If there is just one thing that can safely be said for Brentwood’s Mayor-elect Joel Bryant, it’s that he is a person with a surprisingly varied background.
He was once a kickboxer with an opportunity to go pro. He was a professional bodyguard and received training for the job in Israel. He was a professional model and appeared in campaigns for nationally known brands. He ran a successful photography business. He ran a successful painting business, twice. He built movie sets in Los Angeles and apprenticed with one of Disney’s top set decorators. He earned his living for a time as a professional musician. He’s trained in several disciplines of martial arts. He is a licensed pilot. To all that can be added his seminary schooling, a career as a pastor and 15 years as chaplain for the Brentwood Police Department. Bryant’s family background is equally varied.
“My mother was Jewish and my father was Cherokee,” he said. “We had diverse political opinions in our home. Having a personal opinion and having discussions about it was always encouraged. I wasn’t told what I needed to believe. I was told that I needed to understand why I believed what I did and to have strong, active opinions. The culture in our home was, ‘You need to find out the truth behind the headlines.’ Just because a group of people are saying something loudly, doesn’t mean they’re saying something truthfully.”
Bryant’s father was a building contractor with roots in Florida and the Carolinas while his mother was from Oklahoma. Bryant’s own calm demeanor can be traced to his father.
“I never heard my father lose his temper or even raise his voice,” Bryant said. “His personality was very calm. I never saw him out of control at all. But one of the things that was not allowed in our home was hate.”
The family moved several times during Bryant’s childhood including stops in Florida, South Carolina and finally Oklahoma where he finished high school. Motivated by a lifelong fascination with flying, Bryant secured an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and was headed into a career as a naval aviator until that plan was derailed by an injury suffered during a backyard football game. Instead entered seminary school in Jackson, Mississippi.
A few years out of seminary school, Bryant married and he and his wife, Tonja, started their life together working for a church in Annapolis, Maryland, followed by a stint in Los Angeles. Working for small churches didn’t pay much, and Bryant started a number of side jobs to make ends meet. In 2001, Bryant moved his family to Brentwood to work for the Family Life Center where he is currently the senior pastor. At the suggestion of former Councilmember Brandon Richey, he ran successfully for city council in 2010.
“Joel has served the community well for many years in many ways and will serve as mayor with distinction,” said Tim Ogden, Brentwood city manager. “I look forward to his leadership along with the new city council members.”
Keeping Brentwood a family-oriented community has been a motivating force in Bryant’s vision during his time as a councilmember, and it shapes his vision for the future. He stated that multi-generational families are the lifeblood of any community, and the only way to keep families in Brentwood is to provide affordable, attainable housing. Bringing quality jobs to the city is, as he put it, the flip side of the same coin. He is quick to tout the city’s gigabit fiber optic network as being one of only two in the state, and believes it will attract technology companies to the area.
"Brentwood has gone through much growth and change in the time Joel Bryant has been on city council and has served as our city's vice mayor,” said Coucilmember-elect Susannah Meyer. “The experience he has gained in his 10 years of service will help to guide his efforts in his new role as mayor. As a resident I am counting on Mayor-elect Bryant to engage with and support what is best for the people of Brentwood. As an incoming councilmember, I look forward to being part of the process."
Taking the reins of the city in the midst of a once-in-lifetime pandemic and a challenging economic environment is daunting, but Bryant remains upbeat.
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to be mayor of the city,” he said. “As mayor, my main job is to make sure the city is in good condition, is safe and is the community that our families want it to be. That’s my job, and I will do everything in my power to make sure that happens. But one person can’t do that alone. As a council, we’re going to have to work together to make sure that happens. I’m very excited about the new council because I believe that we will be able to move forward together and make the best Brentwood possible, and I’m happy about that.”
Bryant will be sworn in with the rest of the new city council on Dec. 8