“I stand here today as living proof that a little kid from Adamsville could dare to dream to be the mayor,” Dickens said.
Wearing a black suit with a lapel pin depicting a phoenix, Dickens gave a 25-minute speech that touched on his background, his goals for the city and his opposition to Buckhead cityhood.
The crowd wore bundles of clothing in the cold January air as they sat on the football field from the 15- to 40-yard line. More spectators gathered in the Bobby Dodd stands, where Dickens used to work as an usher to make money during college.
The new mayor stood in front of a stage backdrop displaying white stars superimposed over blue and red clouds. The ceremony itself began with a presentation of the national, state, and city flags carried by officials from the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Fire Rescue Honor Guard.
Dickens said he hopes to restore the city’s sense of community, and vowed to address poverty, fear, inequality, violence and homelessness in the city.
“Together there is nothing we can’t accomplish, starting with redeeming the soul of Atlanta,” Dickens said, his voice booming. “I’ll ride around with city workers to understand their challenges and tour the city with the City Council members to learn what the neighborhoods need first and what they need most.”
Dickens said his first 100 days will focus on an effort to hire 250 more police officers this year and train them in community policing and de-escalation tactics. He also wants to deploy mental health specialists to give officers more time to focus on crime
He promised to create a Department of Labor to streamline the city’s ability to prepare residents for the workforce. He vowed to make the city’s transportation network more equitable and to provide shelter for the homeless. He urged technology companies to hire local talent and to help him close the digital divide.
“I’m strong in my faith and I truly believe that together we can conquer insurmountable odds and huge challenges,” Dickens said. “You have my full commitment that I will work hard each and every day — from can’t see morning to can’t see evening — to ensure that this city is safe, is clean and equitable for all of its citizens.”
A number of dignitaries and celebrities — including U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, U.S. Reps. Nikema Williams and Lucy McBath, along with rapper and Clayton County native Waka Flocka Flame — attended the ceremony.
Faith leaders prayed for the city, saying it is in need of unity and spiritual strength. Dickens had defined the mayor’s race as being for the “soul of Atlanta.”
“We find ourselves here in need of healing, needing reminders that separation is driven by fear,” said Joshua Letter, a retired senior rabbi at the Congregation of Bet Haverim. “There is just one Atlanta.”
Former mayor Shirley Franklin called Dickens a people’s servant as she encouraged city officials to work together to overcome the challenges ahead.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who ended her reelection bid last year and endorsed Dickens, reflected on the challenges she faced in her first term before she encouraged him to act with the same devotion shown by his predecessors.
“May you be dedicated like Sam (Massell, mayor 1970-74), a visionary like Maynard (Jackson, 1974-82 and 1990-94), courageous like Andy (Young, 1982-90), brilliant like Bill (Campbell, 1994-02) resolute like Shirley (Franklin, 2002-10), bold like Kasim (Reed, 2010-2018) and optimistic like me,” Bottoms said.
Dickens, 47, previously served as a two-term councilmember for the citywide at-large Post 3, after beating an incumbent in 2013. He is the chief development officer for TechBridge, an organization that offers affordable technology and workforce training to other nonprofits.
Many people didn’t initially expect Dickens to rise to the top at City Hall amid the contentious and wide-open race last year that featured 14 candidates, including a former mayor and a sitting City Council President.
Several polls projected the race to end in a runoff between former mayor Kasim Reed and Council President Felicia Moore. Dickens was polling in the single digits and his name recognition was under 30%, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution polls in September and October.
However, Dickens defeated Reed by 600 votes on Nov. 2, taking enough away from the former mayor in southwest Atlanta and on the Eastside to slide into the runoff election against Moore.
Dickens ultimately won the Nov. 30 runoff by obtaining the bulk of Reed’s support in southwest Atlanta, and by flipping white liberal voters on the Eastside who previously supported Moore.
Dickens lives in Collier Heights and is the youngest of two children. He’s the first Atlanta mayor to have graduated from Mays High School, and the first since Ivan Allen Jr. to have attended Georgia Tech.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Tech and a Master’s of Public Administration in Economic Development at Georgia State University. He has a 16-year-old daughter who splits time between Dickens and his former wife.
City Council President Doug Shipman, the rest of council and eight municipal court judges were also sworn into office. Shipman said they are ready to help Dickens because “now is the time to attack our problems, not one another.”
After the ceremony, Dickens was swarmed by supporters hoping to greet and take pictures with the new mayor. Nearby, his mother Sylvia looked on.
“Impossible dream,” she said. “Impossible dream.”