Deb Whitfield, Lawrence Common Council Member At-Large, is running for Mayor of Lawrence. If elected, Whitfield will become the second Black female Mayor in state history.
Whitfield became a Lawrence resident nearly thirty years ago when she and her late husband, former Olympic track and field star Ashland Whitfield, relocated to Indianapolis for his job as manager of Elite Athletes with USA Track & Field. The couple met several decades ago in Connecticut, where Deb was a respiratory therapist at the University of Connecticut Health Center and Ashland was a track coach at Yale University. It was the second marriage for both.
“I am a domestic abuse survivor from my first marriage,” shares Whitfield, who had attended a fundraiser for a nonprofit supporting survivors of domestic abuse prior to this interview. “I haven’t been vocal about that until recently, and am inspired by the work being done in our city to help survivors.”
Whitfield was born and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut, and attended Hampton University, an HBCU located in Hampton, Virginia. She completed her degree at Mattatuck Community College and Bridgeport Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy.
“That was an amazing experience. You see everything there [at Bridgeport Hospital] in their trauma unit — Bridgeport is a large, teaching hospital, and working there truly prepared me to deal with anything,” says Whitfield, whose day job is working as the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Director for Community Outreach and Engagement with Community Health Network.
Upon moving to Indianapolis, the Whitfield family quickly established meaningful connections through their neighborhood, schools, church, and community. “This is our home,” comments Whitfield.
A powerful force and mentor in Whitfield’s life is her father, Milford Trotman, who was the first Black Constable in Waterbury, Connecticut. “My father is an inspiration to me,” shares Whitfield.
Whitfield’s foray into politics started when she worked on Derek Camp’s run for State Senate against incumbent Jim Merritt in 2018. She loved working on Camp’s campaign and was excited about learning about politics. “It is vital to express ourselves. Our voices matter,” says Whitfield, who ran and won the Precinct Committeeperson election in 2018.
The following year in 2019, Whitfield was elected to the Lawrence Common Council where she dove head-first into the fiscal responsibilities of municipal government.
“Transparency with our residents is an absolute must. The City of Lawrence deserves someone with a strong voice and who has the ability to advocate on behalf of our citizens,” says Whitfield. “I wish to be that voice and unite our city, unite our neighborhoods.”
When it comes to public safety, Whitfield would prioritize making sure those departments within Lawrence have the resources they need to continue to do their job, and do it well. Having spent her career as a first responder, Whitfield understands the importance of taking care of those who help the community.
46226 is a high-crime area, and Whitfield is aware of the need to improve infrastructure and enhance the quality of life for residents in Lawrence. “We want to see sidewalks, more opportunities for engaging communities in shared activities, transit, connectivity — I want to address how we can improve our infrastructure and provide a strong sense of equity.”
In addition to Whitfield’s father, her mother and grandparents instilled in her a strong sense of belonging, of community. “I was raised in the church, and my parents were always giving back to the community. There was a constant message of always doing what can for others,” adds Whitfield. “Shirley Chisholm famously and accurately said, ‘If you are not at the table, pull up a chair.’ So I pulled up a chair.”
Whitfield says that everything she experienced has prepared her to serve as a public servant. During her respiratory therapy training, she was the only Black student out of twelve and graduated third in her class. Whitfield’s experience of shattering things, isn’t limited to ceilings. She wants to “break up the good ‘ol boy system in Lawrence”.
There’s a rumor that Whitfield would be a part-time Mayor if elected. And while she loves her job with Community Health Network, she would indeed serve in a full-time capacity. “I would retire from my position with Community Health Network and serve as Mayor because this is what the people of Lawrence deserve. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s time for our community to be reflected in its leadership,” states Whitfield.
“I have a voice and there’s work to do out here in Lawrence,” adds Whitfield, mom of two children, grandmother to three, and is 70 years old with the energy of a twenty-something.
Whitfield’s life-guiding motto is: “If I can help somebody along the way, then my living shall not be in vain.” — Mahaila Jackson