By Ashleigh Fields,
AFRO Assistant Editor,
Women’s Equality Day occurs every year on Aug. 26 to commemorate the adoption of the 19th amendment which prevents federal and local governments from discriminating against voters based on their gender. In Prince George’s County, Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD-5) carved out time to intentionally recognize women in politics and leadership at his annual Women’s Equality Day luncheon.
This year, the event took place at the Hotel at the University of Maryland with a few of the state’s most powerful leaders including Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller (D-MD), County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D-PG County) and keynote speaker Shalanda Young who serves as the White House Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
“We gather today at a time when women have fewer rights than they did when we started hosting this event twenty-one years ago,” said Hoyer. “Last summer, the Supreme Court’s radical and misguided ruling in Dobbs vs. Jackson, undid decades, as a matter of fact, a half a century of progress towards gender equality and personal freedom.”
“I hope every one of you here thinks that this is a personal responsibility that you have to make sure that your sisters are as free as your brothers,” he continued.
As different speakers graced the stage, they reminded women in the audience that they are beyond capable of casting out stereotypes, achieving their goals and helping those alongside them to do the same.
“None of us get to decide when we are born, what our skin color is, what our race is or what our socio-economic background is. You know what we do get to decide? What we are doing with our lives to ensure we are bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice,” said Miller. “Fighting for gender equality is never about fitting into a space that was conceived by others. It’s about creating our own space.”
In her speech, she paid homage to local legends like House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County-10), Yvette Lewis, Maryland Democratic Party Chair and Comptroller Brooke Lierman who have established a space of support for her and future elected officials looking to walk in their footsteps.
Angela Alsobrooks followed up by sharing her political testimony that attributes some of her success to Rep. Hoyer, who she believes has a “calling to elevate women.” She spoke of the passion ignited in her by impactful women who preceded her that refused to be victims of injustice.
“Discrimination does not die easily. There was no surrender in Gloria Richardson who celebrated significant victories of civil rights and women’s equality but continued fighting because there was more work to do,” said Alsobrooks. “We can’t quit before history comes full circle… Today’s celebration is our call to keep working until we can enjoy all the rights that our nation has promised us.”
Shalanda Young, closed on a promising note, citing her 1 year old daughter as a catalyst for change.
“I live everyday as normal and try to get out of the house with a 22 month old who is our next generation and trust me she is ready to fight,” said Young. “And I stand on the shoulders of women, including my 94 year old grandmother who is still in the South of Louisiana.”
Young is a native of Clinton, La., a town with just 2,000 people that she explained it is almost impossible to make it out of.
“If you have not grown up in a town that everyone has forgotten including your government, you don’t know what struggle is,” she proclaimed. “You turn to things that don’t align with a bright future because you’ve got no other examples to follow.”
However, Young’s office funds federal initiatives and programs that reach out to communities that have been left behind. A role with an impact she says she could not have made without the advocacy of Hoyer.
“I have this job because Steny Hoyer fought for me to have this job. And all it takes is one shot,” said Young.
She referenced the importance of her position which under President Joe Biden’s leadership has spurred a $70 million investment in business women’s centers and the creation of the gender policy council which was formed to promote equity across the globe. These efforts continually push her to return to a grueling job as a new mother with hopes of a better tomorrow.
“Our better days are ahead. We all just want to share in the blessings this country has to offer,” said Young. “Now, a guiding principle that drives me to get up and work towards a fairer America, where all of us, no matter our backgrounds, are able to realize our full potential.”