The Black Student Movement hosted its Black Women Lead event on Monday night in the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History to celebrate the way Black women are leading and changing politics in North Carolina.
State Sen. Erica Smith, D-District 3, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, gave the keynote speech, which was followed by a panel discussion with other Black female politicians from the state.
“This is just such a significant event for us to have here at UNC, to recognize and celebrate the accomplishment and the work of Black women all across our state, to really lead and change the face of politics in North Carolina,” said Chris Suggs, the president of BSM.
Smith opened the event with a discussion of her platform and the historical underrepresentation of Black women in politics. Smith said that if she is elected on March 3, she will be the third woman in North Carolina history and the third Black woman in the nation’s history to serve in the Senate.
“If you want somebody who can stand on two feet and deliver for you, well then the best man to do that is a woman, and that’s me,” Smith said.
After Smith’s introduction, she was joined onstage by three other panelists who continued to discuss the importance of having Black women in politics.
Natalie Murdock, the Durham County soil and water conservation district supervisor and candidate for the N.C. Senate, said Black women need a seat at the table. She said they can lead from the perspective of life they have actually lived and bring issues to the table that otherwise might not receive the attention they deserve.
“It took getting Lauren Underwood in Congress and Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Alma Adams to lead the forefront on issues like HBCUs and saying, ‘Why don’t we have a committee dealing with the fact that Black women are dying from childbirth at higher rates?’” Murdock said. “And if you don’t have that representation, you won’t have individuals that even bring those issues to the forefront.”
Smith echoed Murdock’s sentiments that Black women are consistently underrepresented and that they can use their experiences to bring new perspectives to discussions.
“When you have lived certain experiences, it makes you a more passionate advocate to make sure that you confront systemic biases on all fronts,” Smith said.
The panel also discussed how they are able to compromise in their roles as politicians without sacrificing their values and how they combat polarization in their work and communities.
Murdock said women are natural consensus builders and do such a good job of reaching compromises because they have not been raised to call all of the shots.
“Particularly when you’re a woman of color, because what else are you going to do? If you don’t compromise you may not even make it in that room,” Murdock said.
North Carolina Rep. Yvonne Holley, a candidate for North Carolina’s lieutenant governor, said that in order to reach compromises in her work, she avoids vilifying people who have different views than her own.
“I might disagree with their ideology, but I don’t think that they’re bad or evil people because they think that way,” Holley said. ‘I just think that they just don’t know, and my job is to educate them and bring them around to my line of thinking.”
Smith said building coalitions with people of all colors over the last 30 years has allowed her to be successful and to get things done.
“You be the type of legislator, you be the type of servant who is not just interested in serving the 50 percent plus one, which seems to be what our president wants to do,” Smith said. “I go out and build coalitions and build opportunities with people who don’t look like me.”
Kristal Suggs, councilwoman for the city of Kinston, said she avoids polarization by having discussions with people and making sure they feel heard. She said the best way to achieve that is by having forums to ensure that people have the opportunity to articulate and express their feelings.
“You can’t just serve the people who are going to show up and vote for you,” Murdock said. “You have to care and talk about everyone. Everyone deserves to be represented.”
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