When the Eastpointe city council rejected a Pride Month resolution this June, Nicola Strong took it as a call to action.
“The mayor and other city councilmembers just let their own personal beliefs get in the way,” Strong said. “That's a shame.”
Strong and her wife Kat spoke at the protest that followed. “After that I started paying attention,” she said. “I just thought I wasn't represented on the council and neither were my friends or family.” Strong is nonbinary and uses all pronouns. She decided to take the initiative to run for council and create change herself.
Since then, Strong has enjoyed canvassing the neighborhoods of Eastpointe and sharing with residents her priorities. During a recent canvassing stop, she made the acquaintance of someone in the LGBTQ+ community.
“I met a trans person down the road — actually on my street — and he was so excited that I'm running, just because [I’m] LGBT; he's going to feel represented now,” Strong said. “I just love that.”
Strong, an officer in the police reserves who once worked as a police aide for the department, also said she met someone who was pleased to know Eastpointe has a Black officer. Having these conversations and making connections has been meaningful for her. “I just like when people say ‘thank you,’” she said.
When Strong sat down with Pride Source, she had just come from a shift working on her current passion, the Eastpointe Community Garden, Urban Seed’s flagship garden project. Established seven years ago, it’s a space where Strong can help build community and literally deepen her roots in Eastpointe. Recently, they harvested 1,000 pounds of produce and donated it back to residents.
“I got involved right after the Pride resolution got denied in Eastpointe,” Strong said. “Some people mentioned the garden, and so I went, and I really liked it. And I've been there every Saturday since.”
That day, they picked some of the summer’s last crops: eggplant, squash, various peppers and a few tomatoes. “We're in a weird transition right now where we're going from a summer crop to fall crops,” she said.
The city administration is undergoing a transition too. Eastpointe’s scandal-plagued mayor, Monique Owens, is on her way out. She’s well known for her hostility toward the queer community. Strong has spoken with both candidates for mayor: Mike Kleinfelt, who is openly gay, and Mary Hall-Rayford. “I think they have other people's interests at heart, not their own,” Strong said, confident that either can move Eastpointe forward.
First elected in 2014, Cardi DeMonaco currently serves on city council. He and Strong met through her involvement with the Eastpointe Police Reserves. DeMonaco says he’ll be voting for Strong.
“I’m a big fan of her,” DeMonaco said. He said in the past he took for granted the ability to simply discuss a policy with a candidate, but because of recent events on city council, that has become more of a priority. He may have been referring to Owens’ behavior on city council; she was known to silence her critics.
“I truly believe [Strong] will be interested in talking about any issues that come in front of the city council, and she'll bring her own ideas forward. I think it's important for legislative bodies to have a whole bunch of people that have different interests because then you'll get different things coming forward.” He said Strong has a lot to offer the community.
If elected, Strong would be one of the few openly queer elected officials in Macomb County. She considers that distinction significant.
“I think it’s important because I want other people to know, ‘Hey, I’m out here. I’m here for you,’” Strong said. “‘You can get out in your community as well and do great things.’” She doesn’t think being LGBTQ+ should be a hindrance to anyone, even as she overcame her own early self-doubts.
Strong brings more than increased representation to the city council. As a resident involved in the community, she’s concerned that city finances are not being looked at closely enough.
“For instance, the lead pipe situation,” Strong said, referring to efforts currently underway to replace them. “The amount that they originally quoted us ended up being so much more in the end,” she said. The explanation was they didn't know how much work it would entail. Strong is committed to being prepared and always casting an educated vote.
Strong would like to see more community events to foster engagement among residents of Eastpointe where folks can gather and enjoy one another. Past events haven’t been adequately promoted, and Strong has plans for that to change.
When Strong isn’t knocking doors or harvesting crops, she’s a production leader for Lipari Foods, where she supervises teams of 12 to 20 people. She and her wife have three adult children and one 18-month-old grandchild. (“I'm too young to be a grandma, so I just go with ‘Coco,’” Strong said.) In addition, she serves on the board of Macomb County Pride.
With a degree in early childhood development, it’s no surprise Strong enjoys her volunteer work with the Boy Scouts. She finds other opportunities to spend time with kids too.
“My favorite experience as a police reserve officer was actually going to a fair that we had here in Eastpointe and riding some rides with the kids, actually letting the kids get in the car and push the siren button,” Strong said. “I like hanging out with children and senior citizens — that's my thing. I like to make them feel good because they're always kind of left out.”
As a council member, Strong can be a voice for those who feel left out. It’s a sentiment rooted in what spurred her to run: not feeling represented on city council. “I want everyone that lives here to be welcomed and feel like they belong because that's what community is about.”
An event, "Pizza and Conversation with Nicola Strong," will be held Sunday, Oct. 22, 1 to 3 p.m., 21311 Gratiot Ave., Eastpointe. Vote now through Nov. 7.