I'm often asked, what are the barriers to women of color running for elected office? I usually cite a number of predictable and persistent barriers such as inability to raise money, serving as heads of households they are unable to afford to run.
Women of color are usually serving as caregivers to elderly loved ones, and of course sexism is real, and racist stereotypes too. All of these barriers are legitimate. However, I know, the greatest barrier comes from a lack of confidence and ownership, the nagging fear of one's own power, and of course, the fear of losing. Lately James Baldwin's profound and prophetic words have been a repeat refrain in my head "Your crown has been bought and paid for, all you have to do is wear it."
While reflecting on our journey as Black women, and talking with Higher Heights for America Co-Founders, in my role as a founding circle member, I approached them about partnering with me in "visual protest" to highlight the disparities of Black women in office, while simultaneously affirming the power of Black women at the voting booth and on the ballot.
When I visited the Edward M. Kennedy Institute and stepped into their replica Senate chamber, I knew this was the vehicle and platform to use to make the statement I desired. Months later, #BlackWomenLead100 was realized. We invited 100 Black women to "take your seat", literally and figuratively. We barnstormed a space that we've historically been disenfranchised in. In the 233 year history of the Senate, only one Black woman has served, despite the critical voting bloc we have, and continue to be. On July 12th, 100 Black women ranging from CEO's, to artists, educators, elected officials, homeless women, gay, straight, trans, Black women in the dawn, prime and twilight of their lives took their seat and it was an awesome sight to behold. We owned that space, and Black women owned their power. A portrait was taken of the collective to chronicle this historic moment. It was a moment long overdue and needed in this time in our country.
In the midst of great chaos and unrest in our country, it was a powerful and healing moment, one that left an indelible imprint on every Black woman that crossed the Senate threshold that day. I can say without any reservation or hesitation, Black women left there feeling seen, affirmed and inspired to continue to lead, and to run. Sisters left with their heads high, undeniably wearing their "crown".
Ayanna Pressley is a member of the Boston City Council in Boston, Massachusetts. She was the first women of color to be elected to the council in its 106- year history in 2009.