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Women to Know 2020, Ashanti F. Gholar

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A’shanti F. Gholar

Creator, Brown Girls Guide to Politics

Walker’s Legacy named A’shanti F. Gholar a top woman of color in policy—and with good reason. Her expertise as an award-winning political strategist has helped hundreds of women of color successfully become elected officials.

Her love of politics began after discovering people passionately “arguing and fighting” about the direction of our nation on C-SPAN. Gholar’s interest was almost deterred after noticing a lack of representation. “Even at a young age, I realized I didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me. I didn’t see a lot of women. I didn’t see a lot of people of color and I realized, ‘Okay, is this even for me,” she told MadameNoire.

Despite her initial apprehension, Gholar continued to follow her interest until an unlikely face-off with a dishonest congressional representative called her into action. “I volunteered for his opponent, every single free moment that I had, and his opponent won the senate race by 500 votes. That showed me the power that people have.” She’s dedicated her career to helping other women reclaim their power by becoming elected officials and sharing their stories through outlets like her Brown Girls Guide to Politics podcast.

MadameNoire: What sparked your love of politics?

A’shanti F. Gholar: My interest in politics happened when I was a young girl and I discovered the C-Span channel one day.

I stayed interested in politics when I was in high school. I had that amazing government teacher, and she just knew anybody who was anybody in politics. And that year we had a very prominent senate race and she brought in those candidates to talk to us. An issue that I cared about was the minimum wage.

I worked a part-time job to make extra money. I had friends that worked jobs to help support their families and I thought we should all be making more money. I asked the one candidate, what were his views on raising a minimum wage. He felt that it should be raised. I loved it. I asked the other candidate why he actually voted not to raise the minimum wage. He was in Congress at the time and he voted against it. He told me that he did vote to raise it. I let him know he didn’t and he started arguing with me.

After class, my teacher called me over. I totally thought I was in trouble for arguing with a Congressman, but he called her and he had said, ‘You know, she’s right. I didn’t vote to raise it. I didn’t like that she called me out.’

It really offended me. I was like, ‘Is it because I’m young? Because I’m a girl? Because I can’t vote?’” And all those things were true, but I knew I could volunteer.

No, I couldn’t vote, but I could absolutely encourage people to vote and tell them why. As a young, nonvoter, I was supporting a particular candidate. That just put me on the path that I’m on now. I volunteered throughout college a lot for Congresswoman Shelley Berkleyand when I graduated college, she offered me my first job in politics. And I’ve been doing this ever since.

MN: Tell us about your experience working with Emerge.

AFG: I came to the organization in 2006 as a co-founder of Emerge Nevada back then I was the president of the Young Democrats of Nevada. I was the first woman to hold that position. And it was an organization that was created in 1960.

I knew that I wanted to help really change the face of politics in our state. And I went on to become a founding board member as well. I left Nevada in 2008 to work in D.C. in politics. In 2016, I came back to the national organization as the first political director.

What made me willing to leave my job at the DNC to come back to Emerge is women would call me all the time wanting information on how to run for office and I couldn’t help them. The DNC didn’t make those investments anymore and it bothered me as a woman, who was in her position because of other women who uplifted and supported me, that I had to tell other women I couldn’t help them. I knew that my next step had to be with getting women politically and civically engaged.

MN: What’s sets Emerge apart from other organizations?

AFG: What makes us so unique is we do our 70-hour training program. We have an affiliate based structure and we focus on this work all the day, every day, all day, recruiting women to run for office. It’s been successful, we trained over 4,000 women to run. We currently have over 800 in elected office and we have 644 on the November third ballot.

MN: As the first woman or the first Black woman in many of your roles, I’m sure you’ve encountered a lot of challenges along the way. Can you share some of the obstacles you’ve faced?

AFG: The obstacles I faced, the challenges, that’s what led me to found The Brown Girl’s Guide to Politics. I wanted to let particularly young women of color know that they had a place in politics, but to also share the stories of how we have overcome things.

I’m tiny. I talk the way that I do and one of the first things I heard from people is that I had to change who I was. I had to develop this super thick skin and you have to be a certain way. I remember somebody telling me, “You need to be like, so and so. So and so, she’s really going places, she has it together.” In my mind, I was just like “So-and-so is a complete and total a–hole. I’m not trying to be like that.”

So the biggest challenge was the fact that I didn’t change who I was. I remained my authentic self, and that has really helped me get to where I am. When I became the president of Emerge many people would say to me, “You know, you did this your way. You never compromise your values, your integrity.” And I think that’s really important because of politics. It’s so easy to get caught up and to  just become a really horrible person. And it was important to me that at the end of the day I can look at myself in the mirror and always be happy about who I was and what I was doing.

MN: Your career and dedication to pushing Black women forward is inspiring. What advice would you offer young women following your example?

AFJ: In politics, it is so important to know your why, why do you wake up and do this every day? What is driving you? What do you want to change? And you have to hold that thing close to you because this is not all sunshine, rainbows and lollipops. There are days when it is extremely hard and you have to know what is driving you to continue on and make the world a better place. You have to have that passion for this.

Politics is not just about voting on Election Day. Politics is how you are constantly showing up to make sure that there are good people in office, but also constantly showing up to hold them accountable.

You will face discrimination from men. You will face discrimination from white women, and it is hard. I think the best advice that I give is you have to do what’s best for you. That means that you may have to leave an organization. You may have to switch departments or get a whole new job, but never compromise yourself and your values for a political job.

MN: The current state of politics in our country can be extremely discouraging for many women. What keeps you willing to lead the charge?

AFG:  Our country is in the middle of two pandemics, a health pandemic with COVID-19 and a racial injustice pandemic. And when I look around the people who are leading at the forefront of this are women, lots of Emerge women because when we are in office we bring our lived experiences.

We know as Black women in particular, we have a lot to offer, just dealing with being a woman. Being a Black woman is being constantly disrespected, but also our love for our people in our community. That is what makes us such effective and great leaders. So during this time, this is not the time to retreat, because if you think about it, that is what they want. They want us so desensitized to all of this, just so exhausted and over it that we tune out and we don’t pay attention.

MN: Outside of successfully helping women become elected officials, what keeps you optimistic about the future of politics in this country?

AFG: Over the summer, seeing all of the young women leading the various protests, that is what’s giving me hope. I know that is the next generation of elected leaders because the best candidates and elected officials start out as activists.

To see them doing it at such a young age and to be carrying signs that says ‘Our generation is going to be the last one that you’re going to be able to do this to’ is what is giving me so much hope. And particularly the young women who are already ready for office, they’re not asking permission, they’re just doing it. So I know that we’re going to continue to see so many women running and winning office.

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