Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott, 36, is the youngest person to hold the office in over a century. Once he was sworn in on December 8, 2020, the city’s 52nd mayor is already making headlines for being unapologetically Black. If you’ve seen Scott, you know he proudly sports an afro and encourages others to embrace their natural look.

Mayor Scott gained popularity after going viral for saying, “Shorty, pull your mask up” during an early January Covid-19 press conference in Baltimore. Although many thought Scott was using slang, he was actually addressing a man named Duane “Shorty” Davis, a well-known BBQ cook in the city.

ESSENCE spoke to Mayor Scott about his first 30 days in office, why he believes it’s okay for politicians to use slang, and why it’s important for Black people to be their authentic selves.

Let’s talk about your new role as mayor. How’s it going?

MAYOR BRANDON SCOTT: It’s going great. Listen, I am proud and energized that the residents of my city, of the only place I’ve ever called home, have put me in the position to lead our great city. The time has passed quickly, but we’ve gotten straight to work. We know we are dealing with Covid 19. We are also dealing with the epidemic of gun violence, which means there were no seconds off. There was no time to celebrate. That’s why I didn’t have a fancy inauguration—not even a big fancy virtual inauguration. It was about getting to work.

Police brutality is a huge issue in this country, and Baltimore made headlines in 2015 with the Freddie Gray case. What are you doing to ensure Black people aren’t being targeted by Baltimore City police?

SCOTT: We’re in a federal consent decree where we are being monitored. The police department, under the leadership of Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who we brought here from New Orleans, just went through a consent decree, reforming that department. We are meeting our mandates. We are leading from the top. We can and we will fight violent crime in Baltimore through policing and otherwise. We will do that simultaneously as we make our department one that constitutionally understands that in a majority Black city, we will not revert to the policies and practices of zero tolerance and all these other things that were just unacceptable.

You said, “Shorty, pull your mask up” at a press conference, and now that has been remixed into a rap song. You were addressing a man named Duane “Shorty” Davis, but what would you say to someone who criticized you for using what they thought was a slang term? 

SCOTT: First and foremost, got to uplift my man Shorty. I was humanizing him and honoring him by the name he chooses to be called. For those who say I was using slang, this is also something we need to get ourselves out of. One of the reasons why I am in the position I am in, is because I am able to communicate and talk with everyone in this city and meet them on their level. We have to get out of this mindset that the English language is monolithic, but also that elected officials should not be able to communicate with people in many ways. I’m from Baltimore, I am Black, I am young. “Shorty” is a term that we use. “Yo” is a term that we use. I can talk on the street corner and in the boardroom. It’s important that leaders are able do that.

You’re right, especially when it comes to connecting with the people that you’re serving. People use slang in Baltimore, and they might not relate to you if you come off as inauthentic. 

SCOTT: This is conversation with my agency heads. When we are communicating, we have to communicate to the average person, not someone who has the highest level of education. We have to meet people where they are. Outside of Elijah Cummings, there wasn’t someone who looked like me, did the job that I wanted to do, that I could touch, that I could communicate with. Being that for these young men and women is what I want to do. This is why I spend so much time talking to with them and being with them and letting them know that they can be their authentic selves.

Your afro is powerful. As mayor of Baltimore City, your image is extremely important. What made you choose such a bold look? 

SCOTT: I had braids for a long time. When I was graduating from college, folks were pressuring me to cut my hair. You’ll never be able to do this in politics if you don’t cut your hair. No one will respect you. You won’t get a job. All of these things started to come back. I decided to keep it. I drove my staff nuts. They wanted me to get my hair cut and I said every time you guys ask me about the afro, that’s another 3 months I’m going to keep it. It’s about showing our folks that being a mayor looks like me, a mayor looks like someone who gets up, does their job, does it with integrity, does it with the understanding they are working for other people, but that you can be yourself. I’m a Black man and this is my natural hair and I’m proud of it. No one’s going to take that away from me.