Shirley Chisholm in 1972. (Thomas J. O’Halloran, U.S. News & World Reports. Light restoration by Adam Cuerden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

When Kamala Harris ascended to the vice presidency of the United States on Wednesday, January 20, 2021, becoming the first woman and also the first woman of colour to attain this high office, she paid tribute to Shirley Chisholm, the political trailblazer of Barbadian descent, who was the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress.

Vice President Harris, who has Caribbean roots as the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother, said in her inaugural address: “Shirley Chisholm created a path for me and for so many others. Today, I’m thinking about her inspirational words, ‘I am, and always will be a catalyst for change’.”

Shirley Anita St Hill Chisholm is the seven-term Democrat, who represented New York’s 12th Congressional District in the House of Representatives from 1969 until 1983, was also the first woman to seek the nomination of a major party to run for President of the United States. She ran under the slogan “Unbought and Unbossed”.

Ms. Chisholm is full of symbolism and her true and lasting significance lies in the fact that not only was she a trailblazer when it comes to the direct involvement of black women at the highest level of representation, but also in the fact that whenever a woman becomes President of the USA, it will be the completion of last leg of a journey which Shirley began in 1972.

This Saturday, January 23, marks the 49th anniversary of Chisholm’s announcement of her historic 1972 presidential bid. It will see the launch of the website — https://unbought.org – to mark the debut of the newly-established Shirley Chisholm Education Foundation (SCEF).

SCEF aims to keep alive the political icon’s legacy and advance the cause of empowering women with an initial focus on the United States and the Caribbean.  A medium-term goal is to build and operate a women’s leadership centre in Barbados.

“The Foundation’s mission is to provide virtual mentorship and education to young women between the ages of 16-25, to help mould the female leaders of tomorrow,” said Simone Callender, Chisholm’s great-niece and Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation.

Shirley Chisholm – The First Black Congresswoman. (Credit: Black History in Two Minutes)

She added: “To achieve this, we have developed a five-month virtual mentorship programme, entitled “Unbought and Unbossed”, which combines an educational component with community action. The first three months of the programme will provide training in three areas: mental wellness, leadership development, and financial literacy.

“This is followed by a more practical component called, ‘Reach Her/Catalyst for Change,’ which involves community outreach. In this segment, participants will identify and address a specific problem affecting women in their community, developing an advocacy campaign if necessary.

“Throughout the duration of the programme, participants will be guided and supported by virtual mentors to which they have been assigned,” Callender explained.

Born in New York City, Shirley Chisholm spent her formative years in Vauxhall, Christ Church, with her grandmother. She often referred to her well-rounded British education in Barbados as having laid the foundation for her success. She died at the age of 80 in 2005.

The Shirley Chisholm Education Foundation is based in West Palm Beach, Florida. – Barbados Contact: Rosaline Clarke, Vice President of Fundraising Tel: 232-0417.

Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training

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