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by Monique Miles, Director, Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund and Deputy Director, Aspen Forum for Community Solutions

Why is it important to build a functional and equitable democracy that includes everyone, especially women of color?

Because, facts. Yes, let’s herald the fact that there are women of color representing us in office, but women of color constitute just 7.3 percent of the total 7,383 state legislators in this country. Yet, as women of color in the United States, African-American women alone comprise 13.7 percent of the population, Latina women 17.4 percent, and Asian women 5.8 percent. These three groups are the largest women of color demographic in America, with Native American/Alaska Native people comprising 2 percent of the total population.

At the Forum for Community Solutions, we work to promote collaborative, community-based efforts that build the power and influence of those with the least access to opportunity. I live this mission every day, which is why I was thrilled to be asked, to be the closing speaker at the Our Ground, Our Voices: Policy Priorities for Young Women of Color event sponsored by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and organized by our partners at CLASP. CLASP has dedicated itself to lifting up the voices of young women of color and published the report, Our Ground Our Voices: Systems of Power and Young Women of Color, that formed the basis for the event.

I was in awe of the panel of young women who shared their insights, struggles, progress and impact in a dialogue about policy priorities for young women of color.

The discussion included a call to legislators to prioritize women of color in policy considerations, to regard the many intersecting issues affecting women of color, and to hold space to cover all issues, women of color experience. Speakers implored policy makers to push for economic justice for all women, and to reform our healthcare system since health outcomes for women of color are far worse.

Thank you Rep. Pressley, for calling on us to take power, since the system wasn’t designed for women of color to lead and make decisions. I, too, believe that when women are at the table, we redesign it to be more inclusive, equitable, and thereby impactful.

As Rep. Pressley so artfully states, “The people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” This idea aligns with what my team at the Forum for Community Solutions does on centering youth leadership and youth-led change, and our community power building work.

There is still a great deal of work necessary to dismantle the systems of power in this country. As women of color we must continue to own our stories and share them with an intention toward building a more inclusive, just, and equitable society.

Photo Credit: CLASP