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women of color in politics

The strides toward diversity in politics continue in historic firsts for women of color

In recent years, we have seen a rise in women of color elected into office. This rise is a step forward for minority women in politics, who have historically been underrepresented in elected office. 

According to research from Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics (CAMP), “of the 144 women serving in the 117th U.S. Congress, 50, or 34.7%, are women of color. Women of color constitute 9.2% of the total 535 members of Congress. The record high for women of color serving in Congress was 52, set between January 3, 2021, and January 18, 2021.” 

Additionally, of the women serving in statewide elective executive offices, 19.1%, are women of color and women of color constitute 5.8% of the total 310 statewide elective executives. In positions of state legislators, women of color makeup 26.5% of the 2,290 women state legislators serving nationwide and constitute 8.2% of the total 7,383 state legislators.

Last year’s election saw a big, historic first for women of color, with Kamala Harris becoming the first woman of color, the first Black person, and the first South Asian person elected to the position of Vice President. 

Other firsts include Cori Bush, who won her general election race, making her the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress and Marilyn Strickland, who won her race in Washington’s 10th Congressional District Making her the first African American member of the Washington state delegation and the first African American from the Pacific Northwest in Congress. 

This year, the stride toward greater diversity continued with more historic firsts for women of color in politics. 

The historic firsts continue for women of color 

In Boston, Michelle Wu became the first woman and the first Asian American elected as the city’s mayor. Prior to Wu, Boston had only elected white, male leaders. Her win is a progressive step forward for diversity and representation in politics. 

women of color in politics,

Michelle Wu becomes first woman and Asian American mayor of Boston. (Image via Instagram)

In the city of Durham, N.C., another woman was elected as mayor in a historic first. In her victory speech, Elain O’Neal told supporters, “Together you have given me the honor and trust of being your next mayor — the first Black woman mayor of Durham. This is a dream that I never had, but it’s now my reality.”

New York City also saw Shahana Hanif become the first Muslim woman elected to City Council. 

“We deserve a city that protects its most vulnerable, a city that has equitable education, a city invested in climate solutions that are local and driven by communities, a city where our immigrant neighbors feel at home and heard and safe. This work requires all of us to keep showing up even though the election is over,” she said in a statement Tuesday. 

You might be interested: Alma and Colin Powell’s lasting American promise to the nation’s youth 

Finally, Republican Winsome Sears became the first woman elected to the office of lieutenant governor in Virginia. 

“It’s a historic night — yes, it is — but I didn’t run to make history. I just wanted to leave it better than I found it,” Sears said in a speech Wednesday morning. “I’m telling you that what you are looking at is the American Dream.”

Colin Powell

Alma and Colin Powell’s lasting American promise to the nation’s youth 

Colin Powell was a trailblazer and role model for Americans. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Powell spent 35 years in the Army and rose to the rank of four-star general before serving as the country’s first Black national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state. 

Powell passed away on Monday after complications of Covid-19, his family said in a statement on Facebook. Powell had been vaccinated, however he was being treated for myeloma, a blood cancer that impairs the body’s ability to fight infection; this compromised his immune system and the effectiveness of the vaccine, The Associated Press reported. 

“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” the family said. 

Honoring America’s Promise to the nation’s youth through life of service

Born in Harlem to Jamaican immigrant parents, Powell grew up in the South Bronx. His childhood was marked by financial struggle and hardship. In his 1995 autobiography, My American Journey, Powell wrote, “Mine is the story of a black kid of no early promise from an immigrant family of limited means who was raised in the South Bronx.” From these humble beginnings, he rose through the ranks, becoming a prominent public figure in America and breaking barriers. 

Speaking on how Powell’s early years influenced his actions in life, President Biden said, “He believed in the promise of America because he lived it. And he devoted much of his life to making that promise a reality for so many others.”

Alma Powell, author, advocate, speaker and Chair Emeritus, America’s Promise Alliance. (Photo Source)

After retiring from the military in 1993, Powell began dedicating more time to fulfilling that promise. In 1997, Powell became the Founding Chairman of “America’s Promise – The Alliance for Youth”, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children in America. Together with his wife, Alma, they worked to advocate for and improve the lives of children and youth by ensuring that Five Promises are fulfilled in their lives. 

Alma Powell later wrote the children’s book, “America’s Promise” as a way to teach and exemplify America’s Five Promises to children.

In the playful picture book, Alma Powell introduces young readers to the basic principles of America’s Promise — caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, marketable skills, and opportunities to serve.

“Our mission is to mobilize people from every sector of American life to build the character and competence of our nation’s youth by fulfilling five promises for young people,” Alma wrote

The Five Promises ask Americans to step up and create a world where the nation’s children can thrive and achieve adult success: 

  1. Caring Adults in Every Child’s Life – Develop relationships with parents, tutors, mentors, coaches, and other adults with an interest in the child’s well-being.
  2. A Safe Place After School – Create locations with structured activities during non-school hours.
  3. A Healthy Start -Provide good nutrition, protective immunizations, and sound dental care and hygiene.
  4. Marketable Skills – Offer effective education and practical experiences for career development.
  5. Opportunities to Give Back – Encourage community service – so that the cycle continues.

Throughout his life, Colin Powell exemplified these values as a youth advocate, public servant, parent, and leader. His accomplishments and historic firsts as a person of color also made him an inspiration and role model to many young Black Americans. 

Colin Powell

Colin Powell was a trailblazer and role model for Americans, inspiring many through his work, Kamala Harris shares. 

“Every step of the way, when he filled those roles, he was by everything that he did and the way he did it, inspiring so many people,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking on his influence. “Young servicemembers and others not only within the military, but in our nation and around the globe, took notice of what his accomplishments meant as a reflection of who we are as a nation.”

You might be interested: Teaching leadership: Helping children become leaders and develop strong communication skills

By the time Powell retired from the military, he was known as one of the most popular public figures in America, “owing to his straightforwardness, his leadership qualities and his ability to speak in blunt tones that Americans appreciated.” (The New York Times) 

“He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam,” said George W. Bush in a statement Monday. “Many presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience. He was such a favorite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom — twice. He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend.”

Colin Powell lived a life of service and achieved great accomplishments through his merits. He leaves behind a legacy as trailblazer and role model who broke racial barriers in our nation. As an inspiration to many, his work will continue on, with his lasting American promise to make the world a better place for our youth.

diversity in politics

Ready to Run® Conference and Eleccion Latina pushes for more diversity in politics

Diversity in politics is an important issue especially now in such a polarized political climate. Our elected officials should represent the people and reflect the diversity within the population, which means we need more women and people of color in elected or appointed positions. Spurring this movement for more diversity in politics is the Ready to Run® Conference. The conference will be held on March 15th and 16th at the Douglass Student Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

diversity in politics

Ready to Run and Eleccion Latina – Click on this image or Register Now

Ready to Run® is a bipartisan program designed to increase gender diversity in politics by encouraging women to run for elective office, position themselves for appointive office, work on a campaign, or get involved in public life in other ways.  The program features experts on topics ranging from digital strategies for campaigns, working with the media, navigating the political parties, fundraising, and much more.

diversity in politics

New Jersey Hon. Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver

Keynote speaker will be Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver. She has been serving as Lieutenant Governor since January 2018 and is the first woman of color to serve in a statewide elected office in New Jersey’s history.

The conference will feature two “tracks” with different lectures and events for each. The first track, “I’m Ready to Run, Now What?” is for women planning to run for office immediately. Track 2, “I’m Not Ready to Run Yet, But…” is geared toward women who want to learn more about ways to get involved in politics or place themselves for public leadership.

Events in both tracks will explore practical “how-tos” for candidates, real world advice and best practices from the experts, strategies for positioning yourself for public leadership, the ins and outs of New Jersey politics, and campaigning in a digital age.  

CAWP and LUPE working together

Additionally, The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) and LUPE Fund, Inc. (Latinas United for Political Empowerment), together with a steering committee of leaders in the Latino/a community, sponsor Elección Latina, a pre-conference session of the New Jersey Ready to Run® Campaign Training for Women.

Elección Latina works to increase diversity in politics by empowering Latinas to run for political office and increase their numbers in elected and appointed positions at all levels. The Elección Latina program will be held on Friday, March 15, 2019 at the Douglass Student Center, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

diversity in politics

Victoria Tahhan, Bergen County

This year’s session, Powerful Leaders, Powerful Voices, features a roundtable discussion about the importance of diversity in politics, specifically having more Latinas engaged in politics and public life, including as elected or appointed officials, lobbyists, and party leaders.

Latinas from across the state will gather for this inspiring and informative event as they gain the tools and resources to support them further in their political endeavors. LatinasInBusiness.us had the chance to speak to three passionate women who will be attending the conference: Victoria Tahhan, Felisha Reyes-Morton, and Ileana Montes. We spoke to them briefly about their expectations for the conference, their future campaigns, and political aspirations.

Victoria Tahhan has been involved in numerous campaigns as a volunteer or staff member for over a decade, and now has her own public relations firm that provides political consulting for candidates and elected officials. She also facilitates private sectors clients who are hoping to establish public-private partnerships or programs that benefit historically underrepresented members of our society.

Felisha Reyes-Morton is a Camden city committeewoman and a board member of LUPE Latinas United for Political Empowerment to increase Latinas participation in the political process in the State of New Jersey. Appointed in 2012 by Mayor Dana L. Redd, Ms. Reyes-Morton brings a new perspective to the Advisory Board in the form of community organization and parent involvement

Ileana Montes has served as the Director of the New Jersey Division on Women, fighting for women’s rights, for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and testifying at legislative hearings. She has also served as Director for the Equal Employment Opportunity Office at the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and was responsible for the enforcement of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act and the Law Against Discrimination for over 3000 employees. A litigator in the private sector for more than 15 years, Ileana has represented thousands of clients in family, civil, criminal, immigration and bankruptcy matters and has been a voice for her clients, fighting diligently for their needs and rights.

LIB: What is your political affiliation -if you have one?
diversity in politics

Felisha Reyes-Morton, Camden County

Felisha Reyes-Morton: Democrat. 

Victoria Tahhan: I am a registered Democrat however I feel that at times the political party process inhibits the true democratic process. Too often candidates are selected in a back room by political bosses and party insiders without the input of historically underrepresented members of our society.

Ileana Montes: I’m a Democrat and I am seeking the nomination for an Assembly seat on the 21st Legislative District.*

LIB:  Is this your first time participating at this program with the Center for American Women and Politics? If not, did you participate before -how many times or years?

Felisha Reyes-Morton: Yes, this is my first time participating. The purpose of my participation is to gain a theological understanding and knowledge of the foundations of campaigning and best practices in order to have an effective, efficient and proactive campaign that is results driven.

Victoria Tahhan: Yes, this is my first time and I am very excited about participating in the growing movement increasing diversity in politics, specifically the inclusion of diverse women taking part in the political process. 

LIB: What is the purpose of your participation? Are you interested in running? Have you run before and would seek support from the group? 

Felisha Reyes-Morton: Born and raised in Camden, I have always had a tremendous love for my community. It was while attending Fairleigh Dickinson University for criminal justice and Spanish, that I first became fully aware of the impoverishment of my hometown. This motivated me to become involved in local politics to help improve my community. I am interested in running in the near future and I would look to seek support from this group.

Victoria Tahhan: I am extremely interested in networking with politically and socially motivated women. I look forward to the exchange of ideas and enjoy supporting this growing movement.  It is through diverse women supporting other diverse women that we will finally achieve true equality.

diversity in politics

Ileana Montes, Union County

LIB: If you are running, what office are you seeking? Why are you running?

Felisha Reyes-Morton: My interest is in Council Office and my goal is to enhance the product and quality of my community involvement by incorporating and driving policies that are self-sustaining and a resource to better the quality of lives for residents in my town.

Victoria Tahhan: My interest in running is based in a strong belief that one should not criticize if you are not willing to make the sacrifice and commitment to hold public office.  I am frustrated by the failure of our political system to provide true equal rights for women and minorities. One of the most important positions to run for are school boards since they directly affect the lives of children and can provide the family support needed to help the youngest members of our society excel.

Ileana Montes: As I said, I am seeking the nomination for an Assembly seat on the 21st Legislative District.* As an Assemblywoman, I will work hard to bring more businesses to our communities so that we can strengthen our economy, create more jobs, prevent increases of property taxes. I will incentivize the municipalities within our district to implement meaningful shared services, advocate for an improved transportation system for our commuters and continue to advocate for women’s rights.

You might be interested: Three Latinas in New York defeat Democratic encumbered candidates

Registration for the conference is still available for any women interested in a future in politics. It is sure to be an informative and inspiring event that will undoubtedly lead to more diversity in politics and positive change within our communities.

*At the time of posting this feature, Ileana Montes was not nominated for the Assembly seat. (Editor’s Note)