New Upper Arlington Council Member Ukeme Awakessien Jeter Sees Opportunity for Change

Jeter is first person of color to be elected to UA’s City Council

Suzanne Goldsmith
Columbus Monthly
Ukeme Awakessien Jeter

When Ukeme Awakessien Jeter moved to Columbus from Cleveland in 2018, she knew what kind of community she was looking for. Great schools. Proximity to Downtown. Lovely parks. She chose Upper Arlington. 

But when she told friends of her choice, “There was a kind of, ‘You … aaare?’ kind of vibe,” she recalls. Upper Arlington is about 1 percent Black. Its tradition of racially discriminatory land development was struck down in the 1970s, but the legacy remains. 

Related:Columbus’ Eastern Suburbs See Black Population Increase by More Than 40 Percent

Jeter was undeterred. When her 5-year-old daughter came home from kindergarten, where she was the only Black student, and asked if she could straighten her hair, Jeter didn’t revisit her choice. She decided a school in Columbus was a better fit for her child, but within the community, she took action. She decided to run for City Council. 

She didn’t focus on racial issues during the campaign; although she doesn’t hide her passion for diversity and inclusion, she is just as passionate about infrastructure improvement. 

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While Jeter received some “disgusting” hate mail during the campaign, she focused on the more numerous messages of support she received. And her positivity paid off: She came in second in a seven-way race for four seats, becoming the first person of color to be elected to city council in Upper Arlington. 

Related:Columbus’ Suburban School Board Campaigns Go Negative

“It validated everything that I always believed about Upper Arlington—which is just, we have a loud minority.” She points out that, according to the 2020 census, 44 percent of residents are newcomers to the city. She sees opportunity for change. 

“The perception is not the reality,” she says. “We’ve got to catch up to the reality.”

This story is from the January 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.