Rev. Leah Daughtry is a nationally recognized organizer, political activist, and political strategist. She is a daughter of a long line of community organizers and activists. Daughtry inspires Black women to rise above through her organization Power Rising. The following is an edited excerpt of their conversation.
Weaver: Dr. Daughtry is a coauthor along with Donna Brazil, Yolanda Caraway, and Minyon Moore of the book For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics (NAACP Image Awardee). The book shares their friendship and how that friendship changed politics in America. You were the chair of the Democratic National Convention that nominated Barack Obama for president. Tell us a little bit about what that role was all about.
Daughtry: I describe it as a small city from the ground up and being very blessed to have served the CEO of the convention that nominated Barack Obama, but also the convention that nominated Hillary Clinton. That made me the only person in Democratic Party history to have held the position twice.
Weaver: You’ve had a long history of really supporting and advocating for women and particularly Black women in politics. President Biden was struggling for the nomination, and he got it on the back of Black women voters and the Black community. I know that you were often behind the scenes positioning, supporting, and helping to maneuver to ensure that Black women had a voice.
Daughtry: What we know is across every election, midterm elections, presidential elections, Black women are the most loyal and the most consistent voting bloc in the nation. We understand what the political infrastructure means to have people in office who impact our lives. We are the ones making a lot of decisions in our communities, our families, and our households. Voting is a way to make your opinion known. We don’t let an opportunity pass without letting folks know what we think, feel, we’re invested in, and how we want to see our state and our nation move forward.
Weaver: Why have you chosen this segment of activism to focus on the prowess of Black women?
Daughtry: It goes back to my faith tradition and what I believe about who God is and where God wants us to be. I believe that every single human being has God given breadth and God given potential. Sometimes opportunity is not always distributed equally. My work focuses on ensuring that. All of us can realize what God has given them the talents and treasures that live inside their lives. I don’t believe that God intends for us to live unequal lives.
Weaver: Several groups of Black women decided that they were going to dream big and be bold, asking, and demanding for what they felt. They had the privilege and earned the right to have a Black female or female of color as a Vice Presidential candidate. What was that all about?
Daughtry: Many of us have worked in the political arena for decades, and we have seen the political ascendancy of Black women as we have taken the stage in business, economics, education, and politics. We’ve reached a point now where we are the acknowledged leaders in our community. When the then Vice President Biden was making his decision about a running mate, we said it’s time to have a Black woman in office. Not simply because we are qualified, but also because we’ve earned it, we deserve it, and we work hard. It is time to acknowledge and reward our faithfulness and our commitment to the Democratic Party. We organized ourselves to make the case. We have enough relationships that eventually we had a meeting with then Vice President Biden to make our case directly to him about why a Black woman would be the appropriate candidate for him and how that person would be able to help him win the election in November. We had a great conversation with him, his campaign managers, and advisors. We know what history shows that he did in fact select Kamala Harris to be his running mate.
Weaver: I’m proud of her, but it is a lot of undercurrents around her. What do you think?
Daughtry: It is the legacy and the reality of racism and sexism in this country that we still don’t know how to talk about Black women. We still don’t know how to use a level playing field in evaluating skills, abilities, qualifications, and talents.
When you add the historic scrutiny plus racism and sexism, that makes people want to ask questions. We’re peeling layers back about her portfolio. What was Mike Pence’s portfolio? Can anybody say what Dick Cheney’s portfolio was? We don’t even know what those vice-presidents did, but we are looking at her like American society looks at all Black women – through double lenses that disadvantages us and automatically assumes that we are unqualified and unfit. It gives us more scrutiny than we give any anyone else.
Weaver: It seems like that whole notion of being qualified is always a moniker placed in front of African Americans and Black women ascending to these important roles.
Daughtry: When Vice-President Biden made the commitment on the campaign trail that he would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court we all cheered. We all want fairness, a voice, and to be represented. The thing that really bothers me is that we are having this conversation about qualifications as if the President of the United States would nominate someone unfit or unqualified. I think that’s because he’s talking about a Black woman, so people feel the need to say she must be qualified.
Well, of course, whoever is nominated must be qualified. We have so many Black women who have been serving on appellate courts on district courts that they’re many to choose from. We hear three names, but I can write you down 20 women who are qualified, who have already held judgeships, even though that’s not a requirement in the Constitution, the Constitution doesn’t even require that they be a lawyer. The President can nominate whoever that he wants to nominate. The list of qualified women is long. They’re qualified and they will bring their lived experience as Black women to the conversation that the justices have as they interpret the Constitution of the United States.
Weaver: How do you think women in general feel about playing in the power circle?
Daughtry: I’ve learned that many times we as Black women often discount our experience and credentials. When I’m coaching people or talking with people, I often say you are more qualified than anybody else in that room. So, walk in there like you own it. I would like to encourage folks to not just consider your experience behind a desk and an office. Your life experience is important and is experience that most people don’t have.
We’ve had to learn how to code switch. We’ve had to learn there’s one way to be in the hood, your salon, and one way to be in the office. We know how to speak those differently. That’s a skill that most people don’t have—the ability to navigate different communities and read a room. We’ve had to do that for our survival and to be able to go in and say that this is not a safe situation, let me get out or let me diffuse it. We know how to do that and those are skills. It’s part of your experiences that make you a valued part of any team.
Weaver: Tell us about “Power Rising” and why you chose to form that organization.
Daughtry: When Hillary Clinton lost, and Black women had voted 94% for her, she lost to someone that we felt was unqualified to serve. Congresswoman Waters invited me to come to speak to the Congressional Black Caucus. We talked about the election, and she asked, “What should we do now?” I said, “We need to gather ourselves.”
How do we leverage this power that we know we have? That is how we began planning Power Rising. We took the name from one of our sisters, Reverend Traci Blackmon. She said, we always talk about speaking truth to power. That’s how we started Power Rising.
It is an intergenerational gathering place for Black women. Our work is organized around five pillars—business and economic empowerment, culture and community education, innovation, health and wellness, and political empowerment. If you consider yourself a Black woman, you are welcome to come. It is a Black woman’s space that we don’t shut the door. It is for designed for and about Black women to learn skills. It’s a place where we love, support, and learn from each other. We inspire and empower each other to run for office, start the business, go back to school, learn a craft, and do whatever it is you want to do.
Go to www.powerrising.org for more information.