The Opportunity to Build The Community We Envision
Political leadership and the public policy those leaders set can be some of the greatest determinants of social, economic, and health outcomes for citizens. This is especially true for communities of color that have experienced intentional marginalization in this country through government and other government-supported actors.
Over time, the increased access to opportunities in the public sector for people of color in America has not yielded the overwhelming success one would expect, due in large part to elections and election outcomes. My role as Training Director for the inaugural Leaders of Color New Orleans cohort in 2019 presented me with an incredible opportunity to improve the representation and outcomes of elections impacting communities of color.
There is no shortage of people of color with a desire to change outcomes for their communities. Likewise, there is no shortage of people of color working to influence elections, the political process and government. However, experienced political operatives and politicians know that to truly effectuate political change begins with influencing and winning elections because there is a direct correlation between increased representation for communities of color and the policy outcomes those elected leaders advance. Black members of Congress represent 13% of all members — matching the overall black population in the country, but there are no black governors and only one black senator. There is also a large dearth of state legislative leaders from black and other minority communities. The persons who hold these political offices determine how states invest, who accesses healthcare and early childhood education, how the criminal legal system delivers justice, and so much more.
The inaugural New Orleans cohort was special because each member brought diverse thinking, varied experiences, and commitment to becoming change agents. The cohort brought together young professionals with similar passions to build new networks and alliances to advance change in our city. The Leaders of Color program supports cohort members interested in running for political office and working on political campaigns with a rare learning opportunity to immerse in all aspects of a strong campaign without the pressure of learning on the job in real time.
In addition to a deep dive on election law, campaign finance, messaging, data, field outreach and building a winning strategy, this opportunity exposed our young leaders to seasoned political operatives and elected officials from New Orleans, New York, and Washington, D.C. It was awesome to watch them soak up the wisdom and engage with my mentors and friends who are all leaders of color and have track records of winning elections. The learning experience was methodical and thorough, culturally-relevant, and interactive. Cohort members with absolutely no prior political experience flourished in the program because everyone was encouraged to bring their talents to the table and trust that this program would equip them with more tools to not do anyone else’s work, but to do their own purpose-driven work better.
My favorite moments were during the role-playing exercise for fundraising calls. Cohort members practiced calling potential donors for support. Let’s just say: it got real and there were lots of laughs! In addition to stepping in the fire to understand just how difficult some of this is to execute, cohort members began to coach each other throughout the process. This was the clearest sign that the Leaders of Color program was working.
Since the inaugural cohort ended, our fellows have run for political office, worked on campaigns, improved community and civic leadership efforts, and are gearing up for even greater works. Education Reform Now’s foresight to invest in this type of work not only extends its leverage and impact, but it should serve as a model for other socially-entrepreneurial organizations looking to make transformational change in our communities. There is a biblical parable that says, if you give a man a fish, you will feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish you can feed him for a lifetime. The Leaders of Color program is teaching young leaders how to fish to increase their agency and capacity one cohort at a time.
I was proud to team up with Leaders of Color to deliver this great program because it afforded me an opportunity to extend my own community impact by growing and advancing others committed to building the type of healthy, vibrant, wealthy, and culturally-rich communities I want to see for people of color.