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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Flying with Shirley Chisholm

Can you imagine if Shirley Chisholm's run for president was welcomed as grandly as Senator Hillary Clinton's? Have you dreamed of doing something daring? Of being the first to do something? What stopped you?

Here is information on the famous first.

She was born on November 20, 1924, in Brooklyn, N.Y. She was the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress and the first to campaign for the presidency,known for her incisive debating style and uncompromising integrity. She was an outspoken advocate for women and minorities during seven terms in the House. She died on January 3, 2005 near Daytona Beach, friends said Sunday. She was 80.

Her road was not an easy one. She clearly chose the road less traveled. Rather than seeming dated, Chisholm's moxie and commitment is a refreshing antidote to the opportunism and cynicism that rules the political roost today. There is almost a wistfulness to what Chisholm dared as a first-term congresswoman from Brooklyn in 1972. It's not only a historical document but an inspiring tale of someone who made a difference.The American political landscape is littered with Don Quixotes tilting against windmills and vested interests.

Chisholm told people that "if you can't support me, get out of my way." She was physically attacked three times while on the campaign trail, and talking about it today she still gets teary-eyed.Not surprisingly, she met a lot of resistance, even among the Congressional Black Caucus and emerging women's rights groups. Gloria Steinem thought she was good, but McGovern was great. And to this day, Chisholm believes her black colleagues in Congress failed to rally around her because she was a woman.

She said this after her defeat in 1972, "There is little place in the political scheme of things for an independent, creative personality, for a fighter. Anyone who takes that role must pay a price."

I do not remember much about her, but I am grateful for her courage, her desire, and her willingness to fly in the midst of danger. I only hope that I, too, in my own way can be an instrument for change.