By Tilesha Brown, Special to the AFRO
Atima Omara is an award-winning political strategist, advocate, writer and speaker based in Washington, D.C. She made history in 2013 when she became the first African American, and only the fifth woman, to be elected president of the Young Democrats of America (YA). She has worked for a governor and as a staffer on nine federal, state, and local Democratic campaigns in the state of Virginia. Now, with more than a decade of political experience, she is focused on reaching back.
Having recently opened her own global consulting firm, Omara Strategy Group, she is helping other women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community break barriers in the political and community service arenas. She helps organizations with their operations, fundraising and special projects and she trains African American and female political candidates on how to effectively run for public office.
Atima first became interested in public office as a student on the campus of the University of Virginia (UVA). Before arriving on campus, she was convinced that she’d become a lawyer— maybe even a doctor. With a mother who is a registered nurse and a father who is a teacher, she says those were the kinds of professions her family talked about at the dinner table.
But when she got there, she started to write for UVA’s campus newspaper, publishing more and more pieces centered around tough questions in the Black and LGBTQ community. From there, she took it a step further and started to think about how she could continue to do work where she could talk about the things she cared about but make more of an impact.
That’s when she got more involved in student government and was set on the path to public policy.
But when she arrived on that scene after graduation, she realized that there were not a lot of people that looked like her in that arena.
“For women, actually stepping up and saying ‘I want to be elected to public office,’ the numbers have remained small,” she explains, “and those are the positions that actually hold a lot of the power and make a lot of the decisions and the priorities in public policy.”
So Atima decided to be the one to step up. She ran in the special election for a Democratic seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates in 2014 because she figured she had nothing to lose. She had just won the YA presidency the year before, so she thought she could definitely handle the pressure. But very quickly, she started to see what she was really up against.
“There was a different set of standards for me than my White male colleagues,” Atima says, “Something would come out of my mouth and it would be deemed ‘offensive’… Then, he would say the same thing and it would be ‘sharp and on the mark.’ That tripped me up a few times.”
She ultimately lost the race, but she says she learned a lot about how people perceive young people, women, and especially women of color… and she learned what people generally want leadership to look like.
“My mother and father raised me to be confident in my own skin,” she says, “and to give my opinion like everyone else in the room. Sometimes that makes all the difference.”
Atima says that she believes you should take chances in life to do the things you’re meant to do. And she hopes to pass that kind of confidence and strength on to the women in the non-profit organizations she works with, the women she helps to get into public office, and even little girls just now coming into their own.
“Don’t be afraid— don’t worry about what people might think of your ideas,” she tells young girls, “Don’t be afraid to try them and fail because… at least you tried them.”
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