Campaigning while Black, a woman—and busy as heck

It’s been a couple of months since I made the decision to run for a seat on my city’s Charter Commission, and I have to say that for all the talk in recent years of asking women to run for office—and specifically Black women and other women of color—there is so much that isn’t spoken about. And, frankly, it’s disconcerting. 

Make no mistake, I am committed to the race. But it’s a lot. I have three opponents for the seat that I am running for, which means that until election day, I am working a couple full-time jobs as well as parenting and surviving in an ongoing pandemic. Thankfully, I have a small but dedicated team of folks assisting me with the campaign, all of whom are far more knowledgeable than I on the mechanics of running campaigns and “get out the vote” efforts. 

That said, there are certain things that my team, which is all white, couldn’t tell me or wouldn’t have thought to. So, I recently found myself in several conversations with women of color who hold political office. I wanted to know if there were things that I needed to specifically be aware of as a Black woman. Not surprisingly, personal safety is the number one thing that came up.

And here in Maine, from the moment you file your nominating papers to run for office, your home address and phone number are publicly available. 

I am not going to lie: Between my legal name needing to be on the ballot, along with my home address and phone number being made public, I almost didn’t run. The downside of being an anti-racism writer and speaker is that threats have been a staple in my life for years. So the idea of having all my personal details—which often provide a barrier between me the person and me the writer—was hard to digest. But change requires sacrifice. My sacrifice includes making it easier for unhinged racists to reach out to me. Yay me! All jokes aside. I already know of one candidate in this race, a fellow person of color, who has received harassing calls. 

Though the biggest piece of advice I received from a politician, who is a woman of color, is that if at all possible, don’t go door canvassing alone. And if I do, she gave me safety tips—which for my continued safety I won’t share. 

Comprehensive ground operations and meeting people to talk with them on the issues is often how races are won, and yet for non-white people, knocking on random doors is inherently risky. Especially trying to win a small local race, where a ground game is what I will need to win—especially given the competition that I have. 

Yet as a Black person born and raised in Chicago, and over the age of 40, the idea of knocking on random doors while Black feels like a sequel to Get Out, if I am keeping it real. That said, it’s what’s required, and I will do it, But the process of running for a local municipal office has given me a lot to think about when we talk about how to achieve representation in elected positions. 

The very process of what’s required to run for office feels skewed toward a certain demographic. In most cases, campaigns require time, which is a resource that excludes many people in general, and often people of color in particular. We won’t even be launching my ground game until next week, and I can say that this campaign is taking up time. It’s not a “we will work on it on the weekends” deal; it’s now fitting in meetings and calls around my day job at Community Change Inc and running BGIM Media, while making sure that my school-averse teenager hasn’t fallen back to sleep during a Zoom class. 

That said, I have an active and equal co-parent, and the teen will soon be heading to her dad’s for the usual parental rotation schedule. Which means I will get a moment to catch my breath and focus on my jobs and campaign without having to be a mom nag. But what about a single parent who doesn’t have a job allowing them the autonomy to work on their own? Or a co-parent to give them a break? My guess is that a single parent is closest to knowing how to solve many of our issues, but the current structure excludes most of them. 

Over the years, I have had many people suggest that I run for office. But now that I am doing it, I can say that we need to be cautious in what we suggest others do, and instead look at what we can do—and if we are offering suggestions for others to take on additional work, are we prepared to assist them? 

While there are groups such as Emerge that help prepare women to run for office, I do hope they are tackling issues of equity in who can run and preparing a diverse range of women to run—and including the social and emotional aspects of choosing to run for office. 

Running for office is an all-consuming endeavor and if we are committed to racial justice, we might want to address the very inequities embedded in how our candidates end up becoming our elected officials. All the inequitable systems are connected and I can assure you that just like other areas of life, the non-white candidates are probably working twice as hard to be taken seriously. 

As for me, feel free to learn more about my campaign, or if you feel moved, now would be a great time to financially support BGIM Media—particularly since I am bringing on someone to help me out, given that the current level of help that I have on the back end is no longer enough. Because, y’know, I would like to emerge from the campaign season without suffering from daily panic attacks. 

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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This is a business and a mission, not a performance

I am a professional. I am a small business owner. And I am a human being.

Why do I feel like I need to say these things?

Because of a comment sent to the previous post here at the BGIM Media site, which literally had nothing to do with the actual piece written by Samuel James. A comment that I commented on over at Twitter and Facebook because it offended me and creeped me out. I don’t feel a desire to go into the full details here in this post because the person has already gotten too much of the attention they sought, but it got me fired up about some things that this person represents when it comes to my work and my life. So, if you’re confused, hit the links above, then come on back.

Too often, people seem to feel entitled to come at me about my life and my money just because I have a little name recognition and a little notoriety. And yes, the “little” is accurate. I am a professional who serves as executive director of a roughly half-century-old anti-racism organization, but much of that organization’s work has traditionally been centered in the Boston metro area. Yes, I have this website which is both my small business and my mission/passion and people sometimes recognize me on the street and sometimes I’m interviewed by media, but there are many bigger movers and shakers in social justice circles. Yes, I do speaking engagements but I don’t get paid nearly as much or get nearly as many opportunities as multiple other racial-related experts—and the book deal dream still eludes me.

The fact is that I have visibility, but I am not a celebrity. Even if I was a celebrity, people wouldn’t have the right to expect that I will put my whole life on display, no matter how much they demand to dig into such people’s lives. But in the end, I’m not. I have some fans and I get recognized sometimes, but my work is my work and my life is my life. The BGIM site may have started long ago with some aspects of a “mommy blog” but it was never really a mommy blog and it hasn’t had any overtones like that in ages so my family and personal life are not the focus here.

My family is not on display here or anywhere for people’s entertainment, and I sure don’t roll them out as a cash-grab. Twitter may be a space where I promote this site and other aspects of my work, but it is also a personal space where I sometimes vent. That’s the nature of Twitter. On Facebook, I have separate accounts for Black Girl in Maine and Shay Stewart-Bouley. I’m not saying I never vent on the former or post work-related stuff on the latter, but there is substantial separation.

Even when my family had the N-word hurled at us in Portland one fine sunny day on a stroll, I didn’t bring that out to get attention. I talked about it because a journalist who saw what happened turned it into a story without my consent and without talking to me like a journalist would. When things happen to my family, racially or otherwise, they rarely make it into this site because my family members are not props.

When I talk about a major family health problem on social media, it is simply to vent and, yes, to hopefully get a little emotional support. But I didn’t ask for money any time I’ve talked about this family health crisis. I’m not crowdfunding. Why would I share details of who is facing the health challenge and what that health crisis is?

More than that: Why would anyone imply that I “must” do so to deserve money?

The only real money I ask here and in social media with any prominence or regularity is to support this BGIM Media site. This is a business, with hosting costs, writers to pay, taxes to pay to Uncle Sam, a technical person to pay and multiple upgrades to security protocols because this site is literally attacked multiple times per day—and more expenses as well.

Was this “CK” who posted here stalking me about my family’s health and speculating about my financials referring to the little blurb at the end of Sam’s post asking people to contribute to the site (which is still 100 patrons away from being fully funded, so I’m hardly rolling in money) or to hire me to speak? Every post has that blurb.

Was it because I sometimes mention on social media that if someone really wants to do something nice for me perhaps think of a nice spa gift certificate or something like that? That’s because I don’t make the gobs of money “CK” seems to imply that I do (and the amount they are guessing at isn’t a high standard of living in a today’s world, honestly), and sometimes I want a little relief and, for some people, it’s easier to gift something than to commit to becoming a patron of the site or whatever. Plus, it never hurts to ask for something nice when you’re doing work that gets you stalkers and death threats and MAGA trolls.

Bottom line is that I work hard and I’m still struggling in a lot of ways, even if I’m not poverty-stricken. There’s a lot people don’t know (and don’t have a right to know) about what I own (or don’t) and where I live (or don’t anymore) and what my family suffers (or doesn’t) and people don’t have a right to have open access to my life.

They sure as hell don’t have a right to question whether I, as a professional Black woman who works hard in a country built on racism, make too much money (or already make “enough” money in their eyes) or has the right to seek additional work like speaking engagements. And they doubly don’t have the right to call upon me to lay open the personal health issues of any of my family—or to share where I live or where I might have property when even the biggest city in Maine is so small.

Yes, I’m going through a crisis, and part of the reason I’ve mentioned it in passing here on the site is to let you know I’m stretched thin and stressed out but still working as hard as I am able to keep fresh content here. Because this is not just a site with a mission to teach people, open eyes and hearts, and fight racism and other oppressions—it is also a business that some of you support and I hope more of you will in the future. And a business without product isn’t much of a business. I will keep working to provide for you, even as I ask for your support.

But kindly don’t make demands of my time or ask me to shuck and jive for the money. I’m a professional, not a hustler or performer.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Brave New World…The World of Work

Last night I was sitting around sipping on adult refreshments and wasting time on twitter as I am prone to do when I am too brain dead to do anything else. I was chatting or shall we say tweeting with a real life friend who had made a comment about job applicants being careless in how they present themselves via their resumes and cover letters. I made a comment that turned into a slight discussion with someone else who thought that perhaps employers in this job market are the ones being unfair, I won’t bore you with the whole discussion but I will say it provided me with some food for thought.

It’s no secret that in this current economy if you are looking for a job, you might be looking a while. The reality being that there simply are not enough jobs for all who desire them, hell does anyone even know how many people are actually out of work? After all the weekly figures that are released are based on folks who apply for unemployment compensation, when there are plenty of folks including my spouse who as an independent contractor don’t pay into that system thus when they lose a job they aren’t counted. Then there are folks like yours truly who is technically underemployed since I would love a full time job with things like health insurance, a retirement account and all those goodies. Instead I have a position that is technically part time which everyone including my higher ups know is full time, I just don’t get paid a full time wage.

So it’s probably no surprise that folks are just losing hope, I mean how many fucking resumes do you send out before you start thinking…this is bullshit! Truthfully you just start functioning on auto-pilot when you send shit out because you know the odds of scoring an interview are probably about as good as hitting all the numbers in Powerball. My own brother has been grappling with this as he gets ready to celebrate two years without a job; my brother is an architect with a master’s degree who is now currently working on his second masters as a way to try to keep his resume fresh. Hell, I spent 18 months unemployed in 2007-2008 at the beginning of this financial shit storm, so I know firsthand how hard it is out there!

That said, I say to anyone looking for a job, I am a big believer in when life hands you lemons, you turn that shit into lemonade. In the past year I have been on the hiring end which is a vastly different place than being on the looking end. Last year I hired three people for the small non-profit that I run (when I say small, I mean small, our operating budget is well under $100,000 yet last year we served 300 kids!) and right now out of the original three I hired only one is still with me. Nope, the other two did not leave for greener pastures but instead were terminated but the one who stuck it out well, he took a chance on me and worked his ass off for not much over minimum wage and in return his effort was rewarded by me making a decision that means I won’t see a raise or bonus anytime soon because I decided he was worth keeping so I increased his pay substantially.

Of all the applicants I have met in this past year he was the only one who took the position seriously and despite the fact the salary was laughable he treated as if it were a well-paying job. Hell, he actually showed up to the interview in a shirt and tie! In many ways he reminds me of my younger self where often times my lack of a degree held me back so I knew I had to bust my ass to prove myself.

Oh, I know many will say but why do I have to do that? You don’t, but in this economy if you don’t find a way to make yourself stand out you decrease the likelihood you will find a job even more. Yes, it may be an employer’s market to some degree but that does not mean we should be passive, over the years I have discovered you never know who someone else knows. I also know that working in a small state like Maine, especially in a field like mine, everyone knows everyone. So today’s grunt might be tomorrow’s boss.

There is no escaping the fact that wages are stagnant…how I know this! Yet my Granny always used to tell me some money beats no money. Now if you have some savings and time left on unemployment, you often can afford to be choosy, I know I was initially. But with the average time it takes to find a job creeping up on a year now, many folks can’t afford to be choosy. Sadly the social safety net once you have exhausted unemployment benefits and used up your savings is pretty much a stop to get a food stamp card and if you are lucky maybe you can access TANF benefits which are also getting pretty difficult to get depending on the state you live in. I don’t know about you but while it’s nice to eat, staying housed is also cool.

When I took my job back in 2008, I was skittish about it but having exhausted my unemployment benefits and making a bit of cash with a few grant writing clients I knew I needed some stable money. So despite the fact the salary was laughable I took the job and have been able to grow with it, my salary while still modest for what I do, is no longer quite laughable and more importantly I have been able to grow my professional network. So while I lament my lack of bennies, I also know why they don’t exist at the same time I have been able to get my name out there which has had some benefits.

The reality is we as a nation, are in uncharted waters these days and to survive I think we are all going to have to start thinking outside the box.