I go to education-related events all the time but I’ve rarely been as inspired as I was Saturday in Newark. There, Shennell McCloud’s new community organization, Project Ready NJ, hosted a celebration of its successful first initiative: to get 1,000 Newarkers, mostly women of color, to register to vote by mail. Why? Because Shennell and her enthusiastic team believe voting is a critical issue of access and equity, as well as a key part of its mission of serving the families of Newark. Never ones to waste an opportunity, staffers were on hand to help attendees register to vote by mail right at the event.
Back to the inspiration: Picture seven local, state, and national female leaders of color attired in suffragette white, standing on stage in front of 120 cheering people (mostly women of color) and then answering questions from McCloud and audience members. Throughout the forum State Senator Teresa Ruiz, Assemblywoman Shanique Speight, Newark Board of Education President Josephine Garcia, Newark School Board Members Flohisha Hill and Asia Norton, Google Executive Valeisha Butterfield Jones, and Jocelyn Harmon, Co-Founder of BlackHer, highlighted their personal successes and the hard road they’ve tread, all united by by a message of empowerment and hope for change.
“We get caught up with who’s on the podium. But the reality is that the power is in each of us….I’m here today because I’m so inspired to harness our collective energy. And I believe Newark can change the game for the rest of the country,” said Valeisha Butterfield Jones, Global Head of Women and Black Community Engagement at Google (and former National Youth Vote Director for the Obama for America campaign and Deputy Director of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce under President Obama).
“The more inclusive we are, the better the capacity is for public policy change,” said Senator Ruiz.
“Moving forward, women of color have to step out and work. Step out and not be afraid. We’re mothers, wives, aunties, sisters, mentors and we can run for elected office,” said Assemblywoman Speight.
And that’s really the point of Project Ready, inspired in part by Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote initiative. Start with raising community involvement in local elections (clocking in at a dismal 8.8 percent) and, after a number of strategically mapped-out initiatives (Ready to Grow, Ready to Organize, Ready to Lead), move towards twin goals of an entire community in action advocating for high-quality education in Newark while backing emerging leaders for candidacy and community activism.
“A key goal of Project Ready is to engage more Newark families in decision making, and a big part of engaging families in decision making is making it easier for them to vote,” said McCloud. “Our 1,000 Newarker’s Vote By Mail campaign specifically targets women of color, men of color, and students of color to educate and stress the importance of voting at a local and statewide level.”