If the most recent elections taught us anything, it is that the Black Ballot and the accompanying Black voices are so powerful that those sitting in the highest offices in the land will act against the best interests of their own constituents and the Constitution to silence them. It was Black women and men galvanizing America to go to the polls, fighting voter suppression, and highlighting issues to help mitigate the loss of some of the nation’s most trusted political voices. With the deaths of U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Lewis, and the first Black mayor of New York City, David N. Dinkins, people had started to wonder, Who are our champions of today?
In the past few years, the calls for social justice, reform and accountability have grown louder as folks have become more civically engaged. NBC News reported that the 2020 Presidential Election set records for voter turnout. And the people who voted are making their demands of elected officials clear: Overall reform is a necessity for keeping your seats. With the passing of some of our political pioneers, their legacy and blueprints are left behind and are being continued by the likes of Democratic Reps. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, to name a few.
Here are eight other Black politicians you should know, who are impacting change in America.
1. Cori Bush, U.S. Representative-elect, MO-01
In August 2014, Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, giving rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2020, Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist from St. Louis, became the first Black Congresswoman for the state of Missouri. It was not an easy road, but Bush and her constituents were ready for a change that only she could bring. She defeated William Lacy Clay, Jr., ending his 10-term congressional run. Bush spoke with NPR’s Michael Martin on what this unprecedented win means: “Our America — not Trump’s America, our America — will be led not by the small-mindedness of a powerful few, but the imagination of a mass movement that includes all of us. That is the America we are fighting for.”
2. Charisse Davis, Board Member, Cobb County Board of Education
It has been made painstakingly clear that the education of our children has sadly become one of America’s political playgrounds. For Charisse Davis, the sole Black woman on Georgia’s Cobb County School Board, the need to combat the bullies in their own backyards was a personal one. When preparing for her run in 2018, Davis was fortunate to have an understanding of the education system: In addition to being a mother of two young boys, she previously worked in education as a teacher, and she knew Cobb County, Georgia, the suburban oasis where the median property value is nearly $300,000. Now, two years later, she continues to combat systemic and outright racial disparities in the school system. According to the East Cobb News, Davis called out Cobb County Board of Education Member David Banks for his racist rhetoric during his bid for reelection. Bold, persistent, unwavering, Davis is protecting the future of America by protecting the education of its children, and hers. In a September 2020 Associated Press article, Davis spoke about the hatred and opposition she encounters simply for trying to ensure that all children are protected in the system, but, “That is the reality of being a Black mother in this country.”
3. Candace Hollingsworth, Mayor of Hyattsville, Maryland
In a city less than 7 miles away from Washington, D.C., Candace Hollingsworth governed as mayor for six years. As the first Black mayor of Hyattsville, Maryland, Hollingsworth’s policies focused on economic revitalization, youth programs, and racial inequities. Seeing what could happen when government concentrated on often-overlooked members of communities sparked Hollingsworth to co-found Our Black Party this past summer. The official Our Black Party website defines the organization as “an FEC-registered political committee recognized under section 527.” Drawing national attention in the fall thanks to Diddy’s endorsement, Hollingsworth’s program aims to support a Black agenda, specifically. As the year comes to a close, so will Hollingsworth’s term as mayor. In a Facebook post announcing her resignation to focus on Our Black Party she stated, “It is no longer enough for me to create an enclave when I am raising my beautiful Black children to believe that the world is their oyster. In June I helped found a new political organization, Our Black Party, to help pass policies at every level of government that will improve the quality of life for Black people in this country.”
4. Mondaire Jones, U.S. Representative-elect, NY-17
In November 2020, Mondaire Jones became one of the first openly gay Black members of Congress, a feat that political science professor Gabrielle Magni told the New York Times was challenging. “Black gay men faced, up until recently, a severe penalty because they were seen as less electable.” To think that sexual orientation would discredit a Rockland County-raised, Harvard Law graduate, who, according to his website, worked in the Department of Justice during the Obama administration, as the best possible choice to represent his New York district is laughable given that New York’s self-identified adult LGBT population is 5.1%, 2% more than the national average. As if the people weren’t enough of a backing, all 15 of his freshman class colleagues showed support for his leadership capabilities by electing him Freshman Leader. In a press release, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi shared, “Congressman-elect Mondaire Jones is a force for progress in New York and across America, whose brilliant legal mind, grassroots organizing experience, and spirit of advocacy and action have already enriched our House Democratic majority.”
5. Lucy McBath, U.S. Representative, GA-6
Lucy McBath first made headlines almost a decade ago when her son, Jordan Davis, lost his life at the hands of a man who fired into the vehicle Jordan and friends were sitting in because he didn’t like the volume at which they were playing the music. That tragedy mobilized McBath to leave her job as a flight attendant and to become the national spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety. According to McBath’s website, the desire to run for Congress came in 2017 after the Stoneman Douglass High tragedy in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 high school students dead. Since being sworn in to office in January 2019, McBath has focused on health care, small businesses, education, veterans, and gun violence, but her most coveted position is still mother. “The Congresswoman proudly represents Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, but the most important title she will ever hold is Jordan’s Mom,” her official website eloquently states, closing her About section.
6. Kenyan McDuffie, Washington, D.C., Councilmember, Ward 5
Kenyan McDuffie is living proof of the impact you can make on a local level. In addition to his elected position as council member, which he has held since 2012, McDuffie is also chair of the Council of the District of Columbia’s Committee on Business and Economic Development. Earlier in 2020, his legislation creating support for eligible businesses as they recover from economic hardships in D.C. was funded by Mayor Muriel Bowser. McDuffie’s other contributions for the year include being the author of the Reparations Task Force Establishment Act of 2020, the REACH Act, and declaring racism a public health crisis in the District of Columbia. If you are seeking a blueprint for a politician who demands reform and progression for his constituents without fear, McDuffie could be the prototype.
7. Reverend Raphael Warnock
If the name Rev. Raphael Warnock sounds familiar it might be because for the past 15 years he has led the iconic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Or perhaps, it is because he made headlines after being arrested for protesting the decision not to expand Medicaid. Most likely, it’s because he is one of the names mentioned in the Senate runoff elections in Georgia. While a horrible smear campaign was launched during the contest, and others called him too radical, it seems the people that the Morehouse College alum will be serving find him to be the perfect fit.
8. Trayon White, Washington, D.C., Councilmember, Ward 8
Trayon White was born, raised, and educated in Southeast D.C. In November, he was elected for his second term as a council member of Ward 8, an area of the nation’s capital that, according to 2018 United States Census reports, has a median property value about less than half of the rest of the city, a median income roughly 60% less than the total median for D.C., and is 89% Black. In a town filled with transplants and people moving in without regard for its rich culture and history, the native Washingtonian’s voice and outlook are welcome in Ward 8 and across D.C. as a whole. Giving back to his hometown has always been a focus for White. The D.C. Council’s website shares how White would travel back to D.C. weekly to coach football at the Boys & Girls Club while enrolled at HBCU University of Maryland Eastern Shore, his involvement with several youth organizations focused in Southeast, and his award for volunteerism from President Barack Obama. If his first term was about foundation setting, his next term will most likely be different. In an interview with DCist, he wrote, “In my first term, I have laid the groundwork and developed community-based assets for addressing problems all while bringing more resources to Ward 8 than any previous holder of this office…My approach has not been perfect, as nothing is, and I have learned a lot that will guide my efforts moving forward. However, my record of success is undeniable.”