100 Black Women Leaders ‘Take Their Seat’ in the Senate

Ayanna Pressley organized the gathering at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, referred to on social media as #BlackWomenLead100, meant to be a 'visual shot heard around the world.'

On Tuesday night, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley led 100 black women leaders to visualize a future with more equitable representation. The idea began as “a vision, a dream that came to me”—and is now a reality that people around the world can see, Pressley says.

The group of 100 black women leaders answered Pressley’s call to “Take Your Seat” in the Edward M. Kennedy Institute’s replica of the United States Senate to commemorate what Pressley calls a “visual shot heard around the world.” To organize this, Pressley worked with Higher Heights, an organization that describes itself as “seek[ing] to harness black women’s political power and leadership potential.”

Shaynah Barnes, the first African American woman to serve on the Brockton City Council, was one of the leaders who planned to join Pressley for the historic gathering. “When Councilor Pressley contacted me and told me of her idea, immediately I saw the significance,” she says. “We’re standing alongside every other man that has ever held office.”

Barnes hopes the gathering will reach young black girls with the message that “You can do this. Don’t let me tell you that you can’t for whatever reason—for being of color or for being a woman… We’re here and we’re not going anywhere. We’re the first hundred. Let’s see who’s next.”

Pressley points out that black women’s historical lack of representation in the US government, particularly the Senate, make this event not only an empowering image, but a revolutionary one in which participants “stand in [their] power collectively as black women leading.” Black women currently make up 7.4 percent of the US population but only 3.4 percent of Congress and 0 percent of the Senate. In fact, only one black woman has ever served as a US Senator: Democrat Carol Moseley-Braun represented Illinois from 1992 through 1999.

However, the picture is not so bleak. About 70 percent of eligible black women voted in the last presidential election. That number is significantly higher than the overall voter turnout rate estimated at 57.5 percent of all eligible voters—a fact that Pressley takes hope in. “We are formidably contributing the vote,” she says.

Pressley herself has created many reasons for others to hope. Perhaps most notably, after her 2009 election, she created the Committee on Healthy Women, Families, and Communities, which has consistently advocated for women in need. Among her committee’s achievements: the establishment of Boston Public School’s first sexual education policy, and pushes for schools and universities to provide services that support victims of sexual assault.

Tuesday’s event, referred to on social media with #BlackWomenLead100 as a showing of solidarity that imagines diversity and equality in this nation’s future, is yet another achievement to celebrate.