“Black women are not a monolith,” says Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights For America, an organization dedicated and committed to increasing black women’s political engagement.
After spending three years building and nurturing the organization beginning in 2011, Peeler-Allen and co-founder Glynda C. Carr launched Higher Heights in 2014. Programs include community salons in 40 cities across the country, a virtual Sunday Brunch and Sistas to Watch, a recognition roster of advocates and elected officials from the city to state and national levels offering words of advice and insight on leadership.Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights, aims to increase engagement w/ #BlackWomenLead Click To Tweet
Higher Heights is committed to “strengthening Black women’s civic participation in grassroots advocacy campaigns and the electoral process,” according to the site. This “will create the environment in which more Black women, and other candidates who are committed to advance policies that affect Black women, can be elected to public office.”
Following the 2016 election and the impact of #BlackWomenVote, Higher Heights has shifted into #BlackWomenLead, with more than 2 million social media impressions, Peeler-Allen says.
“There is so much ground to cover,” Peeler-Allen says. “We have a renewed sense of urgency in making our voices heard.”
The mission now is to encourage black women in leadership to engage, act and run for office. “In electoral politics, we don’t just look at the presidential lens,” she says, “we look at city halls.”Higher Heights' mission is to encourage Black women to engage, act & run for office #WomenLeaders Click To Tweet
Before launching Higher Heights, political campaigner and fundraiser Peeler-Allen was the Principal of Peeler-Allen Consulting, LLC from 2003 to 2014, the only African American full-time fundraising consulting firm in New York State.
“Top of mind for me and our work over the next 18 months is lighting that spark for as many women as possible to grow the movement. I want black women to see themselves as the barrier to what is coming from Washington, D.C. We see the rollbacks of the lives of black women over the last 50 years,” said Peeler-Allen, who was named to the Crain’s New York Business 40 Under 40 list as well as one of The Feminist Press’ 40 Under 40: The Future of Feminism.
Peeler-Allen says people often ask why there needs to be a separate multi-generational organization specifically for black women, while there are so many initiatives launching for all women to lead and run for office.
“Why do you need to have a specific group around ethnicity? In order to be an authentic voice about black women,” Peeler-allen says, and to answer another question, “What is our imprint on the larger universe?”
The mission of Higher Heights is backed with intense research on the issues most relevant to black women in leadership and identifying their position in the political sphere. “I am most proud of the research we have been able to spearhead,” Peeler-Allen says.
In the 2012 report, “The Black Women’s Response to The War On Women,” the authors wrote, “Black women represent a major political constituency, consumer base, and volunteer base. Yet, these women have largely been left out of debates about health and equal access, relative to the role they play in American society. The result is that the impact of the ‘War on Women’ is exponentially greater on Black women.”
The report continues, “Higher Heights for America is dedicated to organizing and mobilizing Black women; effectively moving them off the sidelines towards real political empowerment by arming them with the tools they need to engage, advocate, and lead their communities towards sustainable change.”
Those steps specifically include the goals to:
- Reconfigure the makeup of decision-making tables to include Black women from across the socio-economic spectrum.
- Elevate Black women’s voices to shape and advance progressive policies and politics.
- Foster creative collaboration across constituencies and issues ensuring that race/gender equity and inclusion are incorporated in progressive base building efforts, issue-based advocacy campaigns, and in voter engagement campaigns and electoral strategies.
In Higher Heights’ 2015 report, “Voices. Votes. Leadership. The Status of Black Women in American Politics,” findings show the paucity of Black women’s voices in political leadership in spite of having larger numbers in the population.
“Despite being 7.4 percent of the U.S. population, Black women are just 3.4 percent of Congress, less than 1 percent of statewide elected executive officials, 3.5 percent of state legislatures, and 1.9 percent of mayors in cities with populations over 30,000. Four Black women serve as mayor of one of the 100 largest cities in the United States,” the report states.
“We want to encourage more women to run for higher office and take larger roles,” Peeler-Allen says. “We want every woman to talk to her friends and colleagues about what civic engagement means and what elected leaders are doing. Pay attention to policies. Not everyone needs to run. But everyone needs to step up.”
Black women experience a “generational divide between women who are in the trenches” and those women who have been a part of historic movements, Peeler-Allen says. “The age range also presents opportunities,” she says.
According to Deborah Douglas writing in Ebony, “Nielsen’s recently released Young, Connected and Black report also offers perspective. The Black population is relatively young, with a median age of 33.4, compared with 40.4 for Whites and 36.5 for Asians. After Asian-Americans (94 percent), African-Americans are the second-largest multicultural group owning smartphones, 91 percent.”
Douglas writes, “’The use of social media for community-based activism brought national awareness to issues affecting the Black community, and African-Americans, especially Millennials, are leading the charge to bring about institutional change,’ says the Nielsen report.”
#BlackWomenLead is a galvanizing effort to change the demographics of representation on all levels by black women.#BlackWomenLead is changing the demographics of representation on all levels Click To Tweet
“Women lead every single day in every aspect of their lives, so we have to be able to challenge and support that in more formal outlets,” Peeler-Allen says. “You are leading in your community and don’t realize it. Give women the confidence to lead in a bigger way.”
She adds, ”When we are all stepping out in our true selves, we ignite that spark and it can make a difference. We need to lead around the lens of equality, pay equity, institutional equity and criminal justice. “
Lead the way.