I didn't know who I could be until Former Mayor Shirley Franklin showed me what was possible. Though I have never met the woman who was once the mayor of Atlanta, I can say that her journey sparked mine and so many others. Representation is everything. Franklin represented a sense of power and grace that at age 30, I am still trying to master and balance. Since her tenure as mayor, there have been a countless number of black women who have pushed their way into local government and increased representation of black women in government. I know that we have seen black women in congress, though limited numbers, and that's great. But in my world all politics are local. So when I get to read the story of a black woman who has taken on the task of running a city or serving in a leadership role, I get inspired.
Some may not think that representation of black women in government is important. We're doing an ok job without them, right? Wrong. Failure to adequately have enough black women in government, creating a narrative that supports our importance in government, leads folks to think Hillary Clinton can be the savior for black women. Don't shut me down! I'm willing to say it a lot louder so the people in the back can hear me. There were way too many tweets about Hillary's victory for women and not nearly enough tweets celebrating the history and victory of Shirley Chisholm. The numbers are terrible. They aren't in our favor, and with Trump in office, we need more black women in government to take our fight into their own hands. After all, Trump doesn't control your state tax, who picks up your trash, or state tax incentive programs like loans for first time home owners.
So what are the numbers? Prior to the 2016 election, according to the Status of Black Women in American Politics, black women made up 7.4 percent of the population but only 3.4 percent of Congress, less than 1 percent of statewide elected executive officials, 3.5 percent of state legislatures, 1.9 percent of mayors in cities with populations over 30,000. There were only four black women who served as mayor of one of the 100 largest cities. There were no black women in Congress from 37 states and no black women in the senate. Only 35 black women from only 15 states had ever served in US Congress.
President-elect Trump's campaign took over mainstream media. Even if it didn't, there would still be stories of black women victories left untold. Let's be quite honest, black women winning isn't always front page news. Their victories mean that not only do we have increased representation in politics, we also have more voices to lend to our cause. It's hard being black, it's even harder being a black woman. You can fight me on it, but I'd rather you not. We can be grateful for the black men who serve in government and lend a voice to advancing our cause and shining a light on issues that affect the black community. But it's one thing to be raised by a single mother, it's another to be one. It's also another to fully understand the unique and distinct struggles that we have as black women and be able to create a policy that directly addresses it.
During Oprah's Legend's Ball, Pearl Cleage read a poem she put together to honor the women in the room. She entitled it We Speak Your Names.There is an excerpt that speaks loudly to how I feel about those we have yet to acknowledge.
My sisters, we are gathered here to speak your
We are here because we are your daughters
as surely as if you had conceived us, nurtured us,
carried us in your wombs, and then sent us out
into the world to make our mark
and see what we see, and be what we be, but better,
because of the shining example of your
own incandescent lives.
It is only right that I take this moment to celebrate and honor some of those whose names we should proudly profess and celebrate.
I speak your name.
Catherine Pugh, Baltimore's third black female mayor
Hanifa Shabazz, First black woman elected as City of Wilmington City Council President
Velda Jones-Potter, First Black Woman to elected as
Loretta Smith, Second black woman to serve on the board of county commissioners for Multnomah County, Oregon
Attica Scott, First black woman elected to Kentucky State Legislature in 20 years
Lisa Blunt-Rochester, First woman and first black person elected to Congress in Delaware
Shannon Sneed, Baltimore City Council member
Kim Foxx, Cook County State's Attorney
Rhonda Fields, First black woman elected as a Colorado State Senator for District 42
Thank you to the women listed and countless others, who have shared their purpose with us by serving us in government. Thank you for working to create a new narrative that takes us from standing behind men to standing beside them with just as much strength and fervor. Thank you for showing us who we could be, even if it meant sacrificing some of who you are.