When Hillary Clinton made history on Tuesday evening as the first woman ever nominated by a major political party to be a U.S. presidential candidate, she didn’t do it alone.
African-American women are playing key leadership roles as the convention continues to unfold in the City of Brotherly Love, known as the birthplace of American democracy.
Indeed, as delegates, super delegates, party officials and rainmakers, Black women are highly visible at this year’s Democratic National Convention, the formal nominating event for the Democratic candidates for President and Vice President. It’s also where the Democratic Party adopts the official platform as well as the rules and procedures governing party activities, including the nomination process for presidential candidates in the next election cycle.
The CEO for this year’s convention is Reverend Leah D. Daughtry, a Brooklyn native who helmed the 2008 convention when Barack Obama became the party nominee and went on to make history as the nation’s first Black president. Now, with Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman to get the party nod, Daughtry feels a sense of pride as the first person—and only black women—to run two conventions.
“The fact that we’re cracking the very highest hardest ceiling makes this convention very special,” she says. “It’s a bit overwhelming thinking about the history being made. It’s still sinking in and settling into my head.”
While the overarching goal for Democrats at this year’s convention (which is taking place at the Wells Fargo Center and other Philadelphia venues) is to help put their party nominee on a path to victory, Daughtry wants the gathering to be engaging, innovative and inclusive.
“I want Americans to know there’s room for everyone at the table,” she said. “We’re a better stronger nation when everyone feels they are included.” Asked about the role of Black women at the event she noted, “African American women can see themselves here. You look in the crowd at the convention hall and see us in the state delegations, on the floor. African American women are the strongest and most consistent voting block in the country and we deserve to be here...in the party, we’ve worked hard and climbed the ranks. That loyalty has been rewarded.”
Earlier this week, Donna Brazile, the veteran political operative from Louisiana, become Interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Brazile, 56, was tapped for the role following the resignation of former chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who stepped down after leaked emails suggested that top DNC officials favored Clinton over her key primary rival, Bernie Sanders.
She’s not the only sister serving in a leadership capacity.
Marcia Fudge, a former Ohio mayor who was elected to Congress in 2008, replaced Wasserman Schultz as chair of the convention. And Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, who currently serves as Secretary of the Democratic National Committee, said she was “honored” to gavel in—or kick-off--the opening of the convention.
“The convention started out well with the First Lady’s speech knocking it out the box,” said Catherine Pugh, a Maryland state Senator and convention delegate. Pugh recently won the Democratic mayoral primary in Baltimore and hopes to seal the deal during the general election in November. “And I’m pleased to see the level of inclusiveness with so many people of different backgrounds.”
Still, it’s not just a lovefest, Pugh said.
“It’s up to us at the local, state and national level to hold America’s feet to the fire. We all pay taxes so there’s things we must demand. We have less than our share of wealth, our schools need more resources, including technology in every classroom. Our society must be equal for all.”
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas has served 12 terms in Congress, and has authored or co-authored more than 150 bills that have been signed into law.
She came to the convention as a superdelegate.
Superdelegates are typically major elected officials, noteworthy party members such as the President, or high ranking party officials. While delegates have pledged to back a particular candidate and are bound by that, superdelegates can throw their support behind any candidate as they see fit, and even change their minds.
“I supported Hillary Clinton,” said Johnson, who at 80 years old is still going strong. She said beyond her convention role, she’s spending time at the convention nurturing the next generation of leadership. “I’m trying to encourage young women to run for office,” said Johnson, a longtime advocate of HBCUs. “I want to see budding leaders. We’re at an important place in American history. Don’t be afraid to step up and lead.”
WANT MORE FROM ESSENCE? Subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest in hair, beauty, style and celebrity news.