Taking My Seat #BlackWomenLead

Why women of color need to stand up and take our seat

The Senate Chamber at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate

In 1996 if you had told me that one day I would sit in the United States Senate chamber, I would have told you that you must’ve gone crazy. In 1996 I was a 20 year old mother of one, sitting in a shelter trying to figure out how I was gonna get a roof over our heads and food in my baby’s stomach. But yesterday I took my seat at #BlackWomenLead100, an initiative lead by Higher Heights and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley. In Ayanna’s words, the event was coordinated as a living, breathing, ‘visual shot to be heard around the world.’

One hundred of us gathered in the Edward M. Kennedy Institute’s true-to-life replica of the Capitol chambers. We took over a powerful space we’ve historically been underrepresented in. Only one black woman has ever served in the United States Senate. In 1992 Illinois elected Carol Moseley Braun, an African-American Democrat, and she served one term.

One. Six years. In all of the history of the United States of America.

Tuesday there were 100 of us. The experience was life changing.

When we talk about the importance of #BlackLivesMatter it’s not just about violence and oppression, it’s about value, it’s about opportunity, it’s about representation. Moments like Tuesday are what we are talking about.

Imagine being a black woman in America and understanding that in all of the time this country has existed only one person who looks like us, has faced the same kind of challenges as us, understands the same kind of country as us, has ever served in that sacred chamber of democracy. In a 240-year experiment we have only one example to lean on in hopes of seeing that reality for ourselves, or our sisters, or our daughters.

That is our America. That was our mother’s America and our grandmother’s America, and every woman who has ever known what it is like to be black in America has experienced.

So to sit in that room and imagine what a world would look like where such an incredible and beautiful diversity of voices and stories, yet all cut from the same cloth of our national heritage, took their seat in that chamber.

Why is that such a crazy idea?

It’s not crazy to think about 100 white men sitting in that room.

As for the House of Representatives Black women have a meager sliver of congressional history, only 40 in total have served.

Black women are as significant in the American story as anyone. Black women have always participated in community leadership and run more than just households. Black women have been the cornerstones of churches, schools, companies, cultural and political movements. We have helped elect presidents. Yet despite our political power, we continue to be underrepresented at elected decision-making tables and within the corridors of leadership at all levels.

Photo Credit: Glenn Marshall, NECN

As I sat in the Senate chamber along side other black women who I view as my sheros and helped me to realize I am more than my past, I could not help but feel how now, more than ever, it is important for us to see what this reality could look like.

The point is not that a perfect world means a different kind of absolute representation. While 100 black women in the U.S. Senate would be nice to see, it is not a reality of any near future, nor is it a perfect solution to all problems (well, maybe it could). But the action was meant to demonstrate the need for some semblance of consistent participation, a motivation in knowing that such paths do exist, that women of color can be elected.

That we need to stand up in order to take our seat.

This is my 3rd time running for office and let me tell you there is nothing easy about it. The time and energy, the money that has to be raised, the resources and intangibles, all of it takes its toll. When you run for office your family is running, your past is running, your reputation is running, you are a public servant. But all of our offices of leadership, from the Senate chamber to our local municipal buildings, are not going to diversify themselves. We must do the work. We must engage. We must take the risk and work to unite our communities to ensure our voices are heard and continue to be heard.

20 years ago this should have never been my reality, with the hand I was dealt the odds say I should not be here. I should not be a practicing attorney. I should not be a homeowner. I should not be sending my children to college. But I am. And so while the odds may say that we may never see 100 women serving in the U.S. Senate (even in total, never mind concurrently), why not imagine what it might look like and even start to take action to see us move the needle in that direction.

So for me it starts with running for office, in a race where I am the only black woman running, and knowing how much that means to my community, my daughters, my sisters and nieces. How much it means to all those who came before me. How much it means after a week in which I have never embraced my son so tightly and known that only we can change the course of the nation that, God willing, he will get to grow up in. So I am doing what I can to move the needle just a small way towards a new kind of reality.

I am standing up to take my seat.

Photo Credit: Adrianne Mathiowetz

Stephanie was born and raised in Mattapan, where she currently resides. Her home is filled with the love of her husband and children (those of the eight who still live there). She is a practicing attorney dealing with criminal and real estate law. Stephanie has firsthand, personal experience with the impact properly managed government programs can have at opening doors and changing lives. She was a participant in the METCO program and graduated from Boston Public Schools. Stephanie holds a B.A. from Northeastern University and a law degree from Suffolk University.

Stephanie is running for the Massachusetts Suffolk County Register of Deeds in the Special Democratic Primary on Thursday, September 8th.

Follow her on Twitter (@SEverettBoston) and on Facebook (SEverettBoston).

For more information on Stephanie’s campaign visit: stephanieeverett.com