Why She’s Interesting: Sykes became the first Black woman under the age of 30 to serve in the Ohio General Assembly when she was elected in 2014 to represent Akron’s 34th District. She was preceded in the position by her father, Vernon, who held the post since he was first appointed in 1982, with the exception of 2000-2006 when it was held by her mother, Barbara. Sykes was elected by her peers as the Minority Leader of the Ohio House of Representatives in 2019.
Modeling the Way: For inspiration, Sykes turns to Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968 and the first Black woman to run for a major party’s presidential nomination in 1972. “She was very clear in being unbought and unbossed. She broke barriers for women like me.”
Fashionable Fixer: Notwithstanding the affair with the President of the United States, Sykes admires the skills of Olivia Pope, the star character in Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal. “She was a Black woman who commanded attention, commanded a crisis and did it all while looking fabulous.”
Drawing the Metaphor: If she had to paint a picture of what leadership looks like, Sykes envisions a crowd of people with the leader right smack in the middle. “You have to be willing to follow, to be behind and push forward and be close enough to everyone to understand what their needs are.”
Legislative Pride: In thinking about her many legislative accomplishments, Sykes identifies House Bill 1 from the 132nd General Assembly as one of her proudest moments. The bill she authored allowed victims of dating violence to obtain civil protection orders. “There has never been a time that a member of the minority party carried House Bill 1. That’s how much support we were able to get.”
House Frustration: Sykes admits being annoyed by myriad legislation on which representatives are never allowed to vote, such as the Ohio Fairness Act, a resolution on racism as a public health crisis or paid family leave. “Our leadership is white, male, Christian, cisgender and able-bodied. If it doesn’t help them, it doesn’t get passed.”
2020 Redo: If given the opportunity, Sykes would have pushed Gov. Mike DeWine earlier to be more responsible to the needs of Black and Brown Ohioans. “I have to remember that not everyone cares about these communities in the same type of way and we shouldn’t always grant the benefit of the doubt that they will do the right thing.”
Interesting Fact: Sykes’ first political office was as middle school student council president at the Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Akron.