Shinica Thomas doesn’t have a daughter to dress in a green badge-covered Girl Scout vest. The 46-year-old, who serves as director of advocacy and educational partnerships for the NC Coastal Pines chapter, grew up in a family of Trinidadian immigrants surrounded by strong women but found herself raising two boys. That didn’t stop her from seeking out ways to lift up women in the community, from her work as the first vice president of the Democratic Women of Wake County to her dedication to the scouts.
“I have 26,000 girls across 41 counties, Thomas says proudly. “Those are my girls.”
Thomas recently won the Wake County Democratic nomination to be on the ballot this fall for the Wake County Board of Commissioners—replacing now-Chair Greg Ford—where she will likely coast to victory this fall (a Republican hasn’t served on the board since 2014). Meanwhile, former board chair Jessica Holmes, who was the youngest candidate ever elected to serve on the WCBC, hopes to make history again with her run for state commissioner of labor. If she wins, she’ll be the first woman of color elected to the Council of State along with State Representative Yvonne Holley, who is vying for lieutenant governor. And just last week, the Raleigh City Council appointed attorney Stormie Forte to replace disgraced District D councilor Saige Martin, who resigned last month amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
It’s a moment where these Black women are not just being chosen but rather seizing their opportunity to take a seat at the table.
“Its long-overdue, meaning that Black women have always been there,” Thomas says. “We’ve always been positioned. We’ve always been dedicated enough. We’ve always been capable. We’ve always had the desire, we’ve just never been selected that level and this mass a scale. We are more than capable so I think its time.”
Amid the backdrop of continued Black Lives Matter protests, the potential that these leaders could break glass ceilings, through election or appointment, is noteworthy. But none have been handed anything: Thomas and Forte went through an interview process and had to fight for their seats, bolstered of course by their long history of community service and involvement.
And as Holley notes, when it comes to running for office Black women face an uphill battle fundraising (she defeated State Senator Terry Van Duyn in the primary despite having raised $74,000 to Van Duyn’s $489,000 in the first quarter of the year.)
“I won because I was the best-qualified candidate and I happen to be a Black woman,” Holley says. “Money is not donated to us like it’s donated to the others. We have to work a lot harder, a whole lot harder to get funds to run our campaigns. We are have also been known for making something out of nothing and making it. And everything isn’t for sale and everything isn’t about money.”
When Holmes first ran for county office, she says she didn’t see herself represented in local government. Should she win, her face will be displayed in every elevator in the state, sending a powerful message to women and girls of color. It’s a pivotal moment, but more than that, an opportunity, Holmes says.
“We, as Black women, are recognizing not only the power of our vote but the power of our voices at the table and we are rising to the occasion. We are seizing opportunities that have long been denied to us for far too long,” Holmes said. “Denied to us because we didn’t believe we belonged at the table, and now we are pushing the envelope, and we are not just marching, we are not just being the backbone of the Democratic Party, but we are stepping up to say we have earned this, we deserve it, and we will take our seat at that table.”
Still, the Black community isn’t a monolith. Stormie Forte’s nomination spurred some criticism from folks who worried she will side with the current council’s pro-development agenda. But Forte wasn’t picked to pony up to Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin. She’s an attorney with a lengthy history of service in the community, political involvement, and advocacy who won the endorsement on the strength of her detailed policy proposal and qualifications.
Forte, who didn’t return the INDY’s request for comment, isn’t just the first Black woman to serve on the council. She’s also the first person of color ever elected outside District C and the council’s first lesbian.
“I’m looking forward to serving the residents of District D as well as the residents of the city,” Forte said at her swearing-in ceremony last week.
While Holley was pleased with Forte’s appointment, she says, “I won’t be satisfied until we win.”
“Until African Americans win at the ballot box, that’s what’s in important,” Holley says.
Follow Raleigh News Editor Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to email@example.com.
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