HomeLearning CenterThe Legacy Of Shirley Chisholm – 50 Years On

The Legacy Of Shirley Chisholm – 50 Years On

Originally published by Dr. Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj for Forbes

2024 is a significant year for elections, and a record number of voters are heading to the polls, with just under 50% of the global population participating in elections in at least 64 countries. If we focus on the leadership struggle in the United States, the two most likely candidates, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, were both born in the 1940s, both white men. Both demonstrate how difficult it is for candidates from diverse backgrounds to smash political leadership positions’ concrete ceiling. Fifty-one years ago, in 1972, Shirley Chisholm, an educator who was also a black woman, stood as a candidate for the Democratic nomination during the US Presidential elections. Shirley Chisholm made history as the first African American woman to be elected to the United States Congress, serving in the House of Representatives for fourteen years, from 1969 to 1983.

Alex Chisholm, Director of Bradford Opera Festival is bringing her story to the stage with a musical ‘Chisholm for President!‘ performed at the Southbank Centre later this month. When Alex first came across Shirley’s story twenty years ago, the coincidence of shared last names generated curiosity and exploration; “About the late 2000s, I happened across on the internet a picture of a petite but powerful looking Black woman with the slogan “Chisholm ’72 Unbought & Unbossed”. It stopped me in my tracks – we shared a surname! Who was she? And why hadn’t I heard of her before? I went away and found out everything I could about her. I read her autobiographies, where her fresh, funny, passionate voice came off the page – a call for justice, peace, human rights, and a different kind of politics based on serving the most vulnerable in society, not the most powerful.” Alex explains the catalyst that made the idea a reality; “Then 2016 happened; a self-confessed sexual abuser beat a competent, if complex, woman. I woke up after Trump’s victory in the US wanting to do something about what it means to be a woman in politics; how can we use the inspiration of this political woman to fight for change, justice, and human rights? I wanted to tell Shirley Chisholm’s story because 50 years after her campaign, we’d forgotten her example and her message. She was a hero of her time; she’s a hero for our time. I want to celebrate Shirley Chisholm and all those women, especially Black women, who make change today. So I called Zodwa Nyoni (writer) and Testament (music and lyrics) because there are not two better artists to create this show. Or two better collaborators to work with on any project.” The result? A musical performance bringing out a powerful story of politics and change charged with music – more akin to Hamilton than Evita. Of course her most prominent phrase which has become part of the lexicon for women’s leadership, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair” has it’s own song.

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