At the moment, you are my little Elly Bean. My 4-year-old, spunky, feisty, fiery ball of energy. It drives me crazy at times, but I admire those traits because you are going to need them as you go through life. At the moment, life is fun and innocent. You’re an inquisitive sponge learning a lot about the world. There’s a lot going on that you can’t process just yet, but things will make sense when you start to get older.
You won’t be able to read this now, and you won’t remember these times we are living in. However, this letter will be published on November 30, 2020, which would have been Shirley Chisholm’s 96th birthday if she were still alive. Chisholm has been long gone in the physical sense, but her illustrious legacy will always linger, and I hope she is one of the women you draw from when you begin to blossom into the woman you will become.
There’s a lot of chaos going on in the world right now. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and political turmoil. I know that whatever you learn in school about the latter, your teacher will probably tell you about how the 45th president of the United States lost the election. But that same teacher might gloss over how wicked it was that 45 was allowed to get away with an assault on democracy; they will probably gloss over the fact that his negligence in this pandemic has led to over 200,000 unnecessary deaths. You see, Elly Bean, history tends to make the evil among us look righteous while ignoring true excellence. That is why it’s my job—and will eventually be yours—to highlight the positive.
So, I am honoring Shirley Chisholm on this day. She was from Brooklyn, like you, and in 1968 she became the first Black woman elected to congress. In 1972, she became the first African American candidate for a major party’s bid for president. Her slogan was “Unbought and Unbossed.” What that meant was that she did not allow the sexism and racism she experienced to deter her from her mission to uplift her brothers and sisters.
She did not allow anyone to dictate what she should do. If something didn’t feel authentic to her mission, then she wasn’t going to do it. That was a big deal for her since she was in an environment where she had to be the loudest voice because people ignored her as a Black woman, and it was a space where people placed profit over human life. Unfortunately, these themes are still prominent today. But she lived her life that way until she transitioned and became an ancestor.
Now that she is watching over us, we are left to continue her work. There are Black women such as Stacey Abrams and Latosha Brown fighting against voter suppression, which you will also learn about. Most importantly, there’s Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Kamala Harris is the first woman to be elected vice president of the United States, as well as the first Black and Southeast Asian woman. She is the child of immigrants, like your father, and again, she is a Black girl, like yourself, and me, and your foremothers.
What Shirley Chisholm and Kamala Harris have in common was that neither of them won the role of president, but it didn’t stop their drive. Chisholm continued her work in congress where she expanded food and nutrition programs for low-income people, among other things. She did not win her party’s presidential nomination, but Harris was selected to run for vice president. The vice president is second in command, but that is no small feat.
I hope that we would have finally seen a woman president (especially a Black woman) by the time you read this, but if not, I still want you to know what is possible for you. You can be the president if you want—or an astronaut, or whatever it is that you dream of. That might sound cliché, but it’s true as long as you never let go of your dreams, ambition, and determination.
You see, my Elly Bean, Shirley Chisholm ran so that Kamala Harris could fly. Sometimes it might take a while for people to see you for the beautiful, capable human that you are, but pull your folding chair up to the table anyway. As a matter of fact: Build your own table. Be unbought and unbossed because no one can dictate your greatness but you.
Sky is the limit, baby girl.