Rep. Karen Bass. (300852)

After launching a campaign last year to push for another Black woman to replace Vice President Kamala Harris in the United States Senate, a coalition of California Black women leaders say they are not defeated. They are organizing.

Many of these elected officials and political leaders have made history in California and across the nation. Now, they have come together and are launching an effort to ensure that more Black women are voted into elected office in California.

On Feb. 15, the California Black Women’s Collective (CBWC) hosted a conversation with Black women leaders. Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable, moderated the virtual event.

“After we were disappointed that we were not able to keep the seat for the United States Congress, we wanted to make sure that we did not lose our momentum, so we brought together this collective of Black women across California to make sure that we stay visible and active and engaged,” said LaNiece Jones, executive director of Peralta Colleges Foundation and Black Women Organized for Political Action.

According to the event’s organizers, the goal of CBWC is to amplify the priorities of Black women and organize with the goal of securing adequate representation for Black women in government. They also work in solidarity with the #WinWithBlackWomen initiative, which advocates for Black women lawmakers nationally.

The congresswomen spoke about how they ended up serving in the state legislature and later Congress, with all of them mentioning that they were ushered in by other Black legislators who called them to serve.

Bass (D-37) said she entered the race for the California Assembly because other Black legislators were going to Congress and there weren’t going to be any African-American women serving in the state legislature had she not run and won.

“That was very motivating to me because of all of the issues that we had worked on in the community. When people leave, everything that you’ve worked on can be reversed. So that’s what led me to run for office,” said Bass.

When asked who had been critical to their success in their career, the congresswomen spoke about Black women community leaders and local government leaders who have worked with and inspired them, including Mary Henry, Opal Jones and Lillian Mobley in South Los Angeles.

“What I liked most about them was the courage that they had. If you could’ve seen them operate, you would’ve been instilled with the kind of strength that they helped to generate for me. I’ve been out of place, outspoken, confrontational, all of that, because of all these women, and I love it. I’m so pleased I knew them and they embraced me,” said Waters (D-43).

The legislators also spoke about the legacies they want to leave and what they want to accomplish for both their constituents and the women who will follow in their footsteps.

“I wanted to demonstrate to people from San Diego and for African-Americans across the state, that we can actually fight this battle and win,” said Secretary of State Shirley Weber. “That was something that was so important because so many of our communities settle for little or nothing in terms of representation. So, my goal was to basically demonstrate that we can get police reform, that we can get a reparations bill passed, that we can do things in California that others think that we couldn’t do.”

LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell emphasized that courage is required to succeed.

“I want people to be clear about my ‘why’ and understand that I was not afraid, because fear is the only thing that can stop us as Black women from being overwhelmingly successful. Don’t be afraid. If others are afraid of you that is their problem, not yours,” Mitchell said.

Assemblymember Autumn Burke spoke about her mother, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who also served in the state legislature. Burke said she now feels it’s her responsibility to bring Black women into the legislature as her mother did.

“Creating a bench is incredibly important to me now. It was one of my mom’s legacies. So many of her staff became speakers and supervisors and city council members. It’s something she’s really proud of. And as I look now, as I’m getting a little bit older, I’ve realized how important that really is. When I look around that room, knowing that I’m going to be the only one there—what a disservice that is to our communities,” said Burke.