The Challenges, Struggles, and Infinite Possibilities For Black Women In Politics

The rise of Black women in politics is intriguing and refreshing. These courageous women are committed to changing the landscape of future elections and shaping the narrative for future generations.

It takes stamina, grit, and unwavering dedication to pursue elected positions, but women of color are galvanizing as an invincible force, amplifying seldom-heard voices to offer diverse viewpoints, propel issues to the forefront of conversation, and shift voters’ perceptions, which are having a significant impact on recent local and national elections.


Taking a cue from political shero Shirley Chisholm, the first woman of color to run for president of the United States (now the subject of a Netflix film), and inspired by her unwavering perseverance, candidates are making a significant distance in their respective communities and even on national platforms.


In addition, a plethora of organizations now populate around the country, reimagining the dreams and desires of Black women in politics and the people they serve.

For example, Higher Heights for America PAC “is the only political action committee exclusively dedicated to electing more progressive Black women at the federal and statewide levels and as mayors in the 100 most populated U.S. cities,” states their website.

“With the support of our rapidly growing network of members, activists, volunteers, and supporters, Higher Heights PAC has helped Black women grow their political leadership and representation. Our members have helped: Secure the largest number of Black women ever simultaneously to serve in Congress, Send the first Black woman to the U.S. Senate in 20 years, Elect more Black women to serve as mayors for the country’s 100 most populated cities, and select the first Black woman to win a major party nomination for a governor’s office.”

And in California, Black Women Lead (BWL) has been making noise from coast to coast. According to the organization’s website, Black Women Lead is a non-profit organization formed in Los Angeles, California, after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Their mission statement reads, “Black women have led this country since the beginning, and we want to amplify more Black leadership in this moment. BWL will be at the forefront of a human rights movement and will continue to speak out against murders committed by police, campaign against violence, systemic racism, and advocate anti-racist policy, defunding the police, investing in communities and will call for the prosecution of killer cops. BWL is committed to meeting this moment with the urgency and outrage it requires…We are here to put in the work.”

In New York City, stilettos, flats, and pumps have shattered glass ceilings, receiving worldwide attention for unprecedented upward mobility.

NYC Mayor Eric Adams continues to discuss how he broke barriers when, on December 6, 2022, he announced the appointments of two women of color to key positions in his administration. At the time, Richard R. Buery Jr., CEO of Robin Hood, commented, “We applaud the Mayor’s decision to name Sheena Wright as his new first deputy mayor and Camille Joseph Varlack as his new chief of staff. As the city’s first Black female first deputy mayor and only the second Black female to serve as chief of staff in our city’s nearly 400-year history, their appointments are historic. They will inspire a generation of New Yorkers to serve.”

Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President of National Action Network, echoed his sentiments by stating, “Mayor Adams acutely understands the vital role Black women play in the effectiveness of his administration. It is a clear example of his consistent effort to elevate diverse voices to leadership roles. Black women have the proven ability to ‘”Get Stuff Done,'” he commented in a nod to the mantra of the Mayor’s administration.

Right On! Digital’s Cynthia Horner talks with NYC Speaker Adrienne E. Adams. Credit KENTHEPHOTOGRAPHER


However, although women are considerably involved in civic engagement and running for and successfully winning elections, cracking through the barriers is still a daunting task. Councilperson Adrienne E. Adams, the first African American to be elected as Speaker in the history of NYC, recently addressed a group of residents in Queens District 28 and weighed in on some of the challenges she faces despite her title. “Some believe that elected officials live in ivory towers. I ran (for office) because I had to be my own constituent. I’m still fighting barriers.”

Fighting barriers is not necessarily an insurmountable challenge. Still, it can be exhausting, says Pryde Smith-Gilbert,who served as Staten Island’s first African American President of the Richmond County Young Democrats. In an interview with Harlem Community News, she explains, “Navigating the political landscape as a young professional can be challenging, frustrating, and rewarding throughout the election seasons.

“The challenges that we face are how do we connect with our elected officials and how do they gain our trust? We are frustrated when we feel like our voices and concerns aren’t being acknowledged. We find it rewarding when we finally find platforms, groups, and resources that we connect with that allow us to be informed to make the best decisions for ourselves and our future before we cast our vote.

Pryde Smith-Gilbert (Courtesy photo)


“My perspective on the political environment in 2024 is based on current events and how well candidates will respond and formulate policies that will improve the quality of life of their constituents. That applies to local, state, and federal level. As younger voters, when we see that the political system isn’t serving us as it should, we put our hats in the race and run for office. Now more than ever, the political leadership is shifting, and young professionals are spearheading the change they want to see.”

The fight for representation in the political landscape is intensifying during this current election season, where on November 5, 2024, Americans will elect a new president, among other offices. According to Pew Research Center projections, Black Americans are projected to account for 14% of eligible voters in November, an increase from 2020, where the Black population represented 13.5%. The Center’s research shows that about half of Black eligible voters live in one of eight states: 2.4 million of these voters live in New York.


Clearly, Black women who comprise a mesmerizing myriad—mothers, grandmothers, caregivers, activists, and intergenerational professionals—are committed to the ongoing fight and will continue to fight for our future generations. They offer refreshing views, especially as they tackle such pertinent subjects as maternal rights, equal pay in the workforce, children’s safety, and health issues, lending a listening ear to their prospective voters.

As the city and the country face setbacks on an ongoing basis, some voters are less than enthused about the future. However, there are endless opportunities for women of color to continue to rise and make historical differences for their constituents.

In an interview with Harlem Community News, Kings County Civil Court Judge Lola Waterman weighs in on her thoughts about the challenges Black women in politics have had and her optimism for future gains. “Racism, sexism, and lack of access to donors are but a few of the roadblocks Black women face in politics. Despite these barriers to entry, many Black women are creatively challenging the status quo and breaking into the political hemisphere by leveraging people power with tenacity and grit. This should give us hope!”

This story was produced as part of the 2024 Elections Reporting Mentorship, organized by the Center for Community Media and funded by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.