My first introduction to Shirley Chisholm was through my fourth grade Black History Month project in which I was instructed to create a poster board to present to the class. Being I had never heard her name before, my research on her presidential campaign was mind-blowing to me. An African American woman had run for president. While my presentation was a success, as I wore her campaign pen proudly in front of my class, a new shift had occurred in me that was much more insatiable than my want to get a good grade. Shirley Chisholm had broken barriers by using her voice to reimagine a different future. At the time, this encouraged me to run for fourth-grade class president, but as I got older, her message of “Unbought and Unbossed” stuck with me. She taught me the importance of using my voice to advocate for the voiceless to proactively change our circumstances.
As the first African American female in Congress, she fought for Head Start, an early education program, as well as many other initiatives to support women, African Americans, Hispanics, and the overall welfare population. Her fight for minority and welfare populations was deeply rooted in her experiences. She addressed specific issues facing inner-city residents because she used empathy to guide her political career and address “the people’s issues.” Furthermore, she transcended the traditional lines of partisan politics by listening to both sides and criticizing both parties, including her own. She understood that her identity as being both Black and a woman didn’t stop her from empathizing with the causes she could not relate to.
I’m inspired by her willingness to advocate for social justice for all and her championship of intersectionality within her work. Her commitment to her community has inspired me to advocate for the voices of African American students within my school. Through leading Melanin Matters, our Black Student Union, I was selected to assist in crafting my school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion statement that would be projected for future students to come. Being a part of conversations surrounding inclusion encouraged me to advocate for the lesser represented within our school population as well as I spearheaded initiatives within my school to interact more with the refugee community of Georgia. As I enter college to study international relations and cultural studies, I hope to use Chisholm’s philosophy of valuing the lives of all humans as I seek to tackle the world’s issues by using culture as a lens to understand them.
Although she did not win the presidential bid for her party, she recognized a problem and became a part of the solution. Through this, she was able to open so many doors for people like Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Vice President Kamala Harris, and me. As I enter university and eventually law school, I hope to continue striving to help underrepresented communities like Chisholm to make spaces for women like myself in the future.