Tracy reached a couple milestones this year for Black History Month. On Feb. 1, the city raised the Pan-African flag for the first time in front of City Hall. While this alone would have marked a historic event for Tracy, it is not the only one. This year’s celebration marks the first time the city shares it with an African-American mayor.
Growing up, Black History Month was ingrained in Nancy Young’s culture. But to be part of history in the making had a whole different ring for her. She made her footprint in Tracy when she moved to town in 2006 with her family and quickly planted her roots. Fifteen years later, she was sworn in as mayor of Tracy with one of the city’s most diverse councils to date.
Over the years, Young immersed herself in the community, joining many local organizations, including Kiwanis and the Tracy African-American Association. She would eventually go on to serve the city as its second-ever African-American councilmember — following former Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert — and its first Black mayor pro-tem. Young not only currently serves as Tracy’s first African-American mayor, but she is also the first mayor to not be born and raised in town.
“The thing about Black History Month, is that we celebrate those who have built, not only this country, but the lives of Blacks throughout time immemorial and how they've inspired how they've impacted our personal lives. And now here being the first Black person, the first African-American mayor here in Tracy, it's really surreal. It's a surreal experience for me,” said Young as she recorded a message for residents last week to introduce the Pan-African flag and talk about what Black History Month meant for her.
Although some may see raising the Pan-African flag during the month of February as an obvious decision, Young had put a lot of thought into the matter before proposing it to council. Yes, she wanted to acknowledge her history and culture. She was a Compton native and her childhood was spent during the transition of America’s Civil Rights movement. The past few years in the U.S. also experienced a spike in the Black Lives Matter movement, which Young also felt was important to acknowledge.
But the balance of inclusivity weighed heavy on her mind. Just a couple years prior, Tracy raised the LGBTQ Pride flag for the first time — proposed by Councilman Dan Arriola — and adopted a new flag policy. Any flag raising proposal made by city council would need a four-fifths vote in order to pass. The raising of the Pan-African flag this year was passed by council with a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Eleassia Davis dissenting.
It may have appeared odd for Tracy’s only other African-American on council to vote “no” on a flag that celebrated unity and the African Diaspora, but Davis made it clear that she would vote “no” for any flag raising in order to remain consistent. Young understood the sentiment. She didn’t want anyone in the community to feel excluded, and it was a slippery slope with the hundreds of different types of cultures, movements and holidays that took place throughout the year.
“I warned them that it could open a Pandora’s box,” said Young when talking about the flag policy first being adopted.
She realized the potential of council being flooded with flag raising requests and council having to make the tough decision on which flags to approve, risking the potential to make another group feel alienated or rejected. In a perfect world, Young would prefer to see a dedicated area for celebrated flags.
“I was concerned because I don't want anyone to feel left out. You have Filipino-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Indian-Americans,” said Young. “So if we don't begin to highlight all of them then somebody is left out and somebody is hurt about it. And so, I know that that is going to still be something going forward.”
Young herself is no stranger to prejudice. She recalled incidents growing up when she had to stand up for herself against bullies in school, sometimes needing to demand respect in her own way from teachers and peers. She also recalled times in her childhood when her family was refused service just because of the color of their skin. In more recent years, Young’s earlier days of being a Tracy politician landed a swastika made up of stones and a bag filled with dead animals on the front lawn of her home.
But Young was not a violent person and to this day prefers not to use that tactic when responding to conflict. Instead, she chooses to rely mostly on her mind and words to navigate herself through life. She instills this philosophy in any of her times of leadership, whether it be during a council meeting or a march for human rights.
She mentioned an incident last year when she was participating in a Black Lives Matter march with the Tracy community and her role in guiding the youth as they walked down 11th Street.
“This guy kept going in his truck with his confederate flag and would say, ‘You n------ better go home,” said Young. “And there were a lot of young people. I was like, ‘Y’all need to calm down. We’re not going to respond to him. Just don’t respond.’ And so I had to keep walking people through.”
In her new venture as mayor, Young sees the new council as “Team Tracy,” and looks forward to uniting the city through the example of collaboration and camaraderie. She wants to serve as both a team member and a mentor for Tracy’s new councilmembers just as Tolbert and former mayor Brent Ives previously served for her when she first started out.
Young hopes to repair the rift among the community that seemed to be even more divided after last year, with the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the 2020 elections. She also hopes to erase the stigma of “Bay Area transplants” and wants to bring together “old Tracy” and “new Tracy.” She’s kicking off this year with a clean slate for all.
“I think within our local communities, once we can actually get back together, if we can actually come together and see each other more. I think that's just where our community thrives,” said Young. “We just miss each other.”
• Contact Brianna Guillory at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 209-830-4229.