As of 2017 Black women are 7.3 percent of the U.S Population, but they make up less than 5 percent of officeholders in Congress, statewide offices and state legislatures, according to chicagotribune.com. Twenty-two of the 127 women serving in Congress are Black, including Maxine Waters from California, who became a meme in May 2018 with her “Reclaiming my time” catchphrase. There is one Black woman who holds a seat in the Senate, Democratic Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris.
In order to combat the disparity between Black women voters and Black women officeholders, Higher Heights for America, an organization co-founded by Glynda Carr and Kimberly Peeler-Allen, seek to elevate Black women’s voices to shape and advance progressive policies and politics. By doing so, HHFA will create the environment in which more Black women, and other candidates who are committed to advance policies that affect Black women, can be elected to public office.
Here are some Black women at the national, local, and state level that are proving that no political disparity can stop them.
Michelle Obama is most notable for her stint as First Lady from 2009-2017. However, the former First Lady (or, the Forever First Lady to some) is much more than her marriage to former President Barack Obama. Raised on the South Side of Chicago, Ill., Obama is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, who worked at the Sidley Austin Law Firm in her early career, for various non-profits, as Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, the Vice-President for Community and External Affairs of the University of Chicago Medical Center; she is also a writer, role model, and advocate for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical activity and healthy eating. Some even consider her a fashion icon.
“Your story is what you have, what you will always have,” said Obama in her book, Becoming Michelle Obama. “It is something to own.”
Despite success in her own career, in 2007 Obama scaled her own career back in order to attend to supporting her husband and family during his presidential campaign. During her husband’s two-terms as President, Obama led and supported at least seven education-related initiatives—including, but not limited to The Reach Higher initiative, which encourages high school graduates to attend post-secondary school, whether it be a four year university, community college, or professional training program—the Let’s Move Initiative, which promoted healthy eating and living, and more. Now, Obama is on a book tour, which includes other celebrity moderators, such as Oprah.
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as a forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self,” Obama said. “The journey doesn’t end.”
Judy Reese Morse
In September 2018, Judy Reese Morse was elected as the President of the Urban League of Louisiana, an organization dedicated to assisting underserved communities in securing economic self-reliance, parity, power, and civil rights. While ULLA used to serve the Greater New Orleans area, it expanded into a statewide entity in 2016.
Morse used to be a top official in former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration (going from Deputy Mayor for Citywide Initiatives to Chief Administrative Officer). She also had a long history in politics and the non-profit sector.
Morse is also the daughter of Freedom Rider and Local Civil Rights Icon Claude Reese, who played a vital role in the New Orleans Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality in 1961. Before becoming President of the ULLA, Morse had two decades of service, including eight years in city government. Prior to that, she worked in the state level as Chief of Staff for the Lieutenant Governor from 2004 to 2010. She also spent over a decade working in Washington DC before her return to Louisiana.
As President and CEO, Morse leads and oversees the work of three Centers of Excellence: equality, justice; economic and workforce development; and education and youth development. In a prior interview with Data News Weekly, Morse said, “The work this organization does is very impactful, and I plan to build on that.”
Morse went on to say that today’s Civil Rights Movement is about “equity.”
LaToya Cantrell and Sharon Weston Broome
Cantrell was sworn in as the first Female Mayor of New Orleans May 7, 2018. Prior to becoming mayor, she was a member of the New Orleans City Council; and, prior to that, she worked as a non-profit management executive. She also headed the Broadmoor Improvement Effort after Hurricane Katrina and spearheaded the famous smoking ban.
As a child, Cantrell’s life was steeped in community service. Her grandmother would bring her to neighborhood meetings. She was serving as Secretary for the local Chamber of Commerce by the age of 13. She arrived in New Orleans in 1990 to attend Xavier University of Louisiana, which is where Cantrell, who is originally from Los Angeles, says her soul “found its home.”
Cantrell encourages civic engagement and putting the people of New Orleans first. Her 2019 budget prioritizes inclusion and addresses the issues of inequality and quality of life. She also plans to address issues such as affordable housing,
On the day of her swearing-in, Cantrell told the audience, “I vow to each one of you standing here today, before God Almighty, I’ll spend every breath and every moment of the next four years proving that you made the right choice.”
A few miles down the river, Broome was elected Mayor of Baton Rouge and President of the City January 2, 2017. She is the first woman to be elected Mayor of Louisiana’s Capital. Since the campaign trail, her focus has been to unite the citizenry around the common goals of equality in education, economic development, justice, housing and other quality ways of life.
Prior to becoming mayor, Broome served as a Baton Rouge Metro Council Member; Louisiana State Representative (District 29); and Louisiana State Senator (District 15), as well as receiving many awards for her service and leadership, including but not limited to: Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Louisiana Health Freedom Coalition, American Heart Association, Every Child Matters, and Baton Rouge NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also a reporter for five years for WBRZ-TV, the Baton Rouge ABC affiliate.
Broome accomplished much within the first 100 days in office, thanks to her transition team, a group of 200 diverse residents who represented various races, education levels, and socio-economic statuses. They covered community-police relations, education, economic development, race relations and more. Because of this team, Broome was able to take immediate action, such as: updating the Baton Rouge Police Department’s Use of Force Policy to align with national practices; launching the Equity in Business initiative, which aims to increase contract opportunities and entrepreneurial activity in all neighborhoods; entering into an agreement with the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce that now includes a focus on small businesses, and those owned by minorities and women and more.
During her swearing-in speech, Broome told the audience, “”Allow me to put you on notice. I will not be perfect, but I will always be honest and give my best effort.”