A Seat at the Table | Teen Ink

A Seat at the Table

July 19, 2021
By OA070 BRONZE, Baltimore, Maryland
OA070 BRONZE, Baltimore, Maryland
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

The only way to change the face of leadership is to take matters into your own hands and push to be seen. That’s exactly what Shirley Chisholm did in 1968 when she became the first Black woman elected to Congress. Then she made history again when she became the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties (in 1972). Chisholm famously said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”, meaning that if someone doesn’t give you an opportunity then you must make one for yourself. 
One-hundred years ago, women finally gained the right to vote through the 19th Amendment. But it’s taken much longer for women—specifically, Black women—to be granted a seat at the cultural and political table of America. See, being a Black woman at work in America can feel like a bundle of contradictions: wanting to prove that you belong in whatever room you’re in, and not be judged by what you look like, and yet being proud of who you are and not wanting to erase that. How do you wrestle with those two things? 
Malcolm X once said in 1962 that “the most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” And in the decades since, those words have continued to resonate: a rallying cry for black women who felt sidelined in the fight for civil rights, ignored during the feminist awakening, and discounted even as their protests police violence have earned that movement new attention. Black women have always been overseen and overlooked as a result of underestimation and underrepresentation. Yet in the face of such challenges, generations of black women have learned to be solution-oriented and resourceful, often ‘making a way out of no way,’ and their political participation is part of this history of survival. 
How do they do it? Well, to make an opportunity for yourself after facing discrimination, one must realize that their worth is what they believe it is and not what anybody else thinks. Next, black women like Shirley Chisholm realized that they would be doing themselves a disservice—and doing future generations that want to come have a seat at the table a disservice—if they are not securing their seats. Securing a seat at the table is using your voice. So, in a world where Black women were expected to be silent, brave leaders like Shirley Chisholm chose to yell. That’s because it’s not about what people think of you but about what you think of yourself. If you believe that you belong somewhere, that you deserve a seat at the table then make room and bring up a chair for yourself. 
Today, we can all learn a valuable lesson from Black women, that is to be the change that you want to see in the world and never diminish the power of your words. See, words move hearts, hearts move people, and people make a change. Also, if your voice didn’t have power, nobody would be trying to silence it. So, next time don’t wait to be given a chance but instead use your power and learn to take chances. 

The author's comments:

This piece was a speech that I orated in a Black History Month Oratory competition for a news station called WJZ CBS Baltimore. My name is Teni  and I am a 15 year old girl from Baltimore. I love writing and theatre. I have a blog which you can find at simplyteni.com. I also have a podcast on Spotify and all other podcast streaming platforms called "Chronicles of a Teenage Black Girl". I hope you really enjoyed my speech, it won me 2nd place (I was the only freshman competing against highschool juniors and seniors), I felt really accomplished.

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