Student Spotlight: Ebony Venson

Last week, the Race & Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) announced the recipients of their Student Leadership Awards. Ebony Venson, a first-year MPA student, was among the seven recipients, two of whom are MPA students. The award recognizes and supports student leaders who share RSJI’s mission for achieving systemic change for race and social justice. The following highlights Ebony and her winning proposal, The Political Gender Gap: How to Win Elections in a System that is not ‘Set up for Us’.

As an MPA student focused on local government, Ebony is passionate about pursuing change for black women interested in running for office. “I aim to identify and analyze barriers that impact the electoral success of black women. Through examining these circumstances, I hope to gain insight on how to create a framework that will help advance black women’s political participation and attain a reflective representation in elected office at various levels of government.”

Ebony’s research describes how the underrepresentation of black women in office is due to the existing barriers to running, despite performing just as well in elections. “The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County 2000-2015 directly addresses issues that hinder black women’s participation in the civic process and further the political ambition gap. An oppressive culture of ‘sweet tea racism’ has continued to ‘quietly strangle’ our communities and stifle opportunities for political advancement. The continuation of the systematic racism addressed in the report has led to a severe distrust in the political system. From its inception, the American political system built its economic and political influence on the subjugation of people of color. This injustice has created current challenges for up-and-coming black politicians trying to advance in a political system that, was not designed with them in mind.”

In response, Ebony is determined to tear down these barriers that impede on racial and gender equity in our political system. RSJI’s award will support her ability to encourage black women to beat these odds, though attending the Taste of Emerge conference hosted by Emerge America. “Top political strategists and trainers teach attendees critical elements of campaigning, including: campaign overview & structure, messaging, media relations, and the art of relationship building. I desire to work to ensure government policies appropriately consider challenges and persistent opportunity gaps faced by too many disadvantaged, marginalized, and underrepresented women—and inspire other women of color to do the same—to ensure that everyone who aspires to run for office has a chance to succeed. Participating in this conference will encourage me to harness my power as a black woman, run for office, and become the lifeblood of my community, fighting for a just and racially equitable society.”

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