Something we all know is that as long as this country has been around Black people have been its foundation. If Black people have been the foundation, then Black women have been quite literally it’s back bone. With all of that being said, we have to ask why there aren’t more Black women in politics? As of 2015, Black women only made up 4.1 percent of Congress. In 2016 we elected only the second Black woman ever to the US Senate. But, before I get carried away complaining, I must tell you that this piece is about celebrating the Black women in politics and all of their compassionate achievements. The Black women who have been in politics are leaders, game changers, and certainly magical.
Black women are often over looked when people begin to tell the history of this country. The lengths that these women took to have their voices heard was nothing short of heroic. Better yet sheroic. Did I just make up a new word? I think I did. Many forget the fact that Black women were on the front lines of the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They marched right next to White women in the fight to secure the right to vote for all women. It was the passion of women like Fannie Lou Hamer that put the pressure needed on the Democratic Party to be inclusive and allow African Americans to be represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in my home town of Atlantic City, NJ. Sheroic actions like this eventually led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Fannie Lou Hamer was a political activist in Mississippi that displayed on national TV the passion that only Black women are able to display about the injustices that were occurring in the south around the fact that Black people were not being allowed to vote. It was not until she detailed the abuse that she endured at the hands of white men for trying to register other Black people to vote that Black people finally gained representation at the DNC. Fifty–two years later at the 2016 DNC there were 1,182 Black delegates at the DNC and we have that magic that is Fannie Lou Hamer to thank for that.
When discussing sheroes, I would definitely be remiss if I did not mention the first African American woman to ever be elected to Congress, Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm. Rep. Chisholm was a trailblazer for not only Black women, but all women in politics when she became the first woman to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 1972. What was truly magical about Rep. Chisholm was her drive and fearlessness. She ran for President with the campaign slogan “Unbought and Unbossed”. This was a testament to how she did things her way and would not depend anyone else to give her opportunities. She created them for herself! This is something that all Black women can relate to. Rep. Chisholm paved the way for many other Black women to be elected to Congress like Maxine Waters and Joyce Beatty to name only a few. It was not until 1992 that the first Black woman was elected to the Senate. Her name is Carol Mosely Braun and she represented the state of Illinois for only one term. Not only was she the first Black female senator, she was also the first woman to beat an incumbent senator and the first female senator to represent the state of Illinois. It would take over twenty years for another Black woman to be elected to the senate. That woman is Kamala Harris from California and people are already putting her on their list for possible presidential candidates in 2020.
“Behind every successful woman there is a tribe of other successful women who have her back”. This quote is a testament to the Black women that work behind the scenes in politics as chiefs-of- staff, campaign managers, consultants and in other capacities as staff members. Black elected officials tend to hire black women for their campaigns and in their offices once elected more than any other elected officals. These women are nothing short of brilliant and almost never get recognized for it. But it is ok, because they do not do it for the recognition. They do it to elevate the people that they work for because they believe in them and believe that they are in the position to put the issues that they care about on the top of the country’s political agenda. These women hold a special place in my heart because I aspire to be just like them. I myself am a political fundraising consultant. I was inspired to go into this line of work by watching Donna Brazile give her political commentary during the 2008 presidential election. I am sure many of you know her name by now but, not many knew her then even though she had already been the first African American woman to manage a major presidential campaign. She was the campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore’s campaign in 2000. Since then she has gone on to not only be a political commentator for ABC and CNN, but she has served as the interim chairwoman of the DNC and the chair of its Voting Rights Institute. In her book, Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in America, she details her experience as a black woman in politics from the time she was in college right through the 2004 election. She speaks about the lonely times on the campaign trail and feeling like she had no one to turn or relate to. But she coupled those stories with ones of faith that if she kept on keeping on, she would indeed make a difference and make change happen. I cannot thank her enough for sharing her story.
Currently there are more Black women involved in all areas of politics than ever before. We are working on a campaign or on someone’s staff in just about every state in the country. The women that I mentioned above along with all of the other women who have and currently do serve in any capacity in the wild, crazy, and sometimes thankless field of politics serve as not only inspiration, but motivation for me and other women like me. I decided that I was going to make it my life’s work to get more Black people, young people, and women of color involved in the political process. Being a Black woman in politics can feel lonely and reclusive. Often times we are the only black person let alone black woman in the room (especially in the realm of fundraising). It can feel discouraging. But, when I think back at the courage that Shirley Chisholm had to have to bet on herself and believe that she could be a catalyst for change, it empowers me. I know that I have the strength and determination to continue to be a representation for little girls that look like me the same ways that my long-lost aunties in my head did before me.
Black women are currently one of the largest voting blocs within the Democratic party and in the country. Democrats depend on Black women to get elected. So, it is time for Black women to demand more in return. There need to be more of us in politics at every level and this is how we do it. We do it by paying attention and supporting our sisters that have the tenacity to run for office. We need to support them in every way. That means, financially, physically, and even spiritually. This goes for all women! Ninety-four percent of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton whereas fifty-three percent of White women voted for Donald Trump. We need to be there for our sisters! Black people and women are often discouraged from running for office because they lack the support they need. We need to stop only voting for others and waiting for them to solve the problems in our communities. If you take nothing else away from this piece, I want you to take away that the time is always right now to be fearless in your beliefs because that is truly when the MAGIC can happen.