FLINT, Michigan — What started as a jest from one Flint City employee to another evolved into years of dedicated service to the community. Former Flint 2nd Ward City Councilwoman Jackie Poplar recalls the story of how her career as a municipal leader began. She vividly remembers the ordeal as a teasing statement to colleagues at the City Clerk’s Office.
“I’m going to put my name on the ballot this year,” Poplar said, joking with a former co-employee while preparing for the 2005 Primary Elections.
“Well, go downtown and pick up your petition!” said her co-worker, encouraging her to follow through with her statement.
While the two women spoke about Poplar’s sudden aspiration to enter the city government, she felt she wasn’t the right person for the job. Upon returning home that evening, Poplar pondered the idea of running for city council a little more, explaining that “it was something that just wouldn’t let me sit down.”
It wasn’t until she stared out of her window at Sarvis Park that she decided to do it.
The park had long been an area of refuge for children and community gatherings. It stood as a symbol of pride for the area, where everyone contributed to its well-being. Growing up in the historic St. John’s neighborhood, Poplar knew places like the St. John’s Community Center and parks revitalized communities. To her, St. John’s and places like it were “the mecca of things happening in that community” where “diverse cultures gathered together.”
Nevertheless, where Poplar’s son and friends once enjoyed as kids, Sarvis Park had become a public nuisance to the area, full of illegal activity and blight. Witnessing the happenings right across the street from her home, she made it part of her mission that she would clean up the park and revitalize the area.
The task wasn’t difficult since the 2nd Ward City Council position had been vacant before Poplar’s running — at least not in the eyes of onlookers. Yet, when Poplar arrived downtown to place her petition, doubt still plagued her mind.
“I remember asking myself, ‘what am I doing down here?’ because I don’t know nothing about nothing!” laughed Poplar, “but I always had the heart to help people.”
That kindness may often come with a bit of tough love from the woman brave enough to confront Sarvis Park loiters. Shortly after picking up her petitions, Poplar approached the park loiters and warned them, “this is going to be your last day... it’s over! We’re going to clean up this park so kids can come back and play!”
With a grant to upstart Keeping Genesee County Beautiful, which Poplar says is one of her biggest accomplishments while in office, she, neighbors, and city workers went to work. “I didn’t miss a beat,” and she began cleaning up the blight along the fence line in the immediate days.
Eventually, the loiters stopped coming little by little, and years later, according to Poplar, a few of those same young men thanked her for her contribution to the neighborhood because they now have kids who play there. Though her tenure has ended, to this day, Poplar is still rallying for her district, citing the need for new street repairs and more demolition on Clio Road.
“Let something else flow out of the vines of downtown,” she strongly suggests. “If you want to know how to spend the money, all you have to do is walk out of your front door and look around!”
Those sights of Flint influenced her term as a “watchdog” for the city’s finances as she “always voted carefully” on how the distribution of funds was handled throughout town.
Poplar often used her own dollars to fund projects and annual holiday events for the 2nd Ward which she says are some of her fondest memories as councilwoman. She also takes pride in helping anyone who requests her assistance, including local business owners.
She remembers receiving an urgent call from the director of Greene Home for Funerals while she was attending a wedding. Even though Poplar was off-duty, she took a moment to handle the issue by contacting the Flint City Water Department and having them go out immediately to fix a flood in the establishment.
“I always treated people with respect and had a good relationship with the city. That’s how I [got] things done,” says Poplar, commenting about her community service.
Picking up where Poplar left off is current 2nd Ward Councilwoman Dr. Ladel Lewis
, who was advised by Poplar to follow her heart in making decisions. Since Lewis’ time in office, she has organized several weekly events at Sarvis Park
and continued the improvement with support from local government officials and fellow members of the community.
"Jackie Poplar is a pioneer in this community. She took her job as councilperson seriously. Not only did she handle the 2nd Ward’s legislative needs, but she was 'boots on the ground' as a resource for her constituents," explains Dr. Ladel. "She was going in her personal pocket to tackle food insecurity and to ensure single mothers had diapers for their babies. I am honored to be able to walk in her footsteps."
Still, Poplar believes that despite the influx of people of different backgrounds, Flint is still predominately “segregated.” She’s hopeful the city will one day become a melting pot again.
These days, Poplar spends her days mentoring kids and younger adults in the Sarvis Park neighborhood. Her advice is to stay away from drug usage and attain education in the form of a trade that will allow them to one day move beyond Flint.
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