Founded in 2011, Higher Heights For America is a non-profit organization aimed at bolstering African-American women and their participation in civic matters. The organization has some serious goals—including helping Black women harness their collective power and influence to eliminate inequities in education, health and economic opportunities.
Glynda C. Carr, co-founded the organization with Kimberly Peeler-Allen. Carr is a currently a principal at Liberty Street Capital, Inc., a New York-based boutique public affairs, community relations and political strategy consulting firm. Carr, who is the former Executive Director of Education Voters of New York, was previously Chief of Staff for State Senator Kevin Parker (Brooklyn).
Peeler-Allen served as deputy finance director for the gubernatorial campaign of H. Carl McCall and later founded a consulting firm, Peeler Allen Consulting, LLC, to help develop capital for clients, organizations, and issues affecting people of color.
Higher Heights' Carr tells us more about the organization:
TNJ.com: Why is it important for women to be involved in civic issues, especially during these times?
Glynda Carr: At a time when a political war has been declared on women’s rights and flagrant attempts to roll back voting rights let’s imagine an America in which black women are full participants in making the decisions that affect our lives. Shirley Chisholm once said “At present, our country needs women's idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.” This statement rings true today and women, particular Black women have a pivotal role to play.
TNJ.com: Why did you start Higher Heights?
GC: Black women represent a huge political constituency, a large consumer base, a large philanthropic base, a large volunteer base, and yet hold very few elected positions, relative to the role they play in American society.
Kimberly Peeler Allen and I felt that there was real need and this was the right time to develop a national organization focused on harnessing Black women’s growing political power and leadership potential. Recently, there has been some conversation about the need for a Black version of Emily’s List which would focus on recruiting, training and supporting Black women to run for office as well as develop a network of Black women and others to invest in this effort; we believe that Higher Heights is answering that call.
TNJ.com: How do you encourage younger women to get involved?
GC: Evidence of young black women’s increasing civic participation is the 2012 election cycle, where turnout decline among all young women, yet Black young women continued to vote at the highest rate among young voters in 2012. Black women had the highest turnout of any gender and racial or ethnic group of young people. We must engage young women’s involvement beyond the voting booth by provide opportunities for them to be engaged and encourage them to consider elected office as a possibility.
TNJ.com: What are some of the obstacles your organization faces?
GC: Based on informal polling and conversations, we believe that the greatest obstacles to black women’s greater participation in public processes are: lack of access to funds and personal discomfort with raising money; lack of a leadership pipeline for Black women; lack of political infrastructure that supports black women’s leadership; and not understanding how the system works. Higher Heights for America was created to help overcome the effects of these obstacles. We believe that the most important thing we can do to increase Black women's leadership is to create networks of women supporting women, a program of mentoring and training women leadership skills, and providing platforms for increasing their visibility.
TNJ.com: What are some of the organization's goals for this year?
GC: This work will require a multi-year; multi-million dollar investment to build an effective and sustainable national political infrastructure to support the increase of Black women in elected office.
In an effort to create a national network of supporters from the $25 grassroots members to the $100,000-plus grasstops investors, Higher Heights will launch an aggressive Founding Member campaign. The goal of the leadership circle is to encourage Black women, and others, to move at least $1,000,000 in political and advocacy dollars to support Black women’s leadership and Higher Heights' mission over the next 5 years.
TNJ.com: What are some of Higher Heights’ long-term goals?
GC: To create a leadership pipeline blueprint that will provide a detailed multi- year, regional and elected office strategy to increase the number of Black women running for and elected to public office. The blueprint will guide and inform where significant financial and human resource investments should be made.
TNJ.com: What drew you to activism?
GC: Very early in my life, I was exposed to strong community, civic- and business-minded Black women. I may have not seen these same images in the media or in my day-to-day interactions but I was blessed to grow up in a family where I was the fourth generation of women. My great-grandmother, grandmother and mother lived through the suffrage movement, Brown vs. Board of Education and Roe vs. Wade. They drank from the “coloreds only” water fountain, didn’t have the right to vote and lacked real leadership and career opportunities because they were Black and were women. Yet, my great-grandmother owned two businesses and my mother used her political activism to ensure that my brothers and I had access to the best educational opportunities.
Their activism helped to make a difference for their family and community. I know that their past was the beginning of my journey. My own activism was built on this foundation and is what drives my commitment to provide leadership and lend my voice for women, particularly Black women to have a place at the table to advance progressive public policies. My work supports increasing the civic participation of Black women across a socio-economic spectrum to be engaged and ensure that there is more than just one Black woman at the table, or on the ballot, but that there is a chorus of women’s voices that reflect the diversity within my community.
I am fueled by the sacrifices of those that built the movements that gave me the right to vote, the right to choice and inspires me to pay forward for our unborn daughters and granddaughters to protect their rights and provide boundless opportunities.