Honorable Black Women Leaders of Our History and Our Future
Editor’s note: CHN Intern Sara Chepkoit is a senior at Mount St. Mary’s University, majoring in political science. This blog post was written in celebration of Black History Month.
During this past Black History Month, we reflected upon the notable Black men, women, and organizations who have paved the way for the future of Black leaders but may not have received the same exposure or recognition. We reflected upon individuals whose skills, talents, purpose, and/or studies pushed them above and beyond barriers due to their race. These Black leaders were the stepping stones that allowed generations to follow the opportunity to fill these spaces, giving them hope to know that it not only was possible but still is.
Looking into our past, Shirley Chisholm was born in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York. She was elected to Congress, serving New York’s 12th Congressional District. She worked to improve the quality of life for women and minority populations. She carried this focus into her later career, when she became the first Black woman to seek the Democratic nomination for President. We recognize this as a massive stride forward for not only women in politics, but Black women; she once said being both Black and a woman made her race more difficult. She faced countless incidents of racial and gender discrimination, but nothing ever stopped her from fulfilling her overall purpose. Her wish was to ensure that the future of Black women in politics would be a smoother road because of her. She went on to create more space for women to seek public office, co-founding the National Women`s Political Caucus and the National Political Congress of Black Women. Shirley Chisholm was an inspiration for Black women in leadership positions.
Since the accomplishments of Shirley Chisholm, we’ve seen the continued emergence of Black women in politics. Cori Bush was elected in 2020 as Missouri’s first Black woman ever elected to Congress; Marilyn Strickland is the first Black woman elected in a Washington State congressional district. In all, there are 27 Black women in the House, including two delegates (from D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Recently, Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Shirley Chisholm’s legacy continues to be recognized and continues to pave the way for more Black women to succeed in the public arena – both right now and in the generations to come.
Looking toward our future, Black women have broadened the scope of how far our leadership expands. In DC, we commend the work, efforts, and achievements of Beth Yirga, mother, educator, organizer, and co-founder of The Palm Collective. The Palm Collective is a non-profit organization working in the Mid-Atlantic area that centers its goals and missions around community building, mutual aid, cross-movement, and Black liberation. I participated in a group that met with Beth Yirga; we learned about the dawn of The Palm Collective, the importance of cross movement work, and what ignites her drive and will to keep going. And she exposed us to the unseen realities of working on the frontlines and battling the mental and emotional strains that follow, and the necessary measures to wage these battles and maintain your well-being.
A student-teacher relationship between co-founders Kevin Cramer Jr. and Beth Yirga is the foundation for which The Palm Collective exists today — arising after the events of George, Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. As Beth described the racial reckoning that was occurring with countless individuals out on the frontlines, there was an abundance of funds being raised globally because people felt financial help was the best if not only way to provide support. In a call for public support, not knowing what could come from it, $10,000 was raised, and after collective thought they determined how it would be spent. It was an accidental fundraiser of $10,000 that provided financial assistance to 60 organizations — the start of a national impact.
Yirga explains that funding is always needed and is, in many cases, the only factor that limits these organizations. Cramer’s and Yirga’s abilities to allow these organizations access to resources and money opened doors, and more importantly, helped build trust. From this beginning, Cramer and Yirga knew they had an organization, a plan, and a following — but they did not have a name. Beth explains Cramer was rubbing his hands together desperately trying to come up with a name — not just any name, but the right name. One day, he looked at his hand and thought palm, the palm. After resonating with the idea and its meaning, The Palm Collective came to be. Power is at the very palm of our hand; power is within the people.
The Palm Collective has four core values that are the basis for its organization and what it stands for: revolutionary love, collective liberation, building global Black liberation, and cultivating radical alternatives. Now The Palm Collective continues focusing on cross-movement, which in its entirety understands that organizations have their own goals and missions, but beyond that considers how can we all collaborate and come together– accepting each organization as its own but understanding that there is something that connects and unites us all, for a grander plan. Kramer and Yirga serve as the bridges among these organizations, and with more people comes more power. Being out on the frontlines is a courageous act, however; the emotional and mental strain it creates is dangerous if the appropriate measures are not taken to maintain an individual’s well-being. Yirga mentions that alignment and accountability are the most important qualities in keeping yourself grounded when putting yourself in these situations because it also gives you the strength to keep going even when you feel like you physically, emotionally, or mentally cannot.
There are many ways to get involved with The Palm Collective if you haven`t already, such as following The Why Series on Instagram @thepalmcollectivedc. This series captures why they do what they do, reminds listeners of the driving factors of cross-movement work, and amplifies their motivations. Thanks to leaders such as Beth Yirga, Kevin Cramer, and The Palm Collective they are impacting our community, our country, and our future generations.
As we entered upon Women’s History Month this March, we continue to pay tribute to the honorable women of our history like Shirley Chisholm and our future like Beth Yirga. And to our future, we continue to give young women hope and guidance toward leading impactful lives, so their journeys forward will be a bit smoother tomorrow than they are today – and a bit less arduous than in generations past.