I moved back, I realized that my residents were unhappy about the current situation of the town. … This is a small town, but you can do a lot in a small town. It’s rich in culture, as far as historical culture, and the people make the town.

It takes all of us to make a change. … So that’s why I decided to start with the mayor position, taking a lead position to help with beautification, personnel issues, technical issues. … Yes, we’re a small town, we probably can’t have the luxuries of a Wal-Mart, but we can have those who can step out and try to start their own business. So that’s what we have here, a lot of local mom and pop shops. And that’s what we benefit from.

Mississippi Today: So you’ve been in office for almost two years, is that right? What do you think has gone well, or what would you consider to be a success under your administration so far?

Mayor Keshia Stewart Ford: My success would be being able to work with some of the county supervisors to help with getting better roads – by working with the county and having that connection, not leaving them out. As far as my guys on the utilities, in the street department, I work with my supervisors to help with their leadership skills. … I went out there with them to the site to see what they’re doing and give them ideas for trying to make things better, like how to talk to their workers under their supervision, how to help with their problems. So I was more hands on with them as well … and that helped them feel comfortable with me.

That may be small to some people, but having that, “Oh, I have a mayor who cares, who’s coming out here in the mud and the rain too?” You know I didn’t physically do the work, but I was there to support them. And they always came to me.

Mississippi Today: You’ve mentioned issues like infrastructure, which I’m sure any elected leader in Mississippi would say is a big issue for whatever jurisdiction they represent, but what other kinds of issues would you say are particularly important to your residents?

Mayor Keshia Stewart Ford: Businesses. More entertainment. The kids need something to do. Adults need something to do. Most of our restaurants close at 5 o’clock. We don’t really have a restaurant or evening place after 5 p.m. You have to have something here for the people. So I’m trying to get things here so they won’t go to our neighbors’ city or town for entertainment or to keep them busy. Bringing more entertainment to the town, like more festivals, more concerts, using our town square for that. … Just things like that. It’s simple, but there’s a lot that goes into it.

Mississippi Today: I’m trying to think of the industries I know around Wilkinson County …?

Mayor Keshia Stewart Ford: We basically have lumber and a prison. We have MTC (Management and Training Corporation, which operates Wilkinson County Correctional Facility), which is right here in the county, and some people will say Angola, which is Louisiana, which is outside of town. Then we have lumber, so we don’t really have much here. That’s where most of our people work – Angola, MTC prison or Fred Netterville Lumber.

Mississippi Today:Where would you like to see Woodville in the next five to 10 years?

Mayor Keshia Stewart Ford: I want to see more businesses here and more entrepreneurship. I want to see everyone coming together … Don’t throw the race card, that’s both ways, every time an issue comes up. I wish the blacks and the whites could work together. I want unity. Then I go with the businesses. But we have to come together first and let the past go. Third would be beautification, and that includes infrastructure, like the roads and your downtown area.

Mississippi Today: Is there anything else I’m not asking you?

Mayor Keshia Stewart Ford: Well, the main thing is to understand that this is a part-time job and I treat it as a full-time job. And that’s not normal at all for the town, for a part-time mayor to be treated as a full-time worker. I go into the office occasionally, weekly. Like I said, I’m with the utilities guys, that’s not normal. For my leadership role, talking with the people – they call my cellphone. I’m very open. That’s not normal at all. Someone who actually cares about the town.

Erica Hensley, a native of Atlanta, has been working as an investigative reporter focusing on public health for Mississippi Today since May 2018. She is a Knight Foundation fellow for our newsroom’s collaboration with local TV station WLBT and curates The Inform[H]er, our monthly women and girls’ newsletter. She is the 2019 recipient of the Doris O'Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship. Erica received a bachelor’s in print journalism and political science from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a master’s in health and medical journalism from the University of Georgia Grady College for Journalism and Mass Communication.