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Former Wilmington Councilwoman Rysheema Dixon dies

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Rysheema Dixon | PHOTO COURTESY OF WILMINGTON MAYOR’S OFFICE

WILMINGTON – Rysheema Dixon, a former at-large Wilmington city councilwoman and entrepreneur, has died unexpectedly at age 35.

Where, when and how Dixon died are not immediately known as her passing was announced by Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki’s office.

Dixon was the first Black woman and the youngest candidate to win one of the city’s four at-large council seats. She won her first election in 2016 and secured re-election in 2020, but resigned from office in 2021 in order to more fully pursue RD Innovative Planning, a Wilmington-based community strategy organization she founded in 2011 and is today known as RDI Solutions. Dixon continued to serve as its president and CEO.

RDI Solutions runs Wilmington Play Streets on behalf of ChristianaCare, which temporarily closes a neighborhood block to traffic and provides play equipment to create safe, fun, and healthy spaces for children, families and neighbors to connect and play right outside their doors. It has also increasingly begun working on projects outside of the First State and celebrated its 11th anniversary just hours before Dixon’s passing.

She was also currently serving as executive director of Delaware Pathways to Apprenticeship, a nonprofit that helps low-income individuals and justice-involved citizens gain the necessary skills, confidence, and connections to secure apprenticeships.

During her time on the city council, Dixon is best known for sponsoring Wilmington’s first study on the disparities of the city’s procurement system and a bill to update the statewide sex education curriculum to includes lessons on consent, sexual assault and healthy relationships.

Purzycki extended his condolences to Dixon’s family and friends on Friday, praising her leadership on the city council.

“Rysheema always charted her own course. She was a concerned and informed resident who became active in various causes and eventually began to provide leadership and guidance to others,” he said, noting that she won the support of her community while in office and ran a successful company. “All of this, and she was just in the third decade of her life. Her loss will be felt by many.”

U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), who knew Dixon personally, called the loss “a profoundly sad day for Delaware.”

“A professor, entrepreneur, and public servant, Councilwoman Dixon dedicated the better part of her life to helping others. Those lucky enough to work with her in any capacity saw first-hand her commitment, passion, and love for her community and its people,” the congresswoman said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Dixon “was passionate about lifting up the people of this city, from fostering other entrepreneurs to introducing consent-focused lessons in our schools.”

“My staff and I both knew her well, and strongly admired her. She was far too young to be lost, and her passing will have a ripple effect far beyond just this community,” he added in a statement.

City of Wilmington Democratic Party Chair Cassandra Marshall added her shock and sadness over the news, saying Wilmington had “lost a dedicated public servant and activist committed to lifting up the entire community.”

“Councilmember Dixon occupied a unique space in Wilmington fusing her abilities as a community advocate with her position as a city councilwoman to not only create legislation that improved communities, but that also educated leadership and inspired other advocates. She was committed to organic community development – whether it was her work to provide education and training to those looking to enter apprenticeship programs or creating Play Streets around the city – pop-up playgrounds in city streets that provided playspace for kids and adults. Hers was a rare, but uniquely successful path that has left a better Wilmington and a network of young activists walking in the trail she blazed. This champion for the people of Wilmington and beyond will be dearly missed,” Marshall said in a statement.

Dixon was born in Philadelphia and moved to Wilmington when she was 15, attending Delcastle Vo-Tech High School, according to a WTN22 video of her life for Black History Month. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware in 2009 and then served two terms of service in Public Allies Delaware, an AmeriCorps program at the University of Delaware Center for Community Research and Service.

She earned a master’s degree in 2013 and in 2014, was honored by Delaware Today magazine as one of the top Women in Business.

While in office, Dixon’s efforts were focused primarily in the Southbridge area where she worked with the Wilmington HOPE Commission, Henrietta Johnson Medical Center, Neighborhood House, Elbert-Palmer Elementary School, South Wilmington Planning Network, and other nonprofit organizations to improve quality of life in the community. While serving as an elected official, she also worked as an adjunct professor at University of Delaware teaching Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship for the University’s Horn Entrepreneurship program.

In 2021 after accepting her resignation, City Council President Ernest “Trippi” Congo said he was “sad to see her go.”

“I enjoyed the past five years working with her. In her time with the council she’s worked hard for the people in our community. I understand she has business endeavors, and this was a tough choice. I wish her well. Her impact on this community cannot be overlooked. She’s definitely left her mark with us,” he said.

A list of survivors was not immediately available, although a PR agency that worked with Dixon confirmed her passing and said details of her arrangements and an obituary would be forthcoming.

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