Throughout February, the Democrats will present an ongoing blog series celebrating African American heroes, both past and present. Staffers at the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America have been asked to write about influential African Americans in our country’s history and leaders who continue making contributions today.
Shirley Chisholm was a political powerhouse whose legacy is recognized for combating racial and economic inequalities. She was also known for her fight on behalf of women’s rights. Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to Congress and the first to run for president of the United States. She stood at the forefront and gave African American women a voice in the political arena.
Her fight for the low-income community of Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York ignited her passion and fueled her career. Growing up, I read about Chisholm and her proactive approach to solving community problems—her story inspired me and my work for Obama for America in Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, and Atlanta, as well as my current tenure with Organizing For America here in D.C.
Shirley Chisholm was a superb example of an ordinary citizen being the change they seek.
During her tenure with the New York State Assembly, she wrote the S.E.E.K. (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) program, which provided college funding to disadvantage youth. Chisholm’s campaign slogan for New York’s 12th Congressional District race was “Fighting Shirley Chisholm—“Unbought and Unbossed.” Chisholm won that race and went on to secure federal grants for a number of Brooklyn-based businesses that helped disadvantaged communities. Chisholm was the first black woman and second woman ever to serve as a member of the U.S House of Representatives Rules Committee. Chisholm also was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in 1971 and the Congressional Women’s Caucus in 1977. Additionally, in 1972 Chisholm became the first African American to run for president of the United States.
Below is an excerpt of her speech that launched her presidential campaign:
"I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people."
Chisholm’s legacy taught me that there are no limits for me as an African American woman in this day and age. I can be the change I seek and leave a path for other generations of Americans to follow.