I am the first. So is Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But here’s the thing: none of us ran to be the first. We ran so we wouldn’t be the last. We ran so we could hold the door open for everyone else we were bringing. We ran to make room in the halls of Congress for all of us.
To elect Black women like me, Ayanna, or Ilhan to Congress is to accept our truths. To elect us—and especially to elect us as the first—is to see the world with all of the dangers that we do and trust us to lead, not in spite of it all, but because of it all.
When Black women create and take up the space that we own, some people won’t like it. Time and time again, we find that ourselves being seen also means being surveilled by those threatened by our power, censored, or harassed. Sometimes, it means every piece of your being is scrutinized, from your hair, to your curves, to your clothes, to your vocabulary and intelligence.
I won’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. I push through it because I remember that the force with which they try to tear us down is only a reaction to the power that lies within every inch of our beings.
That power is all around us.
It’s in Shirley Chisholm, who was the first to break through to Congress for all of us. It’s in Amelia Boynton, who bore a beating in Selma, so that one day we would have justice. It’s in the Black women organizers in St. Louis, like Kayla Reed who helped close a local jail that had unlivable conditions, and Ohun Ashe who uplifts Black women in her activism and publications. It’s in the Black women who ran for office to take back their cities all across the country.
We have to be honest, though. It’s heartbreaking to live in an era where we are still fighting tooth and nail to be first. It’s disappointing that in 2020, I am the first.
It means we’re still waking up every day to a world that many fervently want to believe is “post-racial,” but it simply is not.
It means I’m still moving through the world as a Black woman from the streets of St. Louis, where Michael Brown Jr. laid murdered for more than four hours, where the Dred Scott case was decided, where segregation still rules with a tight fist over our city. But, it also means I’m moving through the world as a Congresswoman-elect with the authority, tenacity, and integrity to change the very experiences that keep us locked out of our own power.
It means there are still losses we will never get back; still grief so heavy we feel it in every footstep.
It means there is love, too. Love, and joy, and resistance. Because for us to know this pain, and carry these burdens, and still make the decision to joyously accept this responsibility, is to love our people.
We’ve seen our government evolve over the decades, and we’ve even felt hope a few times. But far too often, that hope turns around to leave us struggling just as much as before. The fundamental truth remains the same: our country has never been led by a Congress that truly represents us. Growing up in Missouri, I’ve never had a representative even look like me, let alone share my lived experience.
Today, more than half of our members of Congress are millionaires. The median net worth of a representative is $511,000. There are far too many businesspeople, lawyers, and doctors, and not enough teachers, nurses, and union workers.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez worked as a bartender. Jamaal Bowman worked as a school principal. I worked as a nurse.
That is how we will build an America that works for all of us.
The fundamental truth remains the same: our country has never been led by a Congress that truly represents us. Growing up in Missouri, I’ve never had a representative even look like me, let alone share my lived experience.
Two, four, 10, 20 years from now, the People’s House will look different. That’s the beauty of being “the first”—we were only ever a starting point for a mass movement that includes all of us. Times are changing. THIS is OUR moment. We will reclaim our history, our present, and our future for ourselves. We will remember and honor those who came before us. And we will continue to break down walls and barriers so that we may be the last generation of firsts. In power, we stand tall. We stand proud. We stand courageous. We stand together.