In a historic midterm election last month, Texas sent two Latinas to Congress for the first time. While it marked a significant milestone, it also illustrated the longtime lack of diversity in the state’s political representation.
“It shouldn’t be the case that we’re a state where 40 percent of the population is Latino and yet only two of our 36 congressional members are Latinas,” said former state Sen. Wendy Davis, who now leads Deeds Not Words, an organization she founded to help spur a new generation of young women to become interested in activism.
Reshaping Texas leadership means investing in women of color, said Cristina Tzintzún, founder and executive director of Jolt, a statewide organization focused on energizing the Latino vote. Conversations about that lack of investment in Texas led Tzintzún and Davis to form a partnership to try to change the state’s landscape.
Tzintzún’s and Davis’ groups are now launching Movement Mujeres, a leadership development program for women of color funded by a four-year, $2 million grant from the NoVo Foundation. Central to the program is a fellowship designed to help 25 women ages 21-35 hone their skills, build an alumni network and take on key leadership positions in government and social justice nonprofits in Texas.
Fellows will participate in training and workshops and receive a $1,200 yearly stipend as well as travel and child care expenses. Applications are now being accepted, and the deadline to apply online at movementmujeres.com is 5 p.m. Jan. 9. In addition to the fellowship, Movement Mujeres plans on organizing training for 1,000 women of color across Texas.
“I often think that we look around and expect that someone else is the right person to speak up or advocate on an issue and that there’s surely someone more qualified than us to be doing this work,” Tzintzún said. “And then you realize that maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s you.”
For a long time, Tzintzún said she felt like her strongest contributions included working hard, putting in long hours and her ability to sacrifice. At least, she said, that’s what she had been conditioned to think as a woman of color. However, Tzintzún said she has learned that it’s actually her ability to inspire and empower others as well as her ability to see paths for change that are among her greatest gifts.
“I don’t want other women of color who are talented and courageous in this state to feel like they have to hide who they are or not feel like their leadership is honored, respected or lifted up,” she said.
Tzintzún began her social justice career without a network of people to help her navigate the field or learn about opportunities, and it took her about a decade to craft one. Helping women build their own networks to kick doors open will form an important part of the fellowship program, she said.
Davis said she also hopes to boost funds for covering child care expenses for the fellows to attend the program as it increases its fundraising efforts. Having struggled as a young, single mother living in poverty, Davis said she remembers affordable child care being her greatest challenge as she tried to hold down two jobs and attend school.
The fellowship, which coincides with the start of the legislative session, will help place fellows in city and county boards and commissions so they can begin to serve as leaders on the issues that matter to them the most. Movement Mujeres plans to track them over time to see what kind of leadership roles they take on in the future.
“When voices are absent, when lived experiences are absent from policymaking, philanthropy and social justice, then the personal narratives and experiences of people who could shape those policies are not at the table, and, therefore, they are never going to see their values reflected in the decisions that are made,” Davis said.
Building an infrastructure for women of color to rise to leadership roles in a state as big as Texas is significant, she said, and Movement Mujeres “is a large and important piece of doing that, but it’s just the beginning.”