From Shirley Chisholm To Hillary Clinton

Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is on the verge of making history as the first female ever nominated by a major Party for President of the United States. This is no small feat. Rather, it is the culmination of decades of struggle for women's rights - and civil rights. Just as we participated in an unprecedented election of the first African American President of the United States in 2008, we now have the opportunity to shatter a few more cracks in that highest glass ceiling (to steal a line from someone). This remarkable moment didn't occur overnight or in a vacuum however, and we must recognize the work and sacrifice of those that came before Clinton. My mind instinctively goes back to 1972, when Shirley Chisholm became the first African American to run for President. I witnessed firsthand the sexism, racism and humiliation she endured from all angles, and I can say wholeheartedly that today the struggle for gender equality and racial equality must be married more than ever because the fight for justice and fairness most definitely continues.

In 1972, I was a 17-year-old youth coordinator for Shirley Chisholm's campaign. I was extremely proud to be in charge of organizing young people in support of her presidential bid. She was a woman of many firsts; the first African American congresswoman, the first woman to run for the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination and the first African American woman to run for President. She once stated: "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair." Those are words that she not only lived by, but they also set an example for both women and African Americans at a time when we needed such a fierce role model. Sadly, because she was such a trailblazer and ahead of her time, Chisholm faced extensive backlash - even from some African American leaders.

At the historic National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana that year (I was the youth on the Platform Committee), we could not get them to support Chisholm officially. It was an extraordinary gathering of black leaders and activists, and I was completely shocked that they would not endorse Chisholm. She was a Black candidate with our agenda, in addition to a feminist agenda, but sexism prevented many from backing her, unfortunately. I watched the division and tensions during this time, and it was at that moment that I first realized racial equality and gender equality go hand-in-hand, and we cannot fight for one without fighting for the other.

As a civil rights leader, I cannot push for an end to racism without pushing for an end to misogyny. Men must realize that an empowered woman only further empowers society. We can see that today in places like the workforce for example. Wherever there is diversity - both racial and gender diversity for that matter - the more successful and productive that business or institution is. As the father of two daughters, I cannot only highlight racial inequities, but I must also call out gender bias when I see it. My daughters, and all of our daughters, deserve to live in a country where they are not denied opportunities because of their race or gender.

One of the greatest lessons I learned while working with Chisholm at such a young age was that we must lead by example and pave the way no matter how rough or uncharted the terrain. As I often say, we have made tremendous progress in this great nation of ours, but we have more barriers to break down. The only way to do so is to unite in our collective struggle to move forward. Blacks must fight misogyny, and women must fight racism.

Earlier this month, Clinton took to the stage at a warehouse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and echoed this sentiment as she moved one step closer to securing the nomination. "Tonight's victory is not about one person," she said. "It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible."

I couldn't agree more.