Rihanna’s homeland wants her to continue to “shine bright like a diamond.”
The singer was honored Monday in her native Barbados during its presidential inauguration, which served to mark the country becoming a republic.
Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley told the crowd, “On behalf of a grateful nation, but an even prouder people, we therefore present to you the designee for national hero of Barbados, Ambassador Robyn Rihanna Fenty.”
“May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honor to your nation by your works, by your actions, and to do credit wherever you shall go,” Mottley said.
The makeup and fashion mogul was appointed as an ambassador of Barbados in 2018.
According to a statement from the Barbados Government Information Office released at the time, the position gives the celeb “specific responsibility for promoting education, tourism, and investment for the island.”
She also became one of the Caribbean island country’s cultural ambassadors in 2008, doing promotional work for its tourism ministry.
In a move that received a great deal of support in the country, Barbados formally cut ties with the British monarchy by becoming a republic almost 400 years after the first English ship arrived on the most easterly of the Caribbean islands.
If there is one name that has become synonymous with heroism, it is Stacey Abrams.
“Whatever happens,” author and niece of former president Trump, Mary L. Trump tweeted on the evening of Nov. 3, 2020, “@staceyabrams is a hero.”
“She is one of THE heroes of the US election #StaceyAbrams,” tweeted actress Thandiwe Newton on Nov. 6 2020.
Hillary Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Susan Rice, Viola Davis and Whoopi Goldberg were among those who tweeted thank you’s to their new hero during the 2020 election.
The 49-year-old Abrams founded Fair Fight, an organization dedicated to addressing voter suppression, in 2018 and is credited with registering 800,000 new voters across Georgia who were affected by voter suppression in time for the 2020 U.S elections.
On Dec.1, 2021 Abrams had her own tweet to share:
“I’m running for Governor because opportunity in our state shouldn’t be determined by zip code, background or access to power.”
Besides being a candidate for governor, Abrams also happens to be a tax attorney, romance novelist, and former state representative, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017 and as minority leader from 2011 to 2017.
Abrams is a powerhouse. A superwoman. A hero.
But the journey of the hero we often see, in literature, movies and life, is not one without conflict. From Odysseus to Luke Skywalker, the hero’s journey is a long one that begins with a departure, followed by an initiation and ultimately a return.
Abrams’ journey is no exception.
Act I: The Call to Action
Abrams was born in 1973, the second of six siblings, in Madison, Wis. Her parents, Robert and Carolyn Abrams, raised their family in Gulfport, Miss. before moving the family to Atlanta, Ga., where they pursued graduate degrees at Emory University and eventually became Methodist ministers.
Abrams interest in politics began at a young age. When she was 17, she was hired as a typist for a congressional campaign, which led to a promotion to speechwriter, based on the edits she had made while typing.
It was during high school that she learned an important lesson about her worth too.
In 1991, Abrams was valedictorian of her high school class and received an invitation to meet the Governor of Georgia. The family didn’t have a car, and instead took the bus to the Governor’s Mansion. Upon arrival, the guard at the gate stopped the Abrams family, saying the event was private, and they didn’t belong there. Her parents presented the the invitation, stating their daughter was invited to the event.
“I think two things happened that day,” Abrams said when she recounted the story to CBS news in May of 2021, “One, they were not going to let me be denied this honor that I’d achieved. But two, I think they wanted me to see my responsibility is to not let someone else tell me who I am and where I belong.”
Abrams earned a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies from Spelman College, studied public policy at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, where she earned a Master of Public Affairs degree and earned a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.
After law school, Abrams worked as a tax attorney at Atlanta’s Sutherlan Asbill & Brennan law firm, primarily working with tax-exempt organizations, health care and public finance.
Abrams was appointed a deputy city attorney for the City of Atlanta in 2002. Then in 2006, she won a seat as a Democrat in the Georgia Assembly and became the first female minority leader of her party.
In 2010, she co-founded Nourish, Inc, which was eventually rebranded as the invoicing solution business, NOW Corp. She became district attorney for Atlanta and then minority leader for Georgia’s House Democrats in 2011, all while writing romance novels under the pen name, Selena Montgomery.
Her level of accomplishments up until this point already seemed heroic. Abrams was just getting warmed up.
Act II: The Road of Trials
Abrams became the Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia in 2018 and the first black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States. Abrams ran against then Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp. She ultimately lost to Kemp by less than two percentage points.
Abrams claimed there was a gross mismanagement of the election by the Secretary of State’s office. The Associated Press reported at the time that Kemp put nearly 53,000 voter registrations on hold ahead of the election, nearly 70 percent of them from Black people.
Allegations of voter suppression sparked a massive voter registration effort, spearheaded primarily by Abrams.
Within days of the election, Abrams founded Fair Fight, an organization devoted to promoting fair elections, encouraging voter participation in elections and educating voters about elections and their voting rights.
It is no coincidence voter suppression is most notably associated with the civil rights movement. Voter suppression, particularly of voters of color, isn’t always easy to understand if you’ve never experienced it Abrams has said.
“When you’ve never had to think about the hardship of voting, then yes, these conversations on voter suppression seem absurd to you,” Abrams said in her May interview with CBS News, “When you have never spent more than seven minutes in line, it is nearly impossible to imagine that there are poor Black people who stand in line for eight hours, miss an entire day’s wages, risk losing their jobs simply to cast a ballot in an election that may or may not have any benefit in their lives.”
After her loss, Abrams fought to campaign against voter suppression
in the run-up to the 2020 election through Fair Fight, making sure that everyone who had the right to vote, did so.
Her efforts were successful.
In the 2018 election, her campaign registered more than 200,000 new voters. In 2020, Fair Fight and her other organization, the New Georgia Project, registered more than 800,000 new voters.
Besides fighting against voter suppression, Fair Fight has taken on other causes that align with Abrams’ platform.
In 2019, Abrams launched Fair Count to ensure accuracy in the 2020 Census, stressing the need for greater participation in civic engagement from the POC community, and the Southern Economic Advancement Project, which is a public policy initiative to broaden economic power and build equity in the South.
More recently, Fair Fight has turned its attention to the state’s healthcare system.
In October, Fair Fight launched a new seven-figure ad campaign urging Gov. Brian Kemp to help Georgians by supporting an expansion of Medicaid.
Paying off medical debt is another part of Fair Fight’s advocacy.
“I know firsthand how medical costs and a broken healthcare system put families further
and further in debt,” Abrams said in a statement on Fair Fight’s website, “Working with
RIP Medical Debt, Fair Fight is stepping in where others have refused to take action. For people of color, the working poor and middle-class families facing crushing costs, we hope to relieve the strain on desperate Americans and on hospitals struggling to remain open.”
In November, Fair Fight celebrated the win of 12 Fair Fight-endorsed candidates in local elections across Georgia.
“Democrats in Georgia scored key victories as Fair Fight-endorsed, pro-voting rights candidates prevailed in every corner of the state,” said Fair Fight Political Director André Fields.
Abrams used her loss to build a sturdy platform on which she could stand, and see tomorrow.
Act III: The Hero Returns
Abrams announced her campaign for Georgia governor on Dec. 1, 2021, promising to fight for economic equality and expand health care access.
“I’ve never stopped fighting for Georgia. I’ve never lost faith that — together — we can build a brighter future for all of us,” Abrams said in a statement on her official campaign website, “Together, we can keep more money in families’ pockets, help our communities prosper and give our children the greatest opportunities to thrive.”
Polls conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in November suggest a race against Kemp, her long-time political rival, could be a close one, again. Abrams trailed Kemp by 3 points among likely voters in the state.
Abrams’s journey has been a long one that, truthfully, is still ongoing. As she prepares her gubernatorial bid, she is also laying the groundwork for the next leg of her journey: a bid for the presidency.
“When someone asks me if that’s my ambition, I have a responsibility to say yes,” Abrams told CBS News, “For every young woman, every person of color, every young person of color, who sees me and decides what they’re capable of based on what I think I am capable of.”
A new U.S. quarter featuring legendary poet, writer and activist Maya Angelou went into circulation on Monday (Jan. 10), making her the first Black woman to be featured on the coin.
In a statement, the U.S. Mint announced the new coin, which is the first of five designs in its American Women Quarters Program. Other quarters in the series, which celebrates important women in American history, will continue to be rolled out later this year and through 2025.
“Each time we redesign our currency, we have the chance to say something about our country — what we value and how we’ve progressed as a society,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a release. “I’m very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America’s most remarkable women, including Maya Angelou.
The quarter still features Former President George Washington’s profile on the “heads” side, while the “tails” side pictures Angelou in front of a bird and rising sun — a nod to her 1969 debut memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and a symbol “of the way she lived.”
The push for the American Women Quarters Program began in 2017 with support from California Rep. Barbara Lee, whose Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act passed last year.
“As a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, poet laureate, college professor, Broadway actress, dancer and the first female African American cable car conductor in San Francisco, Maya Angelou’s brilliance and artistry inspired generations of Americans,” Lee said in a statement on Monday. “If you find yourself holding a Maya Angelou quarter, may you be reminded of her words, ‘Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity.’”
In a tweet, she added, “The phenomenal women who shaped American history have gone unrecognized for too long — especially women of color. Proud to have led this bill to honor their legacies.”
Besides the civil rights icon, the U.S. Mint’s quarters program will also distribute coins featuring Sally Ride, an astronaut and the first American woman to travel to space; Anna May Wong, considered to be the first Chinese-American Hollywood movie star; Wilma Mankiller, activist and the Cherokee Nation’s first female principal chief; and Adelina Otero-Warren, a woman’s suffragist and the first Latina to run for Congress.
Will Smith returns as executive producer on the dramatic reboot of the show that made him a TV star.
Peacock released the first full-length trailer on Monday for “Bel Air,” a drama reboot of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” that will debut on the streaming service Super Bowl Sunday.
“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was one of the biggest sitcoms of the 1990s and turned rapper Will Smith into a TV star. In the series, Smith portrayed a street-savvy teen from West Philadelphia, who is sent to live in the luxurious hills of Bel-Air with his aunt and uncle after he got in “one little fight.”
Now, “Bel-Air,” which has Smith as executive producer, gives the story of “Fresh Prince” a dramatic twist and a contemporary setting, with newcomer Jabari Banks playing Will.
“With this dramatic reimagining, we wanted to create a show that stands on its own while honoring the spirit and innovation of the original series,” series director/co-writer Morgan Cooper said.
“Because ‘Bel-Air’ is a drama, we’re able to really peel back the layers of these characters and themes in a way that you simply couldn’t do 30 years ago in the half-hour sitcom format. We’re able to go have tough conversations that challenge perspectives.”
Cooper is an executive producer with Smith and showrunners T.J. Brady and Rasheed Newson, as well as Terence Carter, James Lassiter, Miguel Melendez, Malcolm Spellman, Quincy Jones, Benny Medina, and Andy & Susan Borowitz.
Peacock will release the first three episodes of “Bel-Air” on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 13, with new episodes being released weekly.
Sidney Poitier, whose elegant bearing and principled onscreen characters made him Hollywood’s first Black movie star and the first Black man to win the best actor Oscar, has died. He was 94.
Clint Watson, press secretary for the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, confirmed to CNN that Poitier died Thursday evening.
Poitier overcame an impoverished background in the Bahamas and a thick island accent to rise to the top of his profession at a time when prominent roles for Black actors were rare. He won the Oscar for 1963’s “Lilies of the Field,” in which he played an itinerant laborer who helps a group of White nuns build a chapel.
Many of his best-known films explored racial tensions as Americans were grappling with social changes wrought by the civil rights movement. In 1967 alone, he appeared as a Philadelphia detective fighting bigotry in small-town Mississippi in “In the Heat of the Night” and a doctor who wins over his White fiancée’s skeptical parents in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
Poitier’s movies struggled for distribution in the South, and his choice of roles was limited to what White-run studios would produce. Racial taboos, for example, precluded him from most romantic parts. But his dignified roles helped audiences of the 1950s and 1960s envision Black people not just as servants but as doctors, teachers and detectives.
At the same time, as the lone Black leading man in 1960s Hollywood, he came under tremendous scrutiny. He was too often hailed as a noble symbol of his race and endured criticism from some Black people who said he had betrayed them by taking sanitized roles and pandering to Whites.
On the eighth and final season premiere of Black-ish Tuesday, Michelle Obama made a guest appearance after the show’s main characters attended an event for When We All Vote, an organization that Obama founded to help register and turn out voters across the country.
What began as Andre (Anthony Anderson) and Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross)’s chance encounter with the former first lady turned into a casual dinner at the Johnson house.
Obama’s main scene mostly consisted of the rest of Dre and Bow’s family interrupting with attempts to try and impress her. And there were also a few moments of conversation among Obama, Dre and Bow about what it’s like having teenage kids.
“When our girls were that age, you should have seen how they rolled their eyes, especially at their father,” Obama said during the episode.
But clearly the cameo for Obama, who was personally asked to appear on the show by Ross herself, was all about getting the word out about voter registration. And while it was subtle within the episode, Obama reiterated the objective with a tweet after the show aired, reminding people to get themselves and others registered.
Meanwhile, viewers on Twitter celebrated Obama’s appearance on the hit series with plenty of praise and even a few requests like, “Please decide to be president in 2024” and “I too would like to invite you over for dinner.”
Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! Entertainment.
It may just be Oscar gold everything for Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
The powerhouse couple is one step closer to becoming Oscar nominees after they were both named in the shortlist for the best original song category at the upcoming 94th Academy Awards. The list of 15 contenders, which was announced on Dec. 21, recognized Beyoncé’s “Be Alive” from “King Richard” and “Guns Go Bang,” Jay-Z’s collaboration with Kid Cudi, from “The Harder They Fall.”
If Beyoncé and Jay-Z are nominated, it will be the first time in Oscars history that a married couple will face off against one another in the same category, according to Variety and Billboard.
Other stars who landed on this year’s shortlist include Billie Eilish and Finneas for “No Time to Die” from the latest James Bond film of the same name; Lin-Manuel Miranda for “Dos Oruguitas” from “Encanto”; and Ariana Grande for “Just Look Up,” her collab with Kid Cudi from the “Don’t Look Up” soundtrack.
Last year’s winner H.E.R. also made the shortlist, as well as songwriter Diane Warren, who has been nominated 12 times in the best original song category without a single win.
Voting for nominations will take place between Jan. 27 and Feb. 1, and fans will see if Beyoncé and Jay-Z will make history when nominees are announced on Feb. 8. Queen Bey was previously shortlisted for “Spirit” from “The Lion King,” but neither she nor Jay-Z has been nominated for an Academy Award.
The 2022 Oscars shortlists come hot on the heels of news that Beyoncé and her three children with Jay-Z — Blue Ivy, 9, and 4-year-old twins Sir and Rumi — will be featured in a new theme song for her mother Tina Knowles’ upcoming Facebook Watch series, “Talks With Mama Tina.”
“I loved filming this show and sitting down with so many amazing people because we got to have such honest heartfelt conversations and I got to make them my famous GUMBO!” Tina shared alongside a trailer of the show. “Thank you to my baby @beyonce and my beautiful grand babies for making this special theme song for the show. Are you guys ready to watch?”
The University of Oxford has made history by appointing Patricia Kingori to a full professorship, making the sociologist the youngest Black woman ever to receive tenure at Oxford or Cambridge. Kingori, born in Kenya to a Kenyan father and Caribbean mother, spent her childhood in St Kitts, before the family moved to the UK during her early teens. Her sister, Vanessa Kingori, is the first female publisher in British Vogue’s 102-year history.
She studies the everyday ethical experiences of frontline workers in global health, and “was awarded this historic distinction in recognition of the quality and global impact of her research on academia and beyond,” the university said on Dec. 13. Kingori is in her early 40s.
From Kenya to Oxford, via St Kitts
During her eight years at Oxford, Kingori has consistently obtained large and competitive funding grants, written frequently cited and impactful publications, supervised numerous DPhil candidates, and taught hundreds of students, the university said.
However, Kingori’s road to professorship wasn’t without roadblocks. For instance, she was awarded a Wellcome Doctoral Studentship to fund her PhD with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine just a month after she gave birth to her first child. After a year’s maternity leave, she relocated to Kenya with family to do fieldwork. But her career nearly stalled when civil unrest forced her to leave in 2007. Pregnant with her second child at the time, she thought people would write her off at work.
But 10 months after she left Kenya, she was able to go back, armed with two new supervisors, to bring her data collection back on track.
After completing the PhD, she bagged the Wellcome Research Fellowship to do postdoctoral research at the University of Oxford’s Ethox Centre. Since then, her career at the British institution has taken off. Within a span of five years, she went from being a research lecturer to an associate professor.
Kingori beyond academia
In addition to garnering accolades in academia, Kingori has also served as an adviser to multiple organizations including the World Health Organization, Save the Children, Medecins San Frontières, the Nuffield Council of Bioethics, and the Obama administration’s White House Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment in Africa Initiative.
Currently, Kingori is the recipient of a Wellcome Senior Investigator award, leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers exploring global concerns around fakes, fabrications, and falsehoods in health. Outside of her research, Kingori also helms several diversity initiatives, including a visiting scholarship for Black academics to the University of Oxford, and an internships program for students of color.
It’s hard to top a year that includes becoming the first woman to grace the cover of NBA 2K, dropping a new dope-ass footwear and apparel collection with Adidas, and bringing your hometown Chicago Sky its first WNBA title. But would Candace Parker be Candace Parker if she didn’t continue to outdo herself?
On Tuesday, the two-time WNBA MVP took to Instagram to reveal that not only has she been married for two years to her wife, Anya Petrakova, but the happy couple is expecting their first child together, per People. (Parker has a 12-year-old daughter, Lailaa, from a previous relationship with former NBA player Sheldon Williams.)
“Happy Anniversary Моя жена! 2 years ago, I got to marry my best friend in front of our close family and friends. My heart could have exploded. I cried like a baby,” she captioned pictures of their wedding. “To know me or you is to know our love. This journey hasn’t been easy. I am proud of us and what we have built and who we have grown to become both individually and together.
“Thank you for always loving Lailaa as your own, being my calm, my support, my voice of reason, my laughs, my cuddles, my dance in the rain, my happy, my home. Thanks for constantly challenging me and telling me when I’m wrong 🙄. I LOVE YOU🐞 I appreciate you, I value you and what we have.”
She continued, “We’ve always dreamed of growing our family….it’s surreal that we now have a baby on the way! Lailaa is pumped to be a big sister! You couldn’t be more beautiful! Glowing, while understanding that I have to constantly love, kiss, and talk to your belly AND yes… play Jay-Z for the baby (Goose knows “Song Cry” already by heart😜 !) I can’t wait to embark on this next chapter in life with you!”
Many people still think that being a gamer and a Black woman is a juxtaposition. It’s not. We’re not unicorns. Just like in any other industry, there are content creators, industry professionals, and consumers, and Black women can be found in all of these categories — but they’re often overlooked, underestimated, or outright ignored. So Black women are taking their spot in gaming for themselves.
If you’re not familiar with gaming, let me briefly explain how we got here. Gaming started with simplistic classics like Pong, and in their infancy, games were aimed at a broad audience who just wanted to play and have fun. But after the video game crash in the 1980s, the industry essentially said, “Fuck it, let’s just focus on white men and boys.” And after decades of game creation and marketing geared toward men, here we are in 2021, with the majority of the highest paid gamers being white men. Not to mention that the workforce in the industry is also dominated by white men. According to jobs site Zippia, 72% of video game developers in the US are men, and 72% of developers are also white. And unfortunately, with this came the foundation of a toxic misogynistic culture, which companies overlooked and sometimes encouraged with their early marketing — just look at one ‘90s Playstation advertisement.
As the social climate changed to become more critical and vocal about racism, sexism, homophobia, and discrimination, some companies have vowed to change, but only after hitting rock bottom. In July, a lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard by the California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleged the company long facilitated an environment of harassment, discrimination, and a toxic “‘frat boy’ workplace culture.” The suit led to an outpour of horror stories on social media that exposed what often happens behind game creation. Some triple-A companies have started to hire experienced chief diversity officers, who slowly but surely hope to tackle the ingrained bias internally and in their games.
But many gaming companies are still struggling to hire, and retain, Black employees which means, beyond the marketing, the culture isn’t progressing. Just 6% of video game developers in the US are Black, according to Zippia, so it doesn’t take long to look under the surface and see the dust is still under the rug. Brands are still enabling toxic content creators or work environments where marginalized people can feel as though they are collateral damage as we’ve seen with recent revelations about Activision. There’s still so much to do, and it seems the industry only reacts to current events, such as the murder of George Floyd, rather than plan for a better future. Despite changing demographics and efforts from within to create more inclusive spaces, Black women still aren’t visible and have long been ostracized, ignored, and underpaid.
The space is democratizing. But rather than the companies that make millions, it’s creators-turned-entrepreneurs who are doing the necessary work to address the lack of transparency and seemingly unclosable gaps in gaming.
Click here to read the full article on Refinery29.
Self-care is, by definition, typically and selfishly meant to be about caring for one’s self. In its purest form — rid of bogus, wallet-draining products that often serve capitalism more than the soul — self-care allows room for blissful and intentional heeding to whatever (and whomever) serves your spirit. But for Shirley Raines, founder of Beauty 2 the Streetz, a Los Angeles–based nonprofit serving the homeless community, self-care is decidedly selfless.
For Ms. Shirley, as the community she’s now served for six years calls her, self-care is a daily action that culminates in a weekly Saturday service. The gathering is one in which she asks unhoused individuals on Skid Row a simple, oft-desired question: “What do you want?”
When we chat on a Monday afternoon, Raines is enjoying a moment of respite before she goes shopping to fulfill requests for the week; think honey buns, McDonald’s burgers, and “shower-in-a-bag” kits. She’s fresh off of an Instagram Live filled with laughter and casual banter about coitus — among other things. “I gotta go, I gotta go, I got a Zoom in three minutes,” she laughs before ending the livestream. If it feels like she’s talking directly to you, it’s because she is. Beauty2TheStreetz’s 238,000 Instagram followers are responsible for funding the work she and her team of about 25 do every week. Her followers’ donations on the platform allow her to provide hygiene products, beauty sessions (complete with hair-dye jobs, long bright wigs, eccentric makeovers, and fresh cuts), and a catered family barbecue fit for 500 kings and queens, as she lovingly calls those who attend.
Sporting little to no makeup, a shirt emblazoned with “Black Powered,” and wide-framed Voogueme specs with a soft throw over her shoulders, Raines dials in from her couch at home in Long Beach — a pineapple-flavored probiotic Pressed juice in hand. The 54-going-on-34-year-old leader is direct and refreshingly self-aware. Beauty, she explains, is at the crux of her organization, and it’s an inside-out job.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that’s why I always tell people I’m lucky that I found a community that holds the things that I behold as beautiful as beautiful.” When asked what those are, Raines tells me, “I don’t know how to say it … you can clean it up,” before uttering words she absolutely knew how to say, and I’d later opt to leave exactly as is. “The beauty of me is that I don’t give a fuck what society says I should wear, you know what I mean? The boldness that I have is beautiful to me … It was nothing to cover my hair yellow when it wasn’t normal because I didn’t feel like I fit into your normal society anyway. It’s nothing to me to have eyelashes on so long that I can’t even blink and put my glasses on …”
Although Raines has a physical place to call home, she feels a strong sense of belonging among the community she works with; it’s the only part of society that she’s ever felt truly in tune with, and the degree of pain she often observes is something the mother of six knows all too well.
Deqa Dhalac saw it in their faces when she started campaigning. Some people, she says, seemed scared to open their doors when she knocked. Others saw her hijab and assumed she didn’t speak English. But Dhalac kept knocking and telling her story. And she says a lot has changed since those days back in 2018, when she first ran for City Council in South Portland, Maine — and won. On Monday she became the first Black mayor of the small city on the state’s Southern Coast. And she’s believed to be the first Somali American mayor in the United States. South Portland’s other city councilors, who are all White, elected her in a unanimous vote, heaping praise on Dhalac for her dedication to the community and thoughtful consideration of issues.
Dhalac, 53, says her election shows what can be accomplished when people find ways to connect with each other instead of putting up walls.
“People will always have some kind of reservation…but will get to know you, listen to you and see who you are through that,” she says. Given that Maine is the whitest state in the country, and that South Portland is 90% White, Dhalac knows her election sounds surprising to some. But she says that it shouldn’t be. And that’s one reason she ran for office in the first place. She hopes her election as mayor will inspire others to follow in her footsteps.
“I’m…really proud of the fact that I’m going to be opening a lot of paths for other folks who look like me, especially our young community members, to say, ‘If this woman can do this, actually I can do that,'” Dhalac told the City Council last month after her nomination. “And also not only for immigrant, first-generation or Black people, but also young, White individuals who may have been afraid or don’t want to be a part of the civic duties that we all have. … I say, ‘Yes, if I can do this, yes, you can do it. We really, really need you, each and every one of you in this beautiful city of ours, to step up.'”
Her election marks multiple milestones
Dhalac’s inauguration is a milestone for Somali immigrant communities that have grown in size and become more established in states like Maine, Minnesota, Ohio and Washington. As that’s happened, more Somali Americans are taking on roles on local school boards and city councils — and also serving as lawmakers, like Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota.
Dhalac is the first Somali American mayor in the United States, according to New American Leaders, an organization that trains and encourages immigrants to run for office. But the organization says they hope she won’t be the last.
“Her leadership will certainly make a big difference not only in South Portland, but around the country,” said Ghida Dagher, the organization’s president. “She’s going to serve an example for Somali Americans across the country to step up and step into their own leadership journey. … It’s about owning their own power and potential in our democracy.” Dhalac’s election is also a historic first for South Portland, which has never had a Black mayor before, says Seth Goldstein, vice president of the South Portland Historical Society. Goldstein, who teaches history and leads historical tours in the area, says he’s happy to watch this new chapter in his city’s history unfold. “It’s very exciting, I think that it is reflective of the way that the community here is gradually changing,” Goldstein says. About 6,000 Somalis live in Maine, Goldstein said, thanks to a wave of migration that began in the early 2000s.
Their arrival hasn’t always been met with open arms. In 2002, the mayor of Lewiston, Maine, drew national media attention when he wrote an open letter telling Somali immigrants not to come to his city.
But Dhalac says the people she’s met in Maine have been welcoming, and in recent years she’s seen more Somalis and other immigrants taking on leadership positions in the state. In the past, she says, immigrants were more hesitant to run because they were focused on making ends meet and supporting their families.
“I think we were always kind of afraid to get involved. … We were waiting on somebody (else) to do something,” she said.
In 2018, Dhalac got tired of waiting.