Celebrating Shirley Chisholm: a Trailblazer, a Change maker, and Our Inspiration
Today, we honor the remarkable life and enduring legacy of Congressman Shirley Chisholm, a pioneering force in American politics. Born on November 30, 1924, Congresswoman Chisholm shattered glass ceilings as the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Her work, her spirit, and her vision are the inspiration for this organization, her namesake, The Chisholm Legacy Project. We strive to honor her legacy everyday as we work to re-build the world on a foundation of Black Liberation, Just Transition, and Gender Justice.
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
One of Congresswoman Chisholm’s most memorable quotes: “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” This quote was so impactful and central to the mission that The Chisholm Legacy Project was almost to be The Folding Chair Initiative. Getting people to that proverbial table is at the heart and core of what we do. We strive to ensure that people know exactly what those tables are, where they are, how to get there, and how to wield power in decision making. At The Chisholm Legacy Project, our work is the deep and deliberative work of identifying and engaging with those communities that are the most disenfranchised – so marginalized as to not even be on the map. Our mission spans finding our most ‘invisibilized’ and under-resourced communities, being of service to them, and facilitating their leadership in reaching their self-determined visions for liberation.
“Unbought and Unbossed”
This mantra and slogan embodied Congresswoman Chisholm’s Presidential campaign, and indeed, how she led her life and career. It echoes with resounding relevance in our commitment to community self-determination, particularly when confronted with the challenges of cooptation as the profit motive (whether found in business or government) works tirelessly to neutralize the people’s power. Whether this is from corporations engaging in greenwashing campaigns, or trying to pressure communities into compliance so that they may be turned into sacrifice zones for as little recompence as possible, or if it is from Big Green orgs working to centralize their influence and remain in the good graces of extractive forces. Our support for community self-determination aligns with Congresswoman Chisholm’s mantra, ensuring that communities retain control over their narratives and maintain a powerful, unbought, and unbossed stance against attempts to compromise their values and objectives.
“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
Congresswoman Chisholm displayed her commitment to the need to pursue progress by implementing ideas with the organizations she founded, such as the Shirley Chisholm Cultural Institute and the National
Congress of Black Women. In establishing these institutions, Congresswoman Chisholm exemplified the transformative power of turning visionary ideas into tangible actions. Similarly, our commitment is rooted in uplifting the work of those communities and leaders who ideate and create, fostering an environment where innovative ideas are not only acknowledged but also supported to bring about meaningful progress within communities and movements. By encouraging cross-pollination and fostering collaboration across the movement, we aim to create a stronger, more interconnected network that enhances the innovative potential of each individual endeavor.
“America has the laws and the material resources it takes to ensure justice for all its people. What it lacks is the heart, the humanity, the Christian love that it would take.”
In 1972, despite their stark political differences, Congresswoman Chisholm visited the former Alabama Governor George Wallace, who had been shot during an assassination attempt. Shirley Chisholm’s act of visiting George Wallace in the hospital stands as a powerful testament to her embodiment of grace and empathy. On top of that, it embodies the need to not simply preach to the choir, or to stay comfortable in our echo-chambers. A key component of our work is what we refer to as Bending the Mainstream Arc, wherein we engage others on a common path to defining equity and justice.
“That I am a national figure because I was the first person in 192 years to be at once a congressman, black, and a woman proves, I would think, that our society is not yet either just or free.” Congresswoman Chisholm was unwavering and explicit in her centering of both race and gender equally, a particularly challenging feat at a time when women were encouraged to just focus on racial justice with gender justice coming along later. Despite this, she stuck to her resolve to uplift both. Indeed, this unwavering commitment to recognizing, naming, and combating both racism and sexism serves as a guiding light for our contemporary pursuit of Black Liberation and Gender Justice. As we strive for a more just and inclusive society, her legacy inspires us to pursue comprehensive solutions that uplift and empower individuals across the spectrum of identity and experience.
“At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.”
With Black women on the frontlines of advancing systems change, we could not agree more with the above sentiment. The leadership and activism of Black women are pivotal in addressing environmental challenges, underscoring the necessity to provide comprehensive support. By connecting Black women to resources such as coaching, sisterships, healing circles, and entrepreneurship assistance, we recognize and invest in the idealism and determination that women bring to the forefront of these crucial movements. Indeed, amidst the urgency for women’s idealism and determination, we recognize that these voices are essential in influencing upcoming critical decisions in the political arena on all levels of government, from local to national to international. We work to see that these leaders have the support they need as they transform society from one of extractivism, to one based on a living economy that cares for sacred relationships between people and with Mother Earth, through regenerative, cooperative, democratic system.
“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.”
Above all else, underlying all the work we do, is the idea that service is an essential component of our existence. By connecting communities on the frontlines of climate justice to resources and tools, our work at The Chisholm Legacy Project reflects a shared understanding that leveraging our knowledge,
connections, and resources to uplift communities in their journeys toward self-determination and liberation is not only a responsibility, but a fundamental aspect of transforming society. Service is an integral part of our collective journey toward a more just and sustainable world, and we hold this in our hearts at The Chisholm Legacy Project, striving to always honor the legacy our inspiration left behind with the work we put out into this world.