Growing up as an African-American girl in Columbia, SC, my parents taught me to believe that if you work hard and believe in yourself, there is nothing you can’t do if you set your mind to it. I was taught that although some people may look at me and judge me by my race and/or gender, I should never accept those characteristics as a disqualifier for anything.
When I decided to run for the at-large seat on Columbia City Council in 2002 at age 29, I had many naysayers trying to discourage me. I was told that there was no way I would be successful in my election bid. Some people thought I would not be successful because I was too young. Others thought I would not be successful because I was an African American and no African American had ever been elected at-large. And others thought I lacked the legal experience necessary to be elected to this position.
Many people who were trying to discourage me from running were not trying to be mean or hateful, it was just that in their minds, they could not see it happening simply because it had never happened before. But I did not let the naysayers or negativity get me down or dissuade me. I used that as motivation to keep focused on my goals.
When I was elected to City Council on April 4, 2002, I became the first African American female to be elected to City Council, the first African American elected at-large and the youngest person (at that time) to be elected to City Council. When I decided to run, I didn’t run to make history. I was running to really make a difference in the community that I love and that raised me. However, it soon became apparent to me that this history-making election not only was achieving a goal I set for myself, but could be an example to all the young people coming behind me that no matter what, you can be anything you set your mind to and work hard for, even if it’s never been done before. That is all history is. It is being the first to do something, but being the first allows you to open the door for others.
It still humbles me to hear about a young girl that chose me as her history project or a school that has selected to profile me as one of their history recognitions. If there is one thing I want people to take away from my story is what my parents taught me: If you work hard and believe in yourself, there is nothing you can’t do and (2) you should never allow your position in life (race/gender/community) be a disqualifier for anything you wish to do.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we should all look at the stories of the history makers that inspire us and let their journey challenge us to dream bigger and never underestimate what we can accomplish.