“No one will vote for you.”
“It’s not your time/turn.”
“We won’t support you.”
“You are just the wrong kind of Black.”
These are just some of the statements made and reasons given to me as I publicly made my entry into the race for Perris City Council in 2014, with my race and gender being cited as the sole reasons for not being able to garner endorsements and support. As hurtful as these words may have been, I still boldly stepped out of my comfort zone, pushed against my naysayers, ran, won, and secured the most votes in the election.
When I decided to run for public office, I wasn’t asking for permission to do so, but I was making a bold and brazen statement to my candidacy. Unfortunately, Black women in politics are met with opposition and are frequently treated as if we must first seek the blessing and approval of the political kingmakers in order to run for office. No ma’am! No sir! Self-approval is the only one required to start this journey.
No, I had never held political office before.
No, I didn’t grow up with aspirations to be in politics.
No, I didn’t even major in political science.
No, my parents or family members were politicians or political figures.
At the time of my decision to run for public office, I was (and still am) a wife and a mother of three, that cares enough about the current happenings and future of the city in which I reside. It was my love for people and their wellbeing that catapulted me to do something other than take to social media to complain. Most importantly, I had passion and a plan. In my eyes, that was the perfect recipe for the makings of a great political candidate and leader.
Although I was hit with every opposition known to man and woman to keep me from running successfully, I did so anyhow. I ran unapologetically as a woman and Black, never asking for permission. It was guts and tenacity that led me to victory and to be sworn into office by my daughter Brianna on December 9, 2014.
Unfortunately, the challenges didn’t just stop the moment I took my oath of office, but continued on as I carried out my duties as a councilmember, often times being the only black person and woman to step into the room to take my seat at the table. As intimidating as if could have been, I didn’t shy away from the ongoing opportunities that were a walking, talking, breathing, testimony as to why Black women are worthy to take their seats at the table in which they have fully assembled.
It has been black women that have been at the intersection of not just Black politics, but all politics. We have given birth to the success of many movements and organizations that you see today. It was this very fact that encouraged me to enter every room with a determined and confident swag, not feeling the need to drag a folding chair with me everywhere I went; preparing myself to deal with the fact that I may not have a seat rightfully assigned to me at the table. I didn’t allow the lack of a seat assignment to shake me, because I felt comfortable enough just planting my derriere right on the table if need be.
My own life lessons and the lessons of the many great Black women leaders before me like Shirley Chisholm, Ida B Wells, Fannie Lou Hammer, and Barbara Jordan taught me to not focus on whether I am liked enough to obtain an invitation, but be driven by the mission to ensure that acceptance is not the criteria for entrance to the party. Black women have been politically wealthy as it has been us that have had the instrumental voting power in many of the elections over decades.
My beloved sisters, do understand that there is great opposition to you taking your rightful seat at the political table. It is disheartening, but it doesn’t have to hinder you. I urge you to not seek permission, just get up and run for office anyhow. Bold and brazen leaders of our history never seemed to fit in with the status quo, so fitting in should not be your priority as you take on this journey. It was Shirley Chisholm that was discouraged to run for president of the United States. Like myself she was a “too”: Too Radical, Too Black, Too Anti-Establishment. Her eloquent response to her naysayers was, “If you ain’t got me, then get the hell out of my way.” At least that is my interpretation.
Unfortunately, Black women continue to be underrepresented in all levels of public offices across the nation. This country may not tell you that you are needed, but I am personally expressing the fact that you are needed and am asking you to run for public office and seek appointments on every level.
Being a political leader in the City of Perris and former Chair of Run Women Run – Inland Empire, a women’s political group that aims to recruit, train and support women to run for public office; I regularly have had the opportunity to participate on political panels, host political meetings and trainings, and financially sponsor women in an effort to increase the number of progressive women running and winning. Unfortunately, when approached to run, many of the Black women asked express that they are not frequently endorsed or supported financially, and often times are strongly discouraged when they express their desires to run for public office. This is an ill-fated tale that I too can personally relate.
This is an unapologetic call to action. You may be asking what exactly should I be doing to help the cause?
Run! Run! Run for public office, seek boards and appointments on every level, and not in just those located in predominately Black communities.
Be willing to be a student, research, and learn about the position in which you are interested in.
Start the process early. I see far too many candidates not successfully obtain a seat due to procrastination.
Be unapologetically Black and woman.
Be willing to ask for help.
Don’t worry if they underestimate you. Use it to your advantage.
Recruit, train, vet, and support political candidates that support the agendas of the black community.
Stop giving your money to political parties and organizations that don’t provide us with what we feel is sufficient support to Black women, our candidates, and our causes. Donate your dollars directly to Black women candidates or organizations that support Black women in politics (i.e. Collective Pac, Higher Heights, Black Women In Politics, etc.).
Organize communities and canvas.
Tonya Burke is a sought-after expert, speaker, coach, strategist, and author of On The Edge of Greatness: A Real Conversation on How Black Women Can Take Over By Powerfully Running For Office; Co-Author of God Doesn’t Want You To Be Broke; host of the highly anticipated podcast Hey Colored Girls You Tha S.H.I.T. (Sisterhood of Highly Innovative Trailblazers); An award-winning politician and community leader that has been advocating as early as elementary school. Most commonly known as The Political Badass ™, as she Educates, Empowers, and Engages women to run for political office; seek leadership positions in the public and private sectors; and help the leaders of leaders use their inner super hero powers, gifts and purpose; making their mark in the world; all while still loving the life that they live, enjoying their families, and keeping their sanity in the process. Tonya is the Founder and CEO of Hidden Gems Enterprise (www.tonyaburke.org), a boutique leadership coaching, political consulting and strategy firm. She has been featured in The Atlantic, Black Voice News, Press Enterprise, Precinct Reporter, Noteworthy and Blavity. She has appeared as a panel expert with former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a commentator on Canadian Television (CTV), a special guest on Message to The Masses with Tesa, and Charter Local Edition. Tonya received her B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz; her M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. Tonya resides in Perris, California with her husband Jason and three children Devon(23), Brianna(22), and Jaylyn(17).