I was born on March 8th, International Women’s Day. It is fitting that I would come into the world on a day that we honor the social, economic and political achievements of women, issues that would ultimately shape both my family legacy and life’s work.
The story of my career as an advocate for women begins, not with me, but with my great grandmother, Carrie Lee Dickens, who was born in 1895 and died just shy of her 100thbirthday. She lived through a century of struggle which included the Women’s Suffrage Movement, Jim Crow, and Brown v. Board Education. She drank from “Coloreds Only” water fountains, could not access career opportunities, and was denied the right to vote and representation in political leadership, not only because she was Black, but also because she was a woman.
Yet, Carrie was a dreamer whose hopes for me, her only great-granddaughter, were bigger than her existing reality. She was a visionary who imagined an America where barriers to success and glass ceilings do not exist, one where my potential would never be limited due to my race or gender.
My great-grandmother never called herself a feminist. And she certainly didn’t know what International Women’s Day was. But she lived a life which fully centered the well-being of Black women and girls. It was her experiences that taught the four generations of women who came after her that we have an important role to play in shaping the direction of this country. After seeing the hard-fought victories that allowed Black women to finally access to the ballot box, my family began to see voting not only as a right, but a responsibility. It was the seed they planted to nourish and ultimately grow a new reality for themselves and their loved ones, one that included improved schools, economic prosperity and safe, healthy communities.
Each year on my birthday, my parents would give me a gift, usually a nice piece of jewelry. Sadly, over the years, I have frequently misplaced and lost many of those trinkets. But on my 18th birthday, my mother’s gift was to take me on a drive to City Hall where she had me register to vote. So strong was her belief in the power of voting that she called me every Election Day until she died to remind me to cast my ballot. The legacy of civic engagement passed down to me from the women in my family, is the most precious birthday present I have ever received.
Decades later, my work has been built upon this foundation. It is what drives my commitment to provide leadership and lend my voice to empowering women, particularly Black women, to be fully represented in American political life, from voting to running for elected office. Like my mother and her grandmother Carrie, before her, I also dream of a world where Black women and girls aren’t defined by our gender identity or the color of our skin. I wish for us to be bold, unapologetically stand in our power and have opportunities to lead during this critical moment in our nation’s history.
My story is part of the fabric that is woven into America’s past, present and future. Black women are the keepers of our ancestors’ dreams to be counted in and play a role in our society. We were built for this moment—both for the fight and subsequent victory ahead. I am fueled by the sacrifices of those women who built the movements that gave me the right to vote and the right to reproductive choice. On this International Women’s Day, when so much is at stake for all of us, I am inspired to dream big and continue their legacy and pay it forward to all of our unborn daughters and granddaughters.
Glynda C. Carr is President and CEO of Higher Heights, the only national organization providing Black women with a political home exclusively dedicated to harnessing their power to expand Black women’s elected representation and voting participation, and advance progressive policies.