Neal became the first Black woman to serve on the Dayton City Commission in 1991. During her time as a commissioner, which ended in 2004, Neal was a driving force behind the neighborhood redevelopment efforts in the Wright Dunbar Business Village. Her redevelopment and reinvigoration of this area continued with her work through her nonprofit Wright Dunbar, Inc. It is this work and mentorship program that has shaped modern community efforts like the Dayton Young Black Professionals and I Love West Dayton. One of her mentees was Amos.
“She was the person who never kept information to herself, and she could tell you something that would help you or help you with what you were working on,” Amos said of Neal. “Even in her passing, she left us with a blueprint, because she knew that if she died with the vision, that vision would die too.”
Amos also speaks of Neal’s grittiness — a character trait that came in handy when it came time for her to get the job done for her community.
“She was gritty,” Amos said. “Back in the day, she would come to the church every day, and she’ll be walking, and you could tell she was in pain. She didn’t care. She wanted to get the work done. She never really let us see that she was defeated, or feeling down. I think that that’s pretty much how she went about everything, regardless of what was going on with her or happening around her. There was still a need and if there was any way that she could be impactful, then she was going to do it.”
Chaz Amos, 2020 Thurgood Marshall High School graduate and CEO of I Love West Dayton. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Demmings of the Dayton Young Black Professionals also knew Neal and is cognizant of her legacy in the community.
“If she didn’t do what she did, then we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” said Demmings. “Yes, she was the first Black city commissioner. And now, we have two Black women running right now on the city commission, so representation matters. And she was the first representation.”
In the future, both organizations hope to channel Neal’s energy to do good for their community. This will likely mean that organizations like theirs will need to double down on fundraising efforts in order to realize their collective vision of West Dayton — one in which its people are invigorated and supported enough to facilitate political and social change.
More specifically, Amos and I Love West Dayton hope to provide affordable housing for residents in need and deal with the many vacant properties that have remained an eyesore in the community for decades. Both organizations want to foster a sense of community pride that Neal helped start through her work.
Through the West Dayton Give Back: The Ms. Bootsie Neal Initiative event, both Amos and Demmings hope to honor Neal’s legacy.
“People die, but your legacy never dies,” said Demmings. “And her legacy is one that will definitely live throughout West Dayton.”
Both organizations are currently accepting donations to make this event and future charitable endeavors possible. Donations can be made by visiting the Dayton Young Black Professionals’ website.
WANT TO GO?
What: West Dayton Give Back: The Ms. Bootsie Neal Initiative
Where: Mt. Enon Missionary Baptist Church Youth Ministry, 1501 W. Third St., Dayton
When: Saturday, Feb. 20 from noon to 2 p.m.
More info: www.daytonybp.org