Although women make up an estimated 51 percent of the U.S. population, they occupy less than 25 percent of elected offices at all levels of government in the United States.
However, a handful of Black women who are running for city and state offices are defying convention.
Some of the most impactful policy decisions —like criminal justice, housing and education— tend to be made among city and state legislators, mayors and governors. Here are five black women to watch bidding for these positions this year.
Stacey Abrams- Candidate for Governor, Georgia
Georgia has never had a black governor. America has never seen a black female governor. Stacey Abrams is vying to make be the first. This lawyer and state legislator has a brilliant background: Spelman, followed by Yale Law School, a competitive Truman scholarship, and becoming a deputy city attorney all before the age of 30. But her fearlessness and depth of knowledge in political strategy, is what has garnered Abrams national attention. Over a decade into serving as an elected official, Abrams has lobbied hard for public education despite the trend towards embracing charter schools, worked consistently to register and mobilize black voters, and advocates for criminal justice reform.
LaToya Cantrell- Candidate for Mayor, New Orleans
Shooting for another first among black women, LaToya Cantrell is campaigning to become New Orleans’ first woman mayor. Xavier University brought Cantrell to Louisiana. Her activism helped her stay there. After Hurricane Katrina hit the city, Cantrell worked to organize her community and rebuild the Broadmoor section of New Orleans— where a land use consultant once proposed to convert the neighborhood to green space and thus displace its residents. The Councilwoman, who was first elected in 2012, champions affordable housing and policing reforms, including improving re-entry programs for ex-convicts and community policing.
Inez Barron- Candidate for New York City Council
With a slightly untraditional political background, Barron set her sights on New York City politics after being an educator and principal for three decades. Her espousal of Black radical politics, among the few candidates in the country to do so, has not hindered her political success. Her first campaign in 2008 was successful, winning her a seat in the New York State Assembly. A winning bid for New York City Council followed. During her tenure, Barron has helped secure thousands of affordable housing units for her district’s largely black residents, curbing gentrification in the process. Winning the Democratic primary with 84% of the vote in a heavily Democratic district, the road to her re-election will likely be an easy one, as no Republican challenger is expected to face the incumbent this November.
Jennifer Carroll Foy- Candidate for Virginia House of Delegates
Jennifer Carroll Foy has an uphill task—convert a Republican district in Virginia to a Democratic one in a state legislature also controlled by Republicans. She’s hoping that Republican centrists with Trump fatigue may just get her over the edge. The public defender, relatively young among other political peers at 35, won the Democratic primary against another African-American political hopeful. Her opponent, Josh King, was just 125 votes shy of beating the Republican incumbent in a prior race for the legislative seat, but Foy managed to secure the victory this summer. She plans to focus on “transportation, education, criminal justice reform, and protecting women’s rights.”
Yvette Simpson-Candidate for Mayor, Cincinnati
Yvette Simpson hopes to join a small group of black women who have served as mayor of a major American city. Having grown up in low-income housing in Lincoln Heights and being the first in her family to graduate from college, Simpson is accustomed to beating the odds. The employment and labor lawyer, who is also a member of the Cincinnati City Council, managed to pull an upset win over incumbent John Cranley in the city’s nonpartisan primary in May. If she is successful, she hopes to tackle the city’s economic inequalities. Other items on her agenda include improving the city’s transit system, strengthening small business, and developing a workforce that can meet modern demands in technology and advanced manufacturing.
This article was originally published in essence.com on September 29. 2017.