A panel of black female activists speak during the Power Rising conference in Atlanta. Maya T. Prabhu/maya.prabhu@ajc.com

Black women met in Atlanta to discuss future of their political power

Emboldened by their strong showing in Alabama’s special election that sent the first Democrat to the U.S. Senate in more than 50 years, black women converged on Atlanta this weekend to study how to further pool their political power.

They talked about replicating the Alabama results in Georgia, where former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams is running for governor. If elected, she would be the first black woman to serve as a governor in the United States.

Black women are credited with propelling U.S. Sen. Doug Jones’ win in December over heavily favored Republican Roy Moore, a former judge who faced allegations that he sexually assaulted teenage girls. Exit polls estimate that 98 percent of black women who cast ballots in the Alabama election voted for Jones, compared with 37 percent of white women.

Abrams told conferees Friday that her strategy is to register voters of color who don’t traditionally get involved in the political process.

“We have a plan for victory, a plan to not just talk to other people — I want to win everybody’s vote, but I’ve got black women on my mind,” she said. “The plan is to talk to every voter with respect.”

Women attending the conference said they planned to use the swell of energy that led to some Democratic victories in 2017, including Jones’ upset of Moore.

“We have to keep the energy going all the way through 2018,” said U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill. “Elections have consequences, and this is so important. Black women have showed out in the things that they’ve done.”

More than 800 women of color gathered in Atlanta for the Power Rising conference, the brainchild of a former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer, the Rev. Leah Daughtry.

After what she called Clinton’s devastating loss, Daughtry decided to create the conference for black women to share expertise and strategize how best to advance policies important to their community.

“We are here to build an action agenda,” she said. “We’re here to talk about it, but we’re also here to be about it. We’re going to leave here with a plan about what we’re going to do as a collective, as sisters, to move the nation forward.”

Attendees spent the day brainstorming ways to channel their energy into more wins for candidates whose views align with theirs — with a focus on topics including improving the education, health care and criminal justice systems.

Elle Hearns, the executive director for the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which advocates for transgender women of color, said black women need to stop supporting white candidates who don’t support issues vital to the black community.

“We’ve always led, but we also share our secret sauce,” she said. “We continue to give our secret sauce away to those who want to colonize our hopes and our dreams.”

The conference drew black women of all ages from across the country, representing fields including activism, politics and the arts. BET Networks CEO Debra Lee received the conference’s Power Rising Legacy Award for her work at the television network over the past 30 years.

Atlanta resident Peggy Shaw, who retired from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said she wanted to take part in the conference because it was an opportunity to discuss how best to target the problems she sees facing the country.

“Hopefully by being inspired and motivated and guided, we will work as one on achieving these goals,” she said.

Power Rising runs through Sunday.

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