Chisholm 50 Sisters to Watch

In January, Americans across the country began seeing more Black women representing their interests on the national, state and local levels. These women—many newly elected or moving into higher office—are stepping into leadership at a time when our country is embroiled in troubling, frequently violent conflicts over national identity, civil and human rights, income inequality and opportunities. Still, they have boldly stepped off the sidelines in response to these challenges, and in doing so, they are walking in the leadership legacy of Shirley Chisholm, a true maverick who 50 years ago was sworn in, becoming the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress.

Chisholm also entered office at a moment when our country was challenged by divisive ideologies and policies, but she refused to let these divisions detour her work to enact progressive policies that ensure civil and human rights and opportunities for all Americans. So, in honor of Chisholm’s legacy, Higher Heights is proud to present the Chisholm 50 Sisters to Watch List—a roundup highlighting 50 Black women whose elected leadership will help shape and advance America’s political agenda over the next two years. Here’s why they are sisters to watch.


From one female member in 1971 (Chisholm) to 25 today, the women of the CBC are claiming Black women’s long-over due seats at decision-making tables. They now make up nearly half the CBC membership & several are leading House committees and subcommittees. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@SenKamalaHarris |

Rumors of a possible presidential run started almost as soon as Kamala Harris joined the U.S. Senate in 2016. She recently succeeded in getting the Senate to pass an antilynching bill—an effort that failed 200 previous attempts. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@RepMaxineWaters |

One of the most influential & powerful House Democrats, Maxine Waters currently chairs the House Financial Services Committee. Presidential accountability and preventing dismantlement of the Consumer Protection Agency are her top priorities. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@RepBarbaraLee |

A 20-year congressional veteran, Barbara Lee was recently appointed to co-chair the House Steering & Policy Committee, which gives her power to shape House Democrat’s agenda & investigations. Check her out on #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50 

@RepKarenBass |

Karen Bass chairs the largest Congressional Black Caucus in history, & with five members chairing House committees, she’s positioned to elevate Black voters’ concerns & rally the Congressional Black Caucus in support or opposition to bills coming out of these committees. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Jahana Hayes was a teen mother who used education as a route out of poverty. As a legislator, she's a strong voice for students, educational equity & under-resourced families. She received the 2016 National Teacher of the Year Award. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


When her son was murdered at a gas station by a man who objected to the music he was playing, Lucy McBath began a powerful campaign for gun control. A two time survivor of breast cancer, she also opposes efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


In the Minnesota House of Representatives, Ilhan Omar was a leading advocate for housing, immigrants & public education. She’s the 1st Somali American ever elected to legislative office, and part of a rock star group of five new members challenging Capitol Hill’s status quo. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Ayanna Pressley is the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. On Boston’s City Council, she advocated for sex education & school discipline reform. She’s part of a rock star group of five new members challenging Capitol Hill’s status quo. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


A heart condition diagnosed during childhood led Lauren Underwood to become a registered nurse. She parlayed that experience into an appointment as senior advisor at The Department of Health & Human Services by President Barack Obama. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


When reports of police killing Black women began to rise, Congressional Black Caucus members Bonnie Watson Coleman, Robin Kelly & Yvette Clarke created the Congressional Caucus on Black Women & Girls to end pervasive institutional and intimate violence against Black women. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@LtGovHampton |

Jenean Hampton is one of only four Black women currently holding statewide office, and the first Black person in Kentucky’s history to win a state executive office. The Republican lawmaker is first in line to the Governorship.

@LtGovOliver |

Sheila Oliver is the first woman of color to hold a statewide elected executive office in New Jersey. The former state representative served as assembly speaker for three years, during which she sponsored & passed a bill banning firearm bump stocks. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


As Lieutenant Governor, Juliana Stratton is Illinois’ number two chief executive. While in the state assembly, she sponsored & passed a law supporting recovery of women inmates who are abuse victims. She previously trained law officers to interact with communities. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Letitia "Tish" James is the first Black woman to hold New York statewide office. As former NYC public advocate, she passed more laws than all of her predecessors combined, including one to close the gender wage gap. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@MayorBowser |

Muriel Bowser is in her 2nd term as D.C. mayor. During her first, her smart-policing approach reduced crime and held police accountable. Now, her approved “Fair Shot” budget is making historic investments in education, affordable house & senior supports. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@MayorBroome |

Sharon Weston Broome is the first woman to lead Baton Rouge. Her first challenge was calming racial tension after the police murder of Alton Sterling. Since then, her inclusive leadership has led to a big bipartisan win: passage of a road-improvement tax. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@LondonBreed |

London Breed grew up in San Francisco public housing and is now the city’s first Black woman mayor. In her first year, she’s using all accessible funds ($181 million) from a property tax windfall to fund affordable housing, homelessness & mental health programs. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@KeishaBottoms |

With just two years under her belt as Atlanta mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms has taken aggressive steps to create an affordable, resilient and equitable Atlanta, including eliminating cash bail bond and closing the city’s ICE detention center. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


LaToya Cantrell beat out 17 competitors in 2018 & became the first woman to serve as mayor of New Orleans. She recently launched an effort to redirect tax dollars to address bail reform, affordable housing, families in crisis and other urgent needs. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@ViLyles |

A year into her role as mayor, Vi Lyles is achieving the near-impossible: building consensus between progressives & conservatives. Under her, Charlotte won money from Bloomberg to tackle climate change & Honeywell signed on as a new corporate resident. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@Tishaura |

As treasurer, Tishaura Jones has done more than keep St. Louis financially solvent; she’s also opened the city’s Office of Financial Empowerment to provide free financial literacy classes and counseling to city residents. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


She made history as the youngest mayor elected by Compton voters, and since then Aja Brown has gone after businesses that support & profit from human trafficking, and she cut her California city’s unemployment rate by half by attracting new companies. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@TeamKCP |

Karen Carter Peterson is the first woman to chair Louisiana’s Democratic party, & she also serves as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Civic Engagement & Voter Participation Committee. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Early in her state senate career Audrey Gibson fought to close juvenile boot camps & became known as an avid supporter of small business. Now, as Florida’s unanimously elected senate minority leader she’s pushing to diversify the state supreme court. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@AndreaSCousins |

Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the first woman elected to lead the NY Senate Democratic Conference. She has sponsored & passed laws supporting 911 first responders, families in need of affordable health care and school lunches, and taxpayers. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

Karen Camper is the first Black lawmaker ever elected by Tennessee Democrats to lead their legislative caucus. The Army veteran may be just the person to drag the embattled minority party into formation & get them moving in lockstep. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


The National Organization for Women called Charniele Herring “heroic” for her work rallying fellow legislators to stand against limits on abortion access, & she’s passed legislation to restore homeless-services funding & support small businesses.  She is the Minoriy Caucus Chair. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


As the majority leader of the New York State Assembly, Crystal Peoples-Stokes takes the lead on scheduling debates, votes & driving the legislative priorities. With her appointment, Black women are heading up both side of the New York legislature. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Shavonda Sumter has had more bills signed into law than any other lawmaker in the current New Jersey state legislature. Her work has advanced women’s health, school safety and criminal justice reform among other progressive aims. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Illinois lawmaker Toi Hutchinson introduced and passed the nation’s first legislation requiring testing of rape kits within 10 days of evidence collection. She’s also passed anti-cyberstalking, working-class tax relief and senior protection laws. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Holly Mitchell is a tireless champion for the poor, working class families and marginalized people. Her work over the past year resulted in the passage of seven bills supporting families, exonerated former prisoners, juveniles and sexual harassment victims. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Pat Spearman led the push for Nevada to become the 1st state in 40 years to ratify the Equal Right Amendment. As the new chair of the state’s Commerce & Labor Committee, she’ll no doubt push to change labor practices that are unfair to women & others. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@SenTaylor |

Lena Taylor joined 13 other legislators in 2011 in refusing to give then Gov. Scott Brown the quorum he needed for union-busting votes, & she was a vocal critic of Brown’s maneuvers last year to clip the powers of Wisconsin’s newly elected governor. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Angela Williams is a known champion for business, but she also staunchly dedicated to equity. She moved bills to compensate the wrongly convicted, bring broadband to rural areas & rebuilding trust between communities & the police. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@NikemaForSenate |

She was arrested for standing with peaceful protestors who wanted to make sure their ballots were counted in a disputed gubernatorial race, now Nikema Williams plans to push bills to protect voting rights & change how police treat people in custody. She is the newly elected chair of the Georgia Democratic Party. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Sarah Anthony stepped onto the floor of her state legislature as a representative-elect in December, and one of her first moves was to write an op-ed informing voters how some officials were using the lame duck session to gut recently passed ballot initiatives. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@Leslieherod |

Leslie Herod, Colorado’s first Black LGBT legislator, is an aggressive legislator, passing bills on criminal justice reform (helping prisoners more easily obtain college education), housing discrimination, civil rights & youth mental health treatment. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@AtticaScott |

The first Black woman to hold a Kentucky legislature seat in 2 decades, Attica Scott is serious about gender equity. She introduced a bill to provide free feminine hygiene products on Kentucky college campuses. She may be eyeing a gubernatorial run. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@electkmreeves |

Kristine Reeves received the 2017 Legislator of the Year Award for her support of veterans, & her astutely crafted legislation has garnered her a growing list of supporters. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


@RepStubbs |

Sheila Stubbs was wearing a nametag, carrying campaign info & stumping in a majority White neighborhood when someone reported her to police as a drug dealer. But she went on to win her race, becoming Dane County’s 1st Black state rep. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@Emiliaskyesoh |

Emilia Sykes started the #WeBelongHere movement after capitol police stopped, searched and told her she didn't look like a legislator. With her recent selection as Ohio State House minority leader she’s redefining the face of leadership in her state. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@SAKimFoxx |

Kimberly Foxx took over the Cook County, IL, State’s Attorney’s Office in 2016 during a nationwide uprising over police abuse and murder of unarmed Black men. During her 1st year, her office overturned 20 convictions—15 the result of police misconduct. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Marilyn Mosby was the youngest person ever elected state’s attorney general when she took office in 2015, and she went right to work seeking justice for the family of Freddie Gray, who was killed while in police custody. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Angela Alsobrooks is the first woman elected to serve as county executive by Prince George’s County voters, & she’s promised to make education a priority. She was a well-respected state’s attorney before stepping down to run for her current office. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Aramis Ayala has a growing reputation as a fervent justice seeker who is determined to reshape Florida’s criminal justice system into a fair one. Under her leadership, Orange County, FL, has seen its biggest decline ever in juvenile felony arrests. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

@amanda4houston |

Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards is a fierce road paver for inclusive city development. As vice chair of the Budget & Fiscal Affairs Committee & initiator of the Technology & Innovation Taskforce, she has power to push her agenda. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50

17 Black women are newly minted judges in Harris County, Texas (which covers Houston) after winning their races by double digits. Many will decide family & criminal cases—issue where people of color often receive harsher decisions. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50


Melody Stewart was the Ohio State Bar’s highest-rated judicial candidate for the 2018 election, & after defeating a conservative incumbent she is now 1of only 2 non-Republican judges and the only person of color on the Ohio Supreme Court. #BlackWomenLead #Chisholm50