When it became official that the Electoral College had voted for Donald Trump my stomach dropped. And it's been dropping every day since. Unfortunately, no amount of protest has changed that. But during times like this, it’s the voices of the great leaders who have come before us that speak the loudest. In this case, Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermon, ‘The Drum Major Instinct’ speaks like a light in a dark tunnel.
It took place at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, 1968. Dr. King began telling a story from the book of St. Mark about James and John and how they asked Jesus if they could sit next to him on the throne. They wanted to be where Jesus was. The other disciples got mad. What had they done to deserve this? Jesus, on the other hand, had a different response.
Dr. King went on to talk about the character trait that would prompt James and John to ask that question of Jesus in the first place. He calls it ‘The Drum Major Instinct,’ and says it’s that innate desire that we all have to lead the parade or be first. Philosophers say it’s the most dominant human impulse. When the instinct goes unharnessed we will put others down so we can be on top.
Dr. King tells a story of being locked up in a Birmingham jail, talking to police officers about race, when the subject of money came up. When the officers revealed how much they were earning Dr. King laughed:
"You ought to be marching with us. You're just as poor as Negroes. You have been put in the position of supporting your oppressors, because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people too. And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big, when you are so poor you can hardly send your children to school.”
Little has changed. Poor whites think it’s the black and brown population taking away jobs and security when it’s really the one percent. Dr. King also warns of what could happen if China, the U.S. and Russia had a standoff. We’d all go within seconds. Even less has changed. Dr. King goes back to Jesus, James and John.
Jesus tells James and John that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to sit next to him on the throne, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be first. “But you must earn it,” Jesus says. “True greatness comes not by favoritism, but by fitness." He told them to be first in love, moral excellence, generosity and service. Dr. King finishes with...
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he\'s traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.
And I’m encouraged because we’ve been here before, and together we won.
Do you draw inspiration from any of Dr. Martin Luther King's teachings?
Glynda C. Carr (center) & Kimberly Peeler-Allen in discussion with Alexis McGill Johnson (Photo courtesy of Glynda C. Carr)
By Sharon Pendana
Since 2013, Higher Heights for America has been at the forefront of mobilizing America's black, female citizenry at every level of civic engagement— local, state and national— rallying black women to not only exercise their right to vote but to seek public office and claim a seat at the table to shape policy. Founded by friends Glynda C. Carr and Kimberly Peeler-Allen, who share a passion for justice and the potential black women hold to effect positive change in the American democracy, it's growing a network of members across the country committed to building a political infrastructure and power base for black women. Standouts both, Carr is the former Executive Director of Education Voters of New York, where she became New York’s youngest African American woman to run a statewide advocacy organization; and Peeler-Allen, from 2003-2014 helmed Peeler-Allen Consulting, the only African American full-time fundraising consulting firm in New York State. Poised for the upcoming 2018 midterm elections, co-founder Glynda Carr spoke with Curly Nikki about Higher Heights’ coffee shop genesis, lofty goals and the indomitable power of black women at the polls and in elected office. Continue
Photo via Higher Heights website
What galvanized you to start this organization?
Kimberly and I weren’t looking to start an organization. We were having coffee in a Brooklyn cafe, talking about progressive politics, how we didn't see black women showing up in that space, and questioning why that was. Then we said, “Why don’t we start our own organization for black women who are looking to be deeper engaged in the political process from the voting booth to elected office.” We came up with the name that day.
I come from a politically and community-minded family, civic engagement is in my DNA. I had a career working in non-profits, but I volunteered for a New York State Senate campaign for Kevin Parker. It was an opportunity for me to build community and support a candidate with progressive issues I believed in. I worked hard on that campaign, and he offered me to join his team. I spent six years in Albany (the state capital) learning about how government works and the politics around governing. I stepped out on my own and started organizing voters around public school reform. Then in 2012 when our country was at a political crossroads, and I was making decisions about my next steps, providence connected Kimberly and me to fill the space that was missing for black women.
What compels Higher Heights' stated goal to mobilize 1 million black women and dollars by 2020?
In 2016, ninety-four percent of black women voted to move this country forward and continued to be a consistent, loyal voting block on the issues that we care about in our community. Although we did not break the glass ceiling for women on that Election Day, black women made major gains on the ballot. At a time when white progressives lost from the top of the ticket to the bottom, black women broke through. We elected the largest number of black women serving in Congress; including sending the first black woman to the US Senate in twenty years. We elected the first black woman to serve in the Kentucky state legislature in almost twenty years. We had a marked increase of black women serving as mayors of major cities. In 2017, ten black women ran in the thirty-eight cities that held municipal elections. Today, seven black women serve as mayors of Atlanta, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Charlotte, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Five were elected, and one was appointed as the second in succession upon the untimely death of San Francisco Mayor, Ed Lee. In 2017, Black women voted 98% to move Alabama into the 21st century. But there’s still work to be done. We wholeheartedly believe at Higher Heights that democracy doesn’t begin and end on Election Day. So, yes, they elected Doug Jones, but the hard work now is ensuring that when he gets to Washington, that he is carrying the issues and the priorities–from criminal justice to economic inequality–of the very constituency that elected him.
We've seen the possibilities that exist when you organize and engage black women in a real way. We dug down and focused on building black women’s political power, creating a national network of black women and our allies, and creating a space for them to be informed, engaged and take action. There are three black women running for governor (of Georgia, Oklahoma, and Maryland) in 2018. In our country’s 241-year history we’ve never elected a black woman governor. Here’s an opportunity for us to break our own glass ceiling.
How do you plan to meet this million mission?
Claiming a million is a bold stretch for this emerging organization, but we know that black women have an economic imprint that can extend to our political stewardship. Black women give 25% more of their income than our counterparts regardless of where we are in our socioeconomic status. How do we then inspire black women to understand that shifting just a percentage of our economic might toward political stewardship changes the face of what democracy looks like? When you diversify those who are sitting at decision-making tables, they carry the very issues that we continue to fight for. The goal here is to engage the sister who gives us five dollars a month to those Black women and allies who are willing to give us tens of thousands of dollars.
There’s a growing conversation about what it means when black women lead. When #BlackWomenLead, you see Maxine Waters reclaiming her time or Kamala Harris making Jeff Sessions nervous. We have been consistently voting, outpacing our male counterparts, and doing what black women do: when we are fired up, we don’t go to the polls alone. The black woman voter? She brings her house, her block, her church, her sorority.
Black women can trend a hashtag in a minute; the foundation of Black Twitter is black women. This is exactly how we envisioned Higher Heights as a vehicle. We’re going to galvanize the million black women both on and offline with a variety of campaigns and provide them spaces to be engaged. In our #BlackWomenVote campaign we give black women tools like sample tweets, sample emails, a sister-to-sister conversation toolkit, memes and things that they can use to organize their networks for this important election cycle. We're hosting sister-to-sister salon conversations across this country. We're gathering black women in their living rooms, in their hair salons, in their nail salons, in their church basements to talk about the main issues of concern and envision what the possibilities are to change the outcomes for their community, and how that is tied to politics, policy, and leadership. In 2017 we launched the #BlackWomenLead Political Leadership Training Series of webinars for women thinking about running for office. Given the energy and debate in conversation today, I think that we are positioned to be the leading political voice for and by black women leading into 2020.
Activist, athlete and visionary Alison Desir etched her spot in history this past January when she led a group of runners from New York City to Washington, DC in support of women's rights. Now, she's sharing some of the backstory behind the initiative as part of the TIME Inc. American Voices video series.