We need Black women in office, now more than ever

OPINION: As we celebrate Black resilience and achievements this Juneteenth, we must carry the fight into November and vote for candidates who will stand up for equality and freedom for all.

(Adobe Stock Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Juneteenth is a moment to celebrate the freedom of Black people across America and a reminder that freedom must be earned again and again. It was a Black woman, Opal Lee, who organized to deliver Juneteenth as a federal holiday. You might not know her name, or her story, when at age 89, she walked across 14 states — 1,400 miles — from her home in Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C. to advocate for making Juneteenth a national holiday. Doing the work while going unrecognized is a familiar challenge for Black women in America.

Every election we hear how Black women are “the backbone of the Democratic Party,” its most loyal voting group that has turned out at the polls at higher rates than any other group for the past five presidential election cycles.

In 2020, Black women voters propelled President Joe Biden into the White House. In fact, 90% of Black women voted for the Democratic presidential nominee, securing his ultimate victory over Donald Trump, especially in key battleground states like Georgia and Pennsylvania.

But our voting power has not translated into our own electoral success, and we remain vastly underrepresented in elected office.

Even as Black women gained representation with Kamala Harris becoming the first Black woman vice president of the United States in 2020, in her elevation to higher office, America lost its only seated Black woman senator. There were still no Black women in the Senate when Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 2022. Since then, Laphonza Butler has been appointed to fill the seat of the late Dianne Feinstein in California, making her only the third Black woman to ever serve in the upper legislative chamber.


While a record number of Black women now serve in congressional, statewide, and legislative offices, they still make up less than 6% of those elected offices despite comprising 7.8% of the U.S. population. The disparities are most dramatic in states like Mississippi, where Black people make up the largest share of the population of any state at 38%, Black women hold only 10 out of 174 seats in the state legislature — still less than 6%.

It’s time to make Black women the face of the Democratic Party, not just its backbone. We deserve the tools and resources needed to not just win but to thrive.

And this year, Black women have the candidates on the ballot to make that reality. Everyone needs to do their part to step up and support them.

Just look at Angela Alsobrooks in Maryland and Lisa Blunt Rochester in Delaware, who are within striking distance of becoming the first two Black women to serve in the U.S. Senate at the same time.

Look at Lateefah Simon, who led a nine-way primary with 56% of the vote in her bid to succeed Congresswoman Barbara Lee in California’s 12th Congressional District (she will face another Democrat in November). And Janelle Bynum, who won her primary as a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee-backed candidate on her way to flipping Oregon’s Fifth Congressional District from red to blue.

Advancing Black women up the political ticket is at the core of Emerge’s work as we head into the heat of the 2024 elections. Our Seated Together program is a first-in-the-nation advanced candidate leadership program designed specifically for Black women who aspire to run for higher office.

And it’s working, at all levels of government. Cohort members have already seen successes in the advancement of Ohio state Rep. Emilia Sykes to Congress, now representing Ohio-13, Pennsylvania state Rep. Joanna McClinton to Pennsylvania speaker of the House, and Tennessee state Rep. London Lamar to the Tennessee Senate.

Research shows that when Black women run for office, they win at higher levels than their white and/or male counterparts. I believe this is because they don’t just understand the issues facing everyday Americans from all backgrounds, but they live those issues — from economic insecurity, access to health care and issues of equity and equality.

That’s why we don’t have to sacrifice progress for perfection when the right candidates are on the ballot. While the presidential race will attract the most attention, local mayoral, state legislature, gubernatorial and congressional races will have much more impact on Americans’ day-to-day lives — that is where Black women candidates are working to generate energy and attention.

That is why I am so optimistic about November. I have seen the enthusiasm and the impact of Black women leaders who have been lifted up by our organization and driven to become part of the American political system. This inspires me, and I hope it inspires more women of color to turn up to the polls or run for office themselves.

As we celebrate Black resilience and achievements this Juneteenth, we must carry the fight into November and vote for candidates who will stand up for equality and freedom for all people.

A’shanti F. Gholar is the President of Emerge, the nation’s only organization dedicated to recruiting, training and empowering Democratic women to run for office–and win.