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Initiative seeks to elect first Black woman or nonbinary person to lead state, city of Detroit

Black Womxn Win graphic with headshots of cohort members including their names and locations: Bernita Bradley (Detroit), Sherisse Butler (Detroit), Lashaya Darisaw (Mt. Morris), De'Janae Douglas (Detroit), Danielle Gordon (Detroit), Christina Hayes (Inkster), Natalaya A. Henderson (Detroit), Nicole Hill (Detroit), Caprice Jackson (Southfield), Antoinette James (Pinkney)
Courtesy
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Mothering Justice, Detroit Action, Michigan United
30 inaugural cohort members will begin to work on campaigns for the 2022 election cycle and beyond.

Michigan has never seen a Black woman or nonbinary person serve as governor, U.S. senator or mayor of its largest city, Detroit.

A new initiative is trying to change that by providing training to the next generation of Black political candidates in the state.

A cohort of nearly 30 leaders has been selected to go through an intensive development program to kickstart their campaigns.

Danielle Atkinson is the Founder and National Executive Director of Mothering Justice, one of the organizations behind this new initiative called Black Womxn Win.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with her about the program.

Interview Highlights

On why the initiative was created

Year after year, organizations like Mothering Justice and Michigan United and Detroit Action get asked for their endorsement, get asked to think about candidates, who would be good to run for office. But we just never spent a lot of time in developing that, but know that our membership is more than qualified to run, and that we need to be visionary in our thinking about how we can elect the first Black womxn mayor of Detroit and Black womxn governor.

On the skills the cohort will learn

We're changing what the table looks like, and on the other hand, we are preparing these women to sit and lead those tables. And hard and soft skills entail how to raise money, how to build a coalition, how to get endorsements, and soft skills are really about positioning yourself and your experience in a way that you feel comfortable talking about it, and you recognize and internalize that your lived experience is experience.

On some of the cohort members she's excited about

Roquesha [O'Neal] is a childcare provider and advocate. She's actually a member of all of the organizations represented in this fellowship. Whenever we call on her, she's there, and she is thinking about how she can make a bigger difference. We have Christina Hayes who came to Mothering Justice as a volunteer on our paid leave campaign. She is a lupus survivor, and she fights for other individuals with lupus and all of the things that surround having a chronic illness. And you know, it's just name after name of people like that who have tirelessly given to their community, volunteering, advising elected officials, and we know that it's their turn.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

Michigan has never seen a Black woman or nonbinary person serve as governor, senator or mayor of its largest city, Detroit.

A new initiative is trying to change that by providing training to the next generation of Black political candidates in the state.

A cohort of nearly 30 leaders has been selected to go through an intensive development program to kickstart their campaigns.

Danielle Atkinson is the Founder and National Executive Director of Mothering Justice, one of the organizations behind this new initiative. Thanks for being here.

Danielle Atkinson: Thanks so much for having me.

Saliby: Can you talk to me about where the idea for this project came from?

Atkinson: Black Womxn Win was something that we have been, and when I say, "we," organizations have been thinking about for a while, you know, year after year, organizations like Mothering Justice and Michigan United and Detroit Action get asked for their endorsement, get asked to think about candidates, who would be good to run for office.

We need to be visionary in our thinking about how we can elect the first Black womxn mayor of Detroit and Black womxn governor.

But we just never spent a lot of time in developing that, but know that our membership is more than qualified to run, and that we need to be visionary in our thinking about how we can elect the first Black womxn mayor of Detroit and Black womxn governor.

Saliby: What are some of the barriers to entry that have prevented Black leaders, from not even just being elected, but running in Michigan?

Atkinson: If you think about the life of, you know, a mother of color, right? Because those are the people that Mothering Justice represents. You have the role of caregiver. You have the role of breadwinner. You are a community leader.

And all of those things need to be thought about when you're thinking about running for office. It's so daunting to think about what will happen to all of these things that I'm holding, if I take on this huge endeavor. And then there's no guarantee, right? You're running for office. You're putting all that time in, and you don't know if you're going to have a job at the end of that.

And then we have term limits here in Michigan as well, so when you put all of those things aside, you find somebody to pick up, you know, Jimmy from school, you figure it all out, and then you run, and you win. And then your term is over, and you have to think about all of those things again.

It's also something that womxn of color are constantly talking about and thinking about whether it's their own representation or the issues that they care about being represented in the legislature.

What am I going to do to make money? Who's going to help me with all of the things that I put aside? It's really hard, but it's also something that womxn of color are constantly talking about and thinking about whether it's their own representation or the issues that they care about being represented in the legislature. So, it's really important that we think about this and be intentional.

Saliby: The ambitious goal of this program is to elect a Black woman or nonbinary person into these roles by 2031. That's less than 10 years from now. How is this program going to help get the state to that point?

Atkinson: So, we really hope that Black Womxn Win will be able to equip our fellows with the hard and the soft skills that will get them elected. At the same time, we are putting out this message and helping people dream about a different future about representation.

We're changing what the table looks like, and on the other hand, we are preparing these women to sit and lead those tables.

So, on one hand, we're changing what the table looks like, and on the other hand, we are preparing these women to sit and lead those tables.

And hard and soft skills entail how to raise money, how to build a coalition, how to get endorsements, and soft skills are really about positioning yourself and your experience in a way that you feel comfortable talking about it, and you recognize and internalize that your lived experience is experience.

Saliby: Are there any other states that might have better representation and political leadership that you're trying to replicate here in Michigan?

Atkinson: So, Michigan is number 12 when it comes to women's representation. [Editor's note: This statistic comes from the Center for American Women and Politics. At the time of publishing, Michigan ranks 14th in the proportion of women in the state legislature compared to other states.]

And so, there are states that are doing it better than us, but we know that's not even the dream. We're looking to our imagination to be how we want the future to be.

It's amazing to me that we have to think that, you know, in your intro, you spoke about this being ambitious, isn't that crazy? That in 2022, it's ambitious to have the first Black womxn mayor of a major Black city, you know?

So, we are looking to our imagination, to our ambition to really create the future that we need.

Saliby: Briefly, in this short time we have left here, can you maybe tell me one or two of the folks selected for this cohort that you're excited about being a part of this program?

Atkinson: Yeah, so Roquesha [O'Neal] is a childcare provider and advocate. She's actually a member of all of the organizations represented in this fellowship. Whenever we call on her, she's there, and she is thinking about how she can make a bigger difference.

We have Christina Hayes who came to Mothering Justice as a volunteer on our paid leave campaign. She is a lupus survivor, and she fights for other individuals with lupus and all of the things that surround having a chronic illness.

It's just name after name of people like that who have tirelessly given to their community, volunteering, advising elected officials, and we know that it's their turn.

And you know, it's just name after name of people like that who have tirelessly given to their community, volunteering, advising elected officials, and we know that it's their turn.

Saliby: Danielle Atkinson is the director of the organization Mothering Justice, which has helped put together the program, Black Womxn Win. Thank you for being here.

Atkinson: Thank you so much for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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