By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
CHESILHURST – Jamila Odom-Bremmer decided long ago when tragedy struck her family, leaving her to raise two small children and stepson on her own, she would not drown in self-pity, but rise up from the ashes.
Odom-Bremmer’s first husband was murder in Camden in 2004 but was determined not to let that define her. After eight years on city council in her hometown of Chesilhurst in Camden County, she was elected mayor in November, officially starting her term last month.
“You can’t give up,” Odom-Bremmer told Front Runner New Jersey this month about that period of her life where she worked to reclaim her life. “You have to keep going. In order to do that, I don’t hide it. God is first in my life. It impacted me to be a better person today. It made me stronger.
“It helps me connect with people better because I can sympathize more with people who might have gone through a tragedy or gone through something and I can let them know there is a better tomorrow and you can make it. You can say yes to life and do it. I had an opportunity. I could have thrown in the towel or say, ‘we’re going to use this to move forward to help other people’ and that’s what I decided to do,” she said.
Odom-Bremmer married Delvardo Bremmer – who she describes as her biggest cheerleader – in 2018, and has served on Chesilhurst council since 2012, part of that time as council president. She has been recognized numerous times for her community work.
She will receive her latest award next month when the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Southern New Jersey Chapter will honor her with a prestigious Candace Award.
“I was truly honored when I found out,” Odom-Bremmer said.
Saying Yes to Life
Odom-Bremmer, daughter of retired First Baptist Church of Chesilhurst Pastor Charles Odom and wife Jannie, seemed to build toward this month after her tragedy. She moved back home from Sicklerville and started working with youth in the family church.
“I talked about how (losing her first husband) affected my life,” Odom-Bremmer, said. “I started a ministry called ‘Say Yes to Life.’ I wanted people to understand even though you go through a tragedy, life goes on and you can still live through that tragedy.”
Her work quickly caught the eye of long-time Chesilhurst Mayor Michael Blunt who recruited her to work as the city’s Drug Alliance coordinator in 2005. In 2011, Odom-Bremmer and the church’s Corner Cupboard Emergency Food Bank was given a Community Award from the Camden County Freeholders for their work to end hunger in the county.
Her Turn to Lead
Again, Blunt reached out to Odom-Bremmer, this time to run on his Democratic political ticket to become a member of council in 2012. She won the election and has not lost a race since.
“I was the council president for the past two years,” Odom-Bremmer said. “A lot of people would ask me, ‘why don’t you run for mayor?’ I said I’m not even thinking about running for mayor. I said when the opportunity presents itself, then I’ll do it.”
That opportunity came last year when Blunt announced he would not seek the office again in 2020. Odom-Bremmer threw her hat in the ring and in November won 66.3 percent of the vote in beating independent candidate Samuel White Jr. for the spot.
“Everyone knows who I am and we work together as a team,” Odom-Bremmer said. “It’s been pretty good trying to transform everything into the way I like to do things. They already knew me as the council president for two years, which was a good thing.”
Odom-Bremmer said, though, being mayor is just a title and means little if she cannot truly reach out and connect with the citizens of the town she grew up in.
“Being the mayor, you just don’t want to be ‘the mayor,'” said Odom-Bremmer, who was worked in the cosmetology field. “I want to be Jamila first of all. I have a title, but I want to be able to connect with people. That’s what it’s all about. You want the children here to come back from whatever career path they have to raise their family here.”
Odom-Bremmer said some of her big projects include bringing new businesses to Chesilhurst, working on getting a new municipal building, improving the local community center and bringing in more activities for youth.
“I’ve always connected with youth, even when I was younger,” Odom-Bremmer, 42, said. “I take my role as a role model very seriously, not just politics. Part of who I am is to help other people. Any platform I’m at, it’s going to be recorded forever. I want people take away from that, not just as mayor, that I’ve impacted, helped and lifted somebody else up.”
Sisters in Leadership
She said she was pleased to be a part of a new crop of young female mayors who are being elected in South Jersey, including her friend LaDaena Thomas, the new mayor of Penns Grove. Thomas upset longtime incumbent John Washington to become the first African-American female mayor ever in Salem County last month. Odom-Bremmer also praised new Cherry Hill Mayor Susan Shin Angulo and Barrington Mayor Patti Porter Harris.
“I was there when she was sworn in and it was amazing,” Odom-Bremmer said. “She made history as the first black female to be elected mayor in any town in Salem County. I’m proud to be part of that wave of new leadership.”
Odom-Bremmer has already proven that she can turn the most difficult of situations into something truly special.
Photos courtesy of Jamila Odom-Bremmer
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