Nicole Love Hendrickson said she did not run for county commission chairwoman to make history, but she did not ignore the significance of her taking the oath to fill that office on Monday.
Hendrickson is the first African-American to be elected to serve as the head of Gwinnett County’s government. She was sworn into the office at a ceremony that showcased the county’s diversity on Monday as her four-year term officially begins Friday.
“I ran to create change, but I would be remiss if I did not reflect on the historical significance of today’s swearing in,” Hendrickson said. “Just 55 years ago, a Black woman could not even vote. Being the first Black Democratic woman to hold this seat is not a responsibility I take lightly. I realize I stand on the shoulders of giants and that my victory represents another step forward in advancing the vision of a country where all people have access to opportunities to succeed.
“Today the proverbial glass ceiling has been shattered again, and for that, I am proud.”
Hendrickson was the last of three swearing in ceremonies for new members of the county commission — all African-American — who will be taking office as 2021 begins. She is also the first Democrat to serve as the leader of the county commission in 36 years.
Although Hendrickson is making history as the first African-American chairwoman, she is not the first African-American woman to serve on the county commission. District 4 Commissioner Marlene Fosque, who was elected to the board in 2018, holds that distinction.
“I stand on her shoulders,” Hendrickson said of Fosque.
But, while the history-making aspect of the ceremony was referenced multiple times during the event, it also served as an opportunity to highlight the new chairwoman’s path to leading the commission and all of Gwinnett County government.
Several speakers highlighted her work as the county’s first community outreach director, a role in which she worked with the diverse cultural groups located in Gwinnett. The Gwinnett 101 government education program for county residents that was established under Hendrickson’s watch in community outreach, was also highlighted.
Gwinnett Chamber President and CEO Nick Masino said Hendrickson was also involved in establishing the chamber’s Gwinnett Young Professionals group and was a member of the search committee tasked with picking a new chamber president in 2019.
Prior to working with the county, Hendrickson worked for the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services.
Before the ceremony, outgoing commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash praised Hendrickson and the background that she has coming into the job.
“The one thing I know about Nicole is that she loves Gwinnett,” Nash said. “She has a big heart for the community and I think that’s a great start ... While she has a foundation and knows some things about the county organization, I think she recognizes that she has a lot to learn, and I think that’s a great attribute for an elected official to have. You know, I have 43 years working in local government and I still learn something almost on a daily basis. It’s just such a big area and so broad.”
Nash also praised her successor’s ability to work with people.
“Nicole is good in terms of listening to varying view points and trying to find ways to bring people together,” she said. “I think that’s going to be a very important characteristic and skill that she’s going to have to apply time and time again as chair.”
Nash also offered praise for Hendrickson and the other incoming members of the commission, Kirkland Carden and Jasper Watkins, as she spoke during the ceremony.
There were also recorded remarks from former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath.
“Chairwoman Hendrickson brings the deep experience necessary to lead Georgia’s most diverse county,” Abrams said. “As a social worker, she knows how to meet the needs of our most vulnerable and marginalized neighbors, empowering communities and giving a voice to those who have been historically underrepresented. She sees the possibilities of a Gwinnett where all citizens can recover from COVID’s economic and health harms with equity and full engagement.
“Building a just, and equitable and vibrant Gwinnett will require partnership, patience and vision.”
As for what she has in her plans for what she will do as commission chairwoman, Hendrickson laid out some goals during her swearing in ceremony. A key part of those plans will be inclusivity in all aspects of life in Gwinnett.
“My promise to you is that we will make Gwinnett County a community where economic opportunity is abundant for everyone, a community where affordability isn’t a luxury and a community that leads in regional connectivity,” she said. “From today forward, our county’s leadership will be a direct reflection of the people it serves.
“By working with community, civic and corporate leaders, we will ensure that Gwinnett County is ready and prepared to lead into the future.”
In a sign of unity that she said will be key to the county’s future, Hendrickson had a Jewish rabbi, an Islamic imam and a Christian preacher offer prayers at her swearing in ceremony. She also had representatives of the Latino and Asian-American communities speak at the event.
Additionally, she was introduced after her swearing in by Gwinnett Democratic Party Chairwoman Bianca Keaton, but also had Republicans — such as Melvin Everson, John Lee and Nash — participate in the ceremony as well.
Hendrickson said there is a message to be culled from that diversity shown at her swearing in about what Gwinnett will be like in the future.
“We’re going to be a Gwinnett that’s for everyone, that represents people from all walks of life,” she said.