With Harris keynoting DNC, Tennessee’s elected women of color react

By: - August 19, 2020 9:29 am
Clockwise from top left: Rep. London Lamar, Councilmember at Large Sharon Hurt, Sen. Brenda Gilmore, Knox County School Board Member Evetty Satterfield, Rupa Blackwell, Tullahoma Chamber of Commerce.

Clockwise from top left: Rep. London Lamar, Councilmember at Large Sharon Hurt, Sen. Brenda Gilmore, Knox County School Board Member Evetty Satterfield, Rupa Blackwell, Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The selection of Sen. Kamala Harris as vice-presidential running mate to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden last week has been lauded for its historic nature. Harris is the first woman of color to be named to one of the top positions on a presidential tickets and one of only a few women of any race.

Her selection came within a week of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.

In Tennessee, women make up only 15.9% of the Tennessee General Assembly, putting the state in the bottom five for women legislators. Of the eight women in the Tennessee Senate,  three – Sen. Raumesh Akbari, Brenda Gilmore and Katrina Robinson – are Black while the remaining five are white. Of the 12 women serving as state representatives, three are Black women.

“Sen. Harris’ selection as VP allows Democratic allies and the American voters to really see and accept Black women as highly qualified candidates for upper level positions,” said Freda Player-Peters, executive director of Emerge Tennessee, a campaign training program for Democratic women and a member of the Metro Nashville Schools Board.  “Senator Harris’s selection shows that Black women are intellectuals and not just activists when running for office.  Hopefully, this will translate into Democratic allies financially supporting Black women in their pursuit for public office with the same intensity Black women have always supported them.”

Metro Nashville School Board Member Freda Player-Peters (Photo: Freda for Schools)
Metro Nashville School Board Member Freda Player-Peters (Photo: Freda for Schools)

With Harris slated to give the keynote address Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention, the Tennessee Lookout contacted other women of color who serve in elected office in Tennessee to get their thoughts on Sen. Harris’s current role.

Rupa Blackwell, member, Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen

When I heard that Senator Harris was chosen to be Joe Biden’s running mate, my thoughts immediately went to my daughter and how incredibly monumental this could be in shaping her goals and dreams. As an Indian-American woman myself, I never saw elected leaders who looked like me. So when I first became involved in local politics, I never imagined myself being a candidate. I always thought of other men and women who could run and who I could help support because I didn’t realize that I could be electable as a brown woman in a small southern town. Granted, I was able to overcome this fear but not without much effort. I love that my daughter might not have that mental block that I had. I love that she will have strong women who look like her to emulate and to see as role models. I love that there is proof that what I thought was impossible, is, in fact, possible.

Rupa Blackwell, Member, Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen (Photo: Submitted)
Rupa Blackwell, Member, Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen (Photo: Submitted)

After processing this news, my beautiful 8-year-old daughter and I realized we felt more empowered and strong. It was an amazing moment. 

Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville 

I am excited that Vice President Biden has chosen Kamala Harris to be his running mate.  I will do everything in my power to see that the Biden Harris team wins.  They represent hope, optimism and a brighter day.  The last four years have been horrible, locking children in cages, disparaging our military heroes, aligning with the enemies, while alienating our allies.  I look forward to a brighter future with  Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.  They represent America.

Sharon Hurt, Councilmember at Large, Nashville 

I’m ecstatic. We are moving to a different America. The timing couldn’t work out any better. In the midst of Black Lives Matter, it’s very important we talk about Me Too movement – it’s all coming at the time that’s needed. Someone to bring the compassion that’s needed — the world and the nation need healing. She’s the glue to bring the healing people can embrace. Any Black man or woman in any type of role is an influence gives Black kids hope,  Black kids who could never ever imagine this. 

More white families are adopting black children and there are more biracial couples. We are moving more towards a true one nation. Knowing that we have this type of diversity and younger people, we need people like them at the helm. We need to have a leader who understands marginalization and underserved communities and that’s something she brings. She brings issues that are relatable and relevant to your everyday person. Now that she is there, she can touch people who may have been on the fence or apathetic. The old regime won’t work anymore.

Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis

I am thrilled to welcome Senator Harris to the Democratic presidential ticket.  As an African-American elected official, what she has accomplished is historical. She’s the first African-American woman to be a major candidate on a presidential ticket

Black women are the most loyal base to the Democratic party and now we have representation in the most important election of our lifetime.

Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis (Photo: Submitted)
Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis (Photo: Submitted)

She has an astonishing record as senator. She’s one of the most progressive elected officials we have in this country and I’m fully committed to helping her and  assuring we all turn out to vote for Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Joe Biden. 

Evetty Satterfield, Knox County School Board

This is the first time I see representation for myself and it feels good! I am so proud.  Soon to be Vice President Harris is ambitious, confident, witty, and her intellect is through the roof. 

She’s an Alpha Kappa Alpha woman, I’m an Alpha Kappa Alpha Woman. She’s an HBCU graduate, I’m an HBCU graduate. Could I one day be someone like a Kamala Harris?! I believe I can! 

If she does this for me, I’m confident she does this more than many Black girls and women across the world! 


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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.