The County Where Black Women Hold Power – a Few Miles from the White House

Source: The Washington Post

The hallway was lined with sharply dressed Black women, awaiting the new administration’s first cabinet meeting.

Who are they, the deputy fire chief wondered that December day in 2018. She had attended such sessions for eight years, but had never seen the foyer look like this. As the women took their seats at the table, she read their names and titles. These women, she realized, were in charge.

There was the county attorney, used to seeing the shock in her clients’ eyes when they learned a Black woman was representing them. The head of community relations, who wanted to touch poor communities like the one in which she had grown up. The chief of staff, who built a high-profile career by pushing past doubts about whether she was ready to handle the work.

At the head of the table was County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), the woman who had brought them there.

She was launching a new era in Prince George’s County, Md., as the first woman to lead a suburb known for its concentration of Black wealth and complicated record on racial justice. Alsobrooks, who had also been the county’s first female elected prosecutor, knew the loneliness of being a woman in power. She had been lifted by Black female mentors — among them Kamala D. Harris, the future vice president — and has tried to lift others in turn.

“This is like the Super Bowl game that we have all been preparing for,” Alsobrooks said to her cabinet that day. “I want you to give me everything you have.”

Over the next two years, Alsobrooks and her team would grapple with deep economic, health, criminal justice and educational disparities in the Washington suburb, long-standing problems that would only worsen when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

She has emerged as a passionate advocate for her constituents, earning praise for her caution regarding the coronavirus and for pushing agency heads to make government more responsive. But she has also stumbled, including with the vaccine rollout. Some of her most vocal critics are other Black women, who want to see her do more to address structural racism and bridge inequity in Prince George’s, which is 64 percent Black and 20 percent Latino.

Black women now hold 22 of 39 positions in Alsobrooks’s cabinet, as well as influential positions outside the executive branch like state’s attorney and chief judge. Their collective power stands out in the United States, where Black women remain severely underrepresented at the top levels of government. No Black woman has been elected governor in any state, for example, and just two, including Harris, have won bids for the U.S. Senate. Of Maryland’s 23 counties, only Prince George’s is led by a Black woman.

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