Historically, Black women have always been big voters; but as you know, we are still grossly underrepresented in political office. As of late, there has been a surge of Black women entering and making changes in office and among those leaders is Alicia Reece who is currently serving her 4th term in the Ohio General Assembly, representing Cincinnati’s 33rd House District. Reece, who has been described as “a bright star” in the Ohio Democratic Party, is now eyeing a run for Congress.
Encouraged by Congresswoman Maxine Waters to enter politics, once she did, there was no stopping Reece, 46, from targeting social issues in her community, and along the way she has achieved many firsts. Reece is the first woman to file to run in a directly elected Mayor’s race in Cincinnati’s history, gaining over 6,000 votes in an off-year nonpartisan primary; she was the youngest woman in Cincinnati’s history to be elected to City Council in 1999; and one of the youngest female Vice Mayors in the county which she served for four years. And Reece became one of the youngest females to make the shortlist for Lieutenant Governor on the Ohio Democratic ticket in 2002 and was courted for a run for Secretary of State.
Even before she officially entered politics, Reece was involved in making changes in her community. In fact, she spearheaded the efforts to name a street surrounding the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center the Rosa Parks Street in downtown Cincinnati. When she attended Grambling State University (GSU), she organized such a massive young voter registration and mobilization campaign it helped defeat David Duke (former KKK Grand Wizard) for Governor of Louisiana. Also, while at GSU, Reece won the office of Miss Grambling State University, the official ambassador for the university. Sports was also a passion of Reece’s and as basketball point guard on the school’s women’s team, she won a Division I championship. Reece earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from GSU in 1993, after which she entered the business world before heading into politics.
Reece succeeded as a businesswoman as well, landing on several business leaders lists in Cincinnati. Still, Reece stayed community minded, starting the National Student Leadership Convention and Stop The Violence Conference. Her drive to help her community led Reece to politics. She served as the Vice Mayor of Cincinnati where she helped push through vital and innovative legislation such as a 30-day prompt pay law for small businesses, increased funding to keep neighborhood health clinics open for children and families, a summer employment initiative, the second chance ex-offender one stop, a $100 million public/private faith-based urban neighborhood redevelopment project, small business tax reform, and an anti-predatory practices law. She also launched the Cincinnati On the Move tourism campaign.
When Reece became State Representative she didn’t waste any time effecting change Rep. Reece has helped secure funding for teen summer jobs, on-the-job training programs, community highway projects, and state funding for Central State University. Voting rights has also been a focus of Rep. Reece. She spearheaded the historic Ohio Voters Bill of Rights Constitutional Amendment Ballot Initiative, an effort to make voting rights permanent by enshrining the right to vote in state constitutions starting with her home state of Ohio. She has also worked on creating better relations between the police and the community.
While Reece is pondering a run for Congress she took the time to chat with MadameNoire about being a Black woman in politics and what it will take to completely break the racist and sexist barriers she battles on a daily basis.
MadameNoire (MN): What do you think about the resurgence of Black women taking leadership roles in their local government?
Alicia Reece (AR): I think it’s awesome. African-American women have been a huge and loyal economic and voting base. It is far overdue for us to have a seat at the table and even be at the head of the table in government, corporate boards, tech firms, movie firms, nonprofit organizations, etc. so that we can shape the strategy, the narrative, the blueprint for success, and the distribution of resources. We must be demanding representation on all of these fronts.
MN: What does it take to go from being a passionate community activist to a local leader?
AR: I started as an activist for voting rights while I was a student at HBCU Grambling State University–taking on former KKK Grand Wizard by registering thousands in the area to defeat him for Louisiana Governor. I took that experience of registering and organizing and recently launched a historic voting rights constitutional amendment during my speech at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. We now have it introduced in Ohio and Michigan with over 100,000 signatures. We must take the movement from the streets to the ballots with issue initiatives like health care, voting rights, criminal justice reforms that empower people, even if we have to do it state by state. This connects activism to leadership and empowerment.
MN: What barriers exist for Black women in politics and how can they be overcome?
AR: The major barriers are race, gender, and equal access to funding. However, we must leverage our loyal voting block and we now have PACs that focus on African-American women candidates, something which was not around when I ran for Mayor in 2005. We also have social media and technology where you can connect with people nationally who want to support African-American women candidates. Then there are mentors. If it wasn’t for Congresswoman Maxine Waters (better known now as #AuntieMaxine) scolding me and telling me that I needed to come from behind the scenes to step out and be the candidate, I would have never been elected in 1999 as the youngest woman to Cincinnati City Council. Not only did Congresswoman Waters encourage me to run but she came to Cincinnati to campaign for me for three days, went to the barber and beauty shops with me, told the local Democratic Party to do more to back me, and wrote a check to support me. National mentorship and support are critical.
MN: What actions do you suggest for women who want to make a change but aren’t interested in politics?
AR: Change doesn’t come from inside the political system itself. It comes from regular, everyday people. Moms starting petitions for better schools and more resources for their kids. A local businesswoman who sees the need for more access to capital for young female entrepreneurs. The teacher who stays after school to make sure kids get the help they need instead of running the streets. Change comes from all directions at all levels. My advice for any woman pushing for a change is to stay engaged. Communicate. Read the news. Make your voice heard. Keep trying. Never give up.
MN: What are some of the top issues you are working on?
AR: My top issues are getting voting rights in the constitution. We have a historic Voter Bill of Rights effort here in Ohio. I’m also working on criminal justice reforms like grand jury, use of force, and bail reforms, as well as economic inclusion and access for African American businesses.
MN: What is the most surprising feedback you get from Black women?
AR: I use to hear, “Well, we can’t do it. “Now I hear “Go for it. We are not taking a back seat anymore!”
MN: What’s next for you?
AR: God has blessed me with many talents as a tourism marketer professionally, as an advocate for civil rights, and as a public servant. Many have asked me to look at a run for US Congress in the near future. I am committed to continuing to champion to get a voter bill of rights in the constitution. I will continue to let God lead me to fulfill his purpose in my life. So the sky’s the limit.
MN: What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
AR: My District is known as the “Fighting 33rd” and I am inspired every day to get up and fight for jobs, justice, voting rights, and economic access. I am proud to have been able to work on issues and deliver results, like the state’s largest investment–$300 million–in minority business enterprises, millions in funding for HBCU Central State University, statewide use of force standards, and a historic voter bill of rights constitutional amendment initiative.
MN: What is the most challenging aspect of being in politics?
AR: As an African-American woman it has been challenging because I have never been funded or supported equally as my counterparts. However, I have a strong faith in God, and I lead from the bottom up–not the top down. There have been times when He has made a way out of no way. I am blessed to have fought to open doors for those who have been left behind.
MN: What has been your biggest life lesson so far?
AR: Never underestimate the amount of good and good people in this world–especially in the face of tragedy and setbacks.
MN: Do you look at politics as a profession or a calling?
AR: It’s a calling to help people. Politics is one avenue through policies and legislation to provide equal access for all to the American dream.