From left to right: K Patrice Williams, President; Latressa Wilson Alford, Vice President; Danette Mitchell, Secretary; Peggy Cohen Thompson, Political Educator Director, the Honorable Dezie Woods-Jones, State Board President; and Cassandra Joebert, Regional BWOPA Director. Not pictured Shontell Beasley, Treasurer.
By Danette Mitchell
A week ago, more than 50 women of color from diverse backgrounds, varying ages, marital status, including same-sex relationships, community, and political involvement — all gathered from Solano and Napa counties with exuberant anticipation, passion and pride to celebrate the inaugural meeting of Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) Solano/Napa County chapter — joining seven other nonpartisan BWOPAs in Northern California.
K. Patrice Williams, a 2017 honoree of Congressman John Garamendi’s Women of the Year award and the newly-elected chapter president, said the event felt historical. It was “inspiring and moving to see women of color coming together to meet for one united purpose and committed to having a greater voice in both Solano and Napa counties and seeing the support of men.” Williams said one of the “brothers” indicated that he is a longtime supporter of BWOPA. A husband attended to support his wife.
Williams said that many African Americans are frustrated with low voter turnout and the low to none minority elected representation in many of the cities in Solano County. Some of the goals of the chapter are to increase voter registration and issue engagement in the African-American community and increase the number of black women appointed to boards, commissions, and political offices through education, endorsements, and campaign support.
Committees were formed to begin the work, including one made up of young people to expose them to the political process. Officers were sworn in by Hon. Dezie Woods-Jones, State Board president and one of the founders of BWOPA in 1968. In Jones’ welcome address, she said everything we do is political and that others are making decisions and creating public policy on black women’s behalf.
African Americans and especially black women must be engaged in the process, and sit at decision-making tables to speak for themselves and continue work that remains.
Jones mentioned education, health care, criminal justice and economic security. She pointed out that black women outvoted all other race and gender subgroups yet are the least represented.
She concluded her remarks by saying that African-American women must be unapologetically black and come to political tables with power, strength, purpose, vision, research, and knowledge. They must also educate other black women who have a willingness to make a difference and to make things happen in the local community.
The mission of BWOPA is to activate, motivate, promote, support and educate African-American women about the political process, encourage involvement and to affirm a commitment to, and solving of, those problems affecting the black community in Solano and Napa counties and challenges that are unique to black women.
In 2011, writer, political science professor, and former MSNBC talk show host Melissa Harris-Perry published a book, “Sister Citizen,” using the subtitle “For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn’t Enough.” She adapted her subtitle from Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, “For Colored Girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.” According to Perry, Shange’s work is a representation of the experience of the crooked room.
Perry said black women have attempted to stand upright in a room made crooked by the stereotypes about African-American women as a group, warped images of their humanity, and derogatory assumptions about their character and identity. Black women have always had to attempt to preserve their authentic selves and to secure recognition as citizens. When confronting both race and gender, African-American women must strategize an upright position.
Some black women managed to tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion, said Perry, that further exacerbated the distortions, resulting in self-inflicted wounds and justification. However, throughout black women’s political history, African-American women found a way to discern the distortion and shift the angle of the crooked room amid unspoken experiences of hurt, rejection, and their search for identity.
In an interview with Jones, after the BWOPA event, she said the political process is, therefore, not foreign to black women. African-American women have always been barred from achieving full equality as citizens. Yet many of the issues experienced impacts other communities and when black women are free, everyone else is free.
BWOPA does not exclude anyone, Jones said. She is excited about the new BWOPA chapter, and the appointment of talented and creative women to the board who have a passion for serving others and effecting change. Jones invites others to join in their endeavor to impact the Solano and Napa counties by attending the next meeting scheduled for Nov. 11.
Danette Mitchell is a social issues advocate, writer and a Vacaville resident. Email: [email protected]