With her election in 1991, Neal became the first Black woman to serve on Dayton City Commission. She remained a commissioner until 2004.
In the early days of her political career, Neal was often the only Black person or woman in a male-dominated arena. Later in her life, Neal mentored other women running for office or looking to run for office.
Jo’el Jones, director of empowerment services for IMPACT Community Action, said Neal was a mentor and friend to her.
“The first time I saw my name on the ballot it was because of Bootsie Neal,” Jones said. “Bootsie constantly reminded me, that leadership is not necessarily being an elected official, but leadership happens before you get to the ballot box.”
Jones has run for the Ohio House of Representatives and the Dayton Public Schools Board of Education. Jones said Neal encouraged her to run for precinct captain for the Montgomery County Democratic Party— the only election she’s won.
“Bootsie Neal was an example of true leadership. Leading not always from behind the dais, but behind the desk, behind the issues, behind her community,” Jones said. “I am blessed beyond measure to have learned from her, to have been supported by her, and to have been able to call her friend.”
Neal was also a mentor to Shenise Turner-Sloss.
“She was very dear to me,” Turner-Sloss said. “She was powerful. She truly was an unsung ‘shero.’”
Turner-Sloss is the co-founder of Neighborhoods Over Politics. She has also run for Dayton City Commission. She said with Neighborhoods Over Politics, she hopes to follow in Neal’s footsteps.
“She was the epitome of a servant-leader. She touched so many lives,” Turner-Sloss said. “The development we see now is because of (Neal). She did the work that set the city on the path we are on now.”
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Dayton) was mayor of Dayton when Neal served on city commission. In a statement he said that they worked together to “turn the city around.” He said the commission would not have balanced the city’s budget, built the baseball stadium, the Schuster Center or RiverScape without her leadership and partnership.
Neal and Turner, the commission’s only Republican at the time, formed a bit of an alliance.
“Bootsie Neal was one of my dearest friends” Turner said.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said Neal did great things for Dayton and the Miami Valley and that she was a “force for good in our state.”
As commissioner, Neal was instrumental in the neighborhood redevelopment efforts in the Wright Dunbar Business Village on West Third Street. Neal also led Wright Dunbar, Inc. until 2014.
Neal also worked at Central State for more than two decades. Tuner-Sloss said Neal’s work at Central State opened up the door for many to go to college when they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Neal was honored with the Paul Laurence Dunbar Humanitarianism award, the Martin Luther King Image award and John Ellis Volunteer of the Year. She was a 1994 Dayton Daily News Top Ten Women and a 2007 YWCA Women of Influence honoree.