#CelebrateBlackHistory – Rep. Barbara Lee

What or what inspired you to get involved in politics?
In college, I was uninterested in politics. I was taking a political science class and there was a requirement to work on a Presidential campaign. However, I was conflicted in my heart and felt that I could not work for any of the then-leading Democratic contenders: Sens. Edmund Muskie (ME), George McGovern (SD) and Hubert Humphrey (NJ). I was on the verge of failing because of this requirement; then I had the honor of meeting Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) during her run for the Democratic Presidential Nomination. I was the president of the Mills College Black Student Union and I had invited her to speak.  After she spoke, I began working on her campaign, become chair of her Northern California presidential campaign and a delegate for her at the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami, FL.

Why are you a Democrat?
Because Democrats fight for policies that advance our shared values like equality, fairness and justice for all.  Democrats believe that EVERYONE deserves a chance to live the American dream.

What advice you would give to young women of color that want to run for public office?
Get involved in issues that you are passionate about and give back to the community. Help others. Volunteer and love public service. Take a stand for those who have no voice and be their advocate.

Find a mentor and run. At every level of government we need more women and women of color in office.

What does Black History Month mean to you?
Every year, we remember and honor the tremendous legacy and contributions that African Americans have made to our nation – from science and technology to education to business to politics and beyond. It is also a time to re-focus and re-committee to the remaining work of ensuring justice and opportunity for all.

Dr. King said during his “Two Americas” speech at Stanford University on April 14th, 1967: “There are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. And, in a sense, this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity…. tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair.”

While progress has been made, there are still two Americas. Voting rights are under attack; poverty, structural inequalities and discrimination remain and our criminal justice system too often fails African Americans.

With the celebration of Black History Month, we must remember the great legacy of African Americans  but also recommit to our shared responsibility ensuring the American dream is open to all.

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