When Yvette Simpson talks about the struggles of young Cincinnatians to escape lives of poverty, drugs and violence, she knows what she is talking about.
It is the story of her life as a child and a teenager.
Born to a mentally ill mother and drug-addicted father, Simpson was raised by her grandmother in Lincoln Heights until the age of 16. Then, when her grandmother, known as "Miss Pearl" to the neighborhood, had a stroke and had to move into senior living; the teenager spent the last two years of her schooling at Princeton High School bouncing around, living with friends and other families.
Throughout her young life, she was surrounded by poverty and violence.
"I saw people who were really good people, who were really hurt people, who ended up doing very violent things," Simpson told WVXU.
But it was her grandmother's love and a series of mentors who inspired her to break out of that life.
"All I could ever think of was, 'If I can only get to be 18,' I'll be OK,'" Simpson said.
She had decided at the tender age of eight that what she wanted to do was be a lawyer – a poor girl from a family where the idea of a college education was well beyond anyone's reach.
Her hard work in high school paid off in a full-ride scholarship to Miami University. She earned degrees in political science and communications. She went on to earn a law degree at the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in business administration from Xavier University.
In 2007, she returned to Miami University – this time as the administrator of the university's pre-law counseling program.
Four years later, she launched her political career, running for city council and finishing seventh. She ran for re-election in 2013 – the first election in which council members were elected to four-year terms - and finished fourth in the balloting.
Simpson could have run for another four-year term this year; and it is clear to her political friends and foes alike that she could have been easily re-elected.
But she chose instead to run for mayor; and ended up in a three-way primary with incumbent John Cranley and Rob Richardson, the former chair of the University of Cincinnati board of trustees.
Turnout for that May primary was abysmal – 11 percent – but Simpson pulled off something of a surprise by finishing first, with 45 percent of the vote to Cranley's 34 percent.
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