Running for Office: Bootcamp Prepares Black Women
By Dianne Anderson
All those wanting to step out of their shell and into effective leadership are invited to check-in and learn from some of the top Black female leaders and experts in Orange County
An upcoming Amplify event offers a rare opportunity in virtual space to connect and network.
Dr. Shelley Henderson said the goal is to help women realize that they already have what they need to participate in city politics, boards or commissions, but they tend to undervalue their worth.
But, the main quality needed is commitment and a willingness to give back.
“That’s why we’re such a small percentage of congress and city councils. We either think we’re too fat, we’re not sure, we’re not qualified, we don’t have enough education or money. We’re too this or too that,” said Henderson, president and CEO of the National Women’s Leadership Council, Inc.
Once they get into leadership, it enables change. She said the conversations and opportunities expand.
“In this moment, where we have a Black female Vice President, this is a unique time,” she said.
Henderson said the data shows that out of 3.3 million in Orange County, there are nearly 60,000 African Americans, but less than 10 Black elected officials, male and female.
On Saturday, March 27, Amplify Black Women’s Political Leadership Boot Camp runs from from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m in honor of Women’s History Month. The event features a half-day virtual workshop taught by Black women for Black women.
Dr. Henderson, who has served as a former associate director in the Executive Office of the President of the United States, holds a Juris Doctor, specializing in constitutional law. She will speak to networking and building mutually beneficial relationships.
“It’s being billed as a boot camp, but you’re going to get a lot of information,” said Henderson,
For those not fully familiar with the political territory, or how a bill rolls through congress, she said it can be a little intimidating.
Her main goal with Amplify is to inspire more Black women to take the leap – or even small steps – toward getting started in what can be one of the best experiences of their life, and the lives of others.
First-timers can get their foot in the door by serving on commissions and boards, which are always looking for extra help. It also provides a foundational understanding of how city or county institutions function.
She said many may not know what a water board does, or utility oversight, but those commissions and boards need a Black voice at the table.
“They have millions of dollars that run through their budgets, but that the community can have a deeper impact on how services. You now have the ability to control and direct those resources,” she said.
The program is in partnership with the Orange County National Pan-Hellenic Council, under the leadership of Dr. Gabriella Jones, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Orange County, under the leadership of Mrs. Janice Chafin, and the Contemporary Policy Institute.
At the event, Tustin Mayor Letitia Clark will share her views on being a woman at the helm, and the experiences on many fronts, not to mention the absence of time off.
“Especially with being Mayor, you find moments of off time during the day, but there’s not going to be a day when you say, I’m not doing anything for the Council. There’s always something and,” she laughs, “I’m actually at peace with it.”
For those interested in leading, her top recommendation is to learn to get comfortable with uncomfortable situations.
“Walking into rooms where you don’t know anyone, or people that don’t share your values, but you still have to figure out alliances and build relationships,” she said. “It’s bringing up something when you know it’s not popular.”
Timelines are a way of life, but she said not everything happens overnight, which for some new leaders can be discouraging. Many start their run for office are fueled by passion, which is great in the beginning, but hard to sustain.
But changing or passing policy is a lot less like running a marathon, and more like everyday mundane work, constantly educating and forming alliances. She said the other major responsibility for leaders is they should choose their words, and speak up for the people they are called to serve.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve seen so many divisive things happen. It really is up to a leader to speak to the moment so that people feel like they’re paying attention. Right now, we’re seeing an uptick of violence against Asian Americans,” she said.
Mayor Clark feels strongly about teamwork, and her role in engaging her entire team to move policies forward. She said that systemic change takes working together, but puffing up pet projects never works out well.
“We are seen as policymakers, and that’s how I view it when you’re in office. We’re not just there to grandstand, and not get any kind of support,” she said. “What’s the point if you can’t get policy and legislation passed, because that’s our job.”
For a full breakout of participants, and to register for the free event, see www.nwlcinc.org