by Lesa Lakin (@lesalakin)
Black women wanting to enact positive change is nothing new. But “Grabbing Back” is a particularly inspiring project given the recent uptick in African-American women’s political ambitions. Black women are showing up — exemplified when the nation witnessed the astounding turnout and overwhelming support of 98 percent of black female voters for Democrat Doug Jones, turning Alabama’s senate seat blue for the first time in twenty five years. Inspired by this historic move, filmmakers Pamela French, Shareen Anderson and Wendy Missan have turned their lens toward the powerful movement of African American women across the nation wanting to make a difference and a run for office.
This documentary is timely given the recently reported record number of black women running for office in Alabama and Stacey Abrams‘ historic Georgia Democratic Primary win for governor.
According to the Washington Post, nineteen black women hold seats in Congress, including one in the Senate. An additional two black women are non-voting delegates in the House. Three black women hold statewide offices, including lieutenant governors in Kentucky and New Jersey. And in 2017, voters in New Orleans and Charlotte made history by electing black women as mayor. A film chronicling the journey of African American women seeking office is certain to inspire.
“Grabbing Back” shadows Tanzie Youngblood, Tamara Harris and Rev. Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding, three determined first-time congressional candidates from New Jersey and Colorado. Youngblood, a retired schoolteacher and widow, was motivated, like many women running today, by the present-day political climate and Hillary Clinton’s defeat. “With what’s going on now, I have to get involved,” Youngblood said. “People say things need to be done. I’m actually doing something.” Since she got off the sidelines and announced her congressional bid for New Jersey’s 2nd District, Youngblood has gained some serious recognition both from her constituents and the media; Tanzie was one of the “Avengers” on the Time Magazine’s January 2018 cover story. And in a recent Newsweek article, Youngblood explains one of her biggest challenges is getting her own party’s support, “I’ve been very loyal to this party, but I don’t feel the loyalty back. They don’t see the value in a candidate like me,” Youngblood said.
Like Youngblood, Tamara Harris who is running in New Jersey’s 11th district, says she “became severely concerned for our democracy. What I realized was that if I didn’t step up…the foundations that underpin the advocacy that I care about so much would be under attack and greatly at risk.” Harris brings a tremendous wealth of attributes to her candidacy as a children’s and family advocate and former businesswoman with international finance experience.
Rev. Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding sees her run for office as yet another call to service. As an educator, a person of faith, and an active member of the community, Spaulding hopes to genuinely represent and serve her constituency to bring inclusion, innovation, and a voice to each person in Colorado’s Congressional District 5. The electrifying International Women’s March drew huge numbers of people and convinced her CO5 deserves a new, fresh representative who will be responsive to the unique needs and concerns of the people.
In addition to the three main candidates, “Grabbing Back” will season the film series with three other formidable women also seeking a seat at the table: Navy Veteran Pam Keith from Florida’s 18th District; Councilor Ayanna Pressley (who was first elected to the Boston City Council in 2009 and is the first woman of color ever elected to the Council) and Shion Fenty, a Republican from Virginia’s 4th District. The filmmakers feel that the story wouldn’t be fairly told without crossing the aisle to include a Republican candidate. Shion believes, “The 4th District deserves a representative in Washington who will fight to empower our communities and our families to chart their own path in achieving the lives they’ve envisioned for their families. That is why I am running for Congress.”
You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas. – Shirley Chisholm
It is fitting and not lost on the filmmakers that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Shirley Chisholm’s election to the House in 1968 as an “Unbought and Unbossed” reformer from Brooklyn. She was the first black woman elected to the United States Congress and she represented New York’s 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1968 to 1983. In 1972, she announced her groundbreaking campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. As the first black woman to run for president for a major political party, Chisholm was making history. While her bid for the top job at the White House was short-lived, the symbolism of her run is as powerful today as it was then. She was a pioneer for her generation, a woman of many firsts: the first African American Congresswoman, the first African American to run for President, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
This is a meaningful and inspiring project. We are looking forward to seeing it.