Rome's first African American woman mayor, Sundai Stevenson, has always come at life with a "glass is half full" outlook. She does her best to maintain a positive outlook on life, which has translated into how she has served since being honored by her peers on the city commission with election to the mayoral post.
That sunny disposition, coupled with a very distinct laugh, is something that her husband Rick has said would always allow him to find her in a crowd.
The positive outlook was instilled by her parents, who always stressed that Sundai and her four siblings could do anything they set their minds to and make a difference in the lives of people they come into contact with. They also encouraged her to dream and work hard to bring her dreams to reality.
Her father was a disc jockey when she was growing up in Gordon County. Her husband’s father was also a gospel deejay and gospel concert promoter, so the two fit together like a hymnal in a church pew. They dated for eight years and have been married for 32. The couple has two children and three grandchildren.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, her cheerful countenance has been hidden behind masks she and her husband Rick religiously wear, largely to ensure that there is virtually no chance of transmitting a virus to her grandchildren.
Sundai’s early work career was centered around social work before she became a property manager for LHP out of Knoxville, Tennessee. Today, she is a senior community manager for properties including Three Rivers Garden and Spring Grove in Rome, along with Dallas Manor down in Paulding County. In addition, LHP is a leading manager of affordable housing across multiple states.
Since moving to Rome more than two decades ago, Stevenson has been immersed in the community. She is a founding member of the One Community United program in Rome and a graduate of the Leadership Rome program. She has served as past coordinator for the Rome Floyd Chamber of Commerce High School Leadership Rome Program. She has served on the Governmental Affairs and Small Business Council committees of the Chamber and been Chair of the Rome and Floyd County M.L. King Commission, served as a board member of the Open Door Home, and taken on many leadership roles at Thankful Baptist Church,
Her decision to enter politics was based on her lifelong desire to help people. The notion of running for office was fostered during a Leadership Rome program. Three or four people still in politics today told her they felt she would work well on the commission. Stevenson was elected in 2015 and re-elected in 2019.
“I truly believe that God puts you where he wants you to be,” Stevenson said.”I don’t impose or push my beliefs on anybody else. I just try to do what I feel is the best (for the community). I’ve loved every minute of it, (but) you have to have thick skin sometimes.”
Becoming mayor has certainly increased the demands on her time which has, in turn, created some challenges with her day job, but because she is such a people person, she has enjoyed serving in the post. “I’ve met a lot of good people that I would not have met if I had not been in the mayor’s seat.”
She confesses to still getting nervous when asked to make public presentations.
A strong relationship with both of Georgia’s Democratic senators has also helped. Stevenson said she has become a point person for Senators Warnock and Ossoff regarding issues in the Rome area.
Housing and jobs are two of the biggest issues Stevenson sees for Rome. She is also worried about the polarization that has dominated the political scene and feels she is well- equipped to bridge the gap between people on different sides of the political aisle.
“When we all walk outside, we’re breathing the same air. That same sun is shining,” Stevenson said. “Bridging the divide and helping people see we have more in common than different. It’s all about communication.”