On November 6, 2018, history was made in Harris County Texas – 17 African American women were elected judge – the largest number ever. This story has been shared on hundreds of outlets throughout the US and overseas. The historic victory of these 17 African American women in Harris County being elected judge is truly unprecedented. Two lost their bids for the Court of Appeals, but retain their local judicial posts.
As a Houstonian, I was blessed to have had a front row seat from the primary to the general election. It was great to see the process evolve as I watched three friends work hard to win their posts. I was proud of them as the election results came in. Truly, a beautiful experience to see history made here and see it celebrated everywhere.
The Story Behind the Story
The “Black Girl Magic” campaign — designed, managed and funded by the Harris County Democratic Party — came to fruition after the primary election, once the women were all on the ballot. Lillie Schechter, Chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, created the Black Girl Magic Texas campaign to bring awareness to the candidates and to inspire individuals to get out the vote.
Many wondered what Schechter and the Harris County Democratic Party was doing by highlighting these female judicial candidates. Some considered it race baiting. Some considered it risky. Many wondered if the time, effort and money the party was spending would turn into votes on Election Day.
But what this writer saw as this campaign unfolded was a showcase of pride in the excellence that African American women have brought to the Democratic Party for decades. This time instead of being the voice in the background these women stepped up and put their names on the ballot. This time they would be the candidates and not the team pushing others to victory.
The viral photo of all 19 candidates created some major #BlackGirlMagic on social media once it was released. Using #Houston19, many celebrities and politicians celebrated the candidates and their ultimate election. The party hoped this campaign would be successful, but it reached further than anticipated. This photo has been featured in media outlets all over the world… proving that the magic was truly there and provided a new image for the judiciary.
“Most people see our photograph and think, ‘Hmm, that’s not what I was expecting,’ ” Judge Lori Chambers Gray, another “Black Girl Magic” candidate, in an article from The Washington Post. “You don’t think of African American women as making up the U.S. judiciary.”
This election has brought a new judiciary to Harris County that’s more diverse than ever before and more reflective of the communities in which they serve.
“I think that while Houston itself is one of the most diverse cities in the United States, our elected officials have not always reflected that,” said Schechter in a statement about the “Black Girl Magic” campaign. “Having a government that reflects the people, the population is something that is incredibly important.”
Women Leaders CAN Collaborate
The portrayals of women, especially African American women, are so far from the reality. Many who have no real experience with women of color consider us loud, opinionated and angry. While we are passionate, outspoken and committed, we are not what the narrative often portrays. This campaign is a key example of what TRULY happens when like-minded women come together.
“It was no coincidence. It was divine intervention,” said Judge Angela Graves-Harrington, 246th Family District Court in Harris County, Texas. “I just think it was time for reformation,” she continued. “We did not all come together and decide as 19 African American women to put our names on the ballot. Many of us had never met before, but it felt surreal to walk into a room and see all these women of color. I knew this is where the Lord meant for us to be at this time.”
These women came together to be a part of the Democratic Party’s push to increase voter participation. Let’s understand they did not have to participate, but they made a choice to be a part of the campaign where they would be one of and not the central player.
When Judge LaShawn A. Williams, then candidate, posted the group picture on Facebook, she shared so eloquently: "Never did I imagine that the day I decided to run to be judge, I'd become a part of a club of phenomenal black women, sisters-in-law, gifted, brilliant, strong - everything I hope to be!"
This campaign created more than just social media frenzy and got these women elected. This campaign painted a picture of African American sisterhood that’s not often seen in the media. I’m inspired and hopeful for the future.
What you can learn from these women leaders?
Stand up for what you believe in.
One of the most important things a leader should do is stand up for what they believe in. It’s imperative to not allow your voice to be silenced and to maintain your authority by speaking up. Know your values then make sure your words and actions align with them. Be authentically you. Be consistent.
Take a risk.
Never allow fear or doubt to stop you from stepping out on faith. These women took action and stepped up to serve despite the obstacles. Great opportunities come from taking a risk. You can’t make your dreams come true if you’re always playing it safe. Stop waiting for the perfect time by taking the first step toward making your dreams happen.
Put in the work consistently.
The path to success requires putting in work consistently. Nothing worth having will happen just by wishing or thinking about it. You must take the necessary action daily to build toward your goals. Take the time to clearly identify the right actions that will get you to your goals. Then you must commit to taking those actions consistently.
Collaborate with like-minded people.
No one gains success alone. Along the way you will need others to accomplish your goals. Connect with like-minded people who are aligned with your goals. When you collaborate, you’re more productive and effective. When you work as a team and utilize each person’s strengths, everyone will benefit and be more successful. Get connected with your team and get there even faster.
I encourage you to take a look at your life personally and professionally to identify opportunities for you to step out into living fully who you were created to be. Without a doubt, these 19 African American women, not only made history, but are an excellent example of commitment, determination and sisterhood at its finest.
Political Advertising paid for by the Harris County Democratic Party, Lillie Schechter, Chair, 4619 Lyons Avenue, Houston, TX 77020 – Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.