Kimbrough pledges unity as he takes office as Forsyth sheriff

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Bobby F. Kimbrough Jr. embraces his parent after taking the oath of office as Forsyth County's next sheriff. (photo by Jordan Green)

Bobby Kimbrough, the first black sheriff of Forsyth County, pledges to “leave no one behind on this journey” as he takes the oath of office.

Bobby F. Kimbrough Jr. took the oath of office on Monday to become Forsyth County’s first black sheriff, pledging an inclusive administration.

“We won’t leave no one behind on this journey,” he said. “We’ll go back and get everybody, because everyone will have a say.”

The courtroom on the sixth floor of the Forsyth County Hall of Justice was filled to capacity, with people standing in the back in the lobby, as local dignitaries, including judges, prosecutors, pastors, members of Winston-Salem City Council and the Forsyth County Commission, and Kimbrough’s former basketball coach at North Forsyth High School lauded the new sheriff and wished him well.

Kimbrough received a standing ovation when he thanked the staff of the sheriff’s office.

“I love how you received me,” he said. “And as I said on the campaign trail — and you can hold me to it — I won’t harm or hurt you. I won’t fire you. We’re a family now. And that’s how we’re going to move forward — as a family. We’re going to move forward as a county. We’re going to move forward and build some bridges.”

Kimbrough likened his vision for the sheriff’s office to what he experienced as a federal agent assigned to the Greensboro office.

“We disagreed on politics every morning,” he said. “We had our spats with politics. But one thing remained true in all of it: At the end of the day we loved each other. We knew that at the end of the day, if need be, we’d die for each other. What I say to you is this: I’m humbled by this experience. I’m grateful to all of you who have helped me get to this place.”

Kimbrough struck a gracious note towards his predecessor and opponent, Republican Bill Schatzman, who served 16 years.

“This is the office of the people,” Kimbrough said. “All I want to do is enhance what Sheriff Schatzman has done. I want to build some bridges. I want to enhance what he has started. I want to thank him for the words of wisdom that he gave me when we sat and chatted on Thursday. What he told me is this: ‘Remember that if you work hard and treat people fairly in this office, you can get ahead.’”

Dave Plyler, the Republican chair of the county commission — which is responsible for funding the sheriff’s office — pledged “full, unequivocal support.”

“He is the kind of person who wants to learn,” Plyer said. “He knows a lot about drug enforcement. He knows a lot about the problems of the county. I hope over the next several years he’s going to get to know a lot about you. But the best thing we can do is make our law enforcement work, and I think Bobby Kimbrough is going to get there.”

Michael Grace, a private criminal-defense lawyer, noted that Kimbrough is one of seven sheriffs who will be the first African American to serve in the office across the state, including in neighboring Guilford County.

“It was not an orchestrated campaign,” Grace said. “Individuals and communities were like-minded, and didn’t like what the prior sheriffs had been doing. Most of them were good men; they did a good job. Our sheriff certainly did a good job; I can tell you from experience. What these sheriffs failed to do was hire and promote from within their ranks people who looked other than they.”

Cedric Russell, a funeral director who worked on Kimbrough’s campaign team, said the candidate’s appeal began with a base in East Winston, but translated across the county.

“Team Kimbrough got started in this county, and this county responded in a resounding manner,” Russell said. “It started in East Winston and worked out to the perimeter.”

Russell referenced a brother in law in law enforcement who was in the audience. Russell quipped, “I want to say to all the po-po here: ‘If you ever pull me over…” Without finishing the sentence, Russell made a gesture of an officer waving a motorist off, eliciting laughter from the audience.

Russell dismissed criticism of the candidate during the campaign.

“Lots of us tried to be judgmental of my brother,” he said. “They really did…. A person with a forest in their eye trying to give advice to Bobby, with a toothpick in his eye. He will be sheriff of all the citizens of Forsyth County. No special favors. He will uphold the law.”

Grace, who as a lawyer has enlisted Kimbrough as an investigator, cautioned his friends against seeking favor from the new sheriff.

“The fact that Bobby is African American is obvious; we don’t need to state the obvious,” Grace said. “What we do need to know is that going forward he will be the sheriff; he won’t be our Bobby anymore. So when your first inclination after your son gets a ticket is to call Bobby, you need not do that. When you get pulled over on the street by a deputy you need to be polite. You need not invoke his name. He’s the lord high sheriff of our entire county.

“As a community we have to allow him, we have to enable him, we have to support him, we have to insist that he do his job,” Grace continued. “Some of us need to delete that number from our phone. Go through the channels when we need something from the sheriff’s office or we need something from the sheriff. That’s the only way he can be successful. And he will be successful with our help. He will fail if we pull him down, if we mire him in pettiness and tedium, in matters that he doesn’t have the time and inclination to be involved in. So when we leave this place today, know that we let our bird go; he is the lord high sheriff. He must be the sheriff for all…. In my office, our fallback is, ‘Call Bobby.’ We can’t do that anymore.”

Bishop Todd Fulton, a member of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity, noted that law enforcement has historically, as often as not, undermined rather than upheld the rights of black people. Fulton invoked Bloody Sunday, when police brutally attacked civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala. in 1965.

“The folks who were marching were beaten, sprayed with water hoses by sheriffs, by highway patrol, by police officers,” Fulton said. “Two days later President Lyndon Baines Johnson of the United States declared the promise of America. Sheriff Kimbrough, you’re not here because of your DEA [experience], all of your skills that everybody talks about. You’re not here because of Team Kimbrough. You’re here because blacks, browns, whites, Christians, Jews and Muslims stood on that bridge and refused to go home.”

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