It is no secret that Kentucky ranks near the bottom among states for the number of women holding elective office. At the state level, only 23 of the 138 senators and representatives are women, or 16.7 percent. None are women of color.
Those numbers are pretty scary considering women comprise 51 percent of Kentucky's population. And a local sorority chapter hopes to change that.
"We want to encourage women to run for public office," said Chrysanthia Carr-Seals, co-chair with Shayla D. Johnson for the "Women! Let's Run for Office" program hosted by Lexington's alumni chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., sorority.
"Our sorority is predominantly black, but we want all women to participate," Carr-Seals said. "One of the initiatives that the national Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., promotes for each chapter is to get politically involved, to become much more informed about the political process."
To that end, the sorority invited State Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, the longest-serving woman in the General Assembly, and 6th District Councilwoman Angela Evans, who is one of three women newly elected to the Lexington council. A record seven women are seated on the council currently.
The two keynote speakers will later join a panel featuring a woman who has experienced a failed campaign and a woman who is learning the ins and outs of a political candidacy.
Palumbo ran for office after years of volunteering with various organizations, schools and churches in Lexington and she recommends that avenue for other women, she said. It is a means of "getting to know what the needs are in the community and to know what is important for you to work on," she said.
"Being a legislator has been a learning experience," Palumbo said. "We don't know everything. We depend on the community and our friends to know what the issues are.
After identifying issues that needed to be addressed, she realized the best place to tackle those issues was at the state level.
Palumbo grew up listening to her parents discussing politics at the dinner table, she said. Her father had a lot of political friends.
Still, it took the encouragement of her husband and family to run for public office.
"If you don't have family support, you can't do it," she said. "You don't just decide to run for office on a whim. Some things just happen when things are right."
Just when she was considering a run for office, the state representative in the 76th District resigned and a special election was held.
For Evans, running for office was the next step.
"I've always been in government," she said, "and with my social work background, I've seen how it works for people and how it doesn't work for people. I've seen injustices and unfairness, and I wanted to help create a more level playing field in the creation of jobs and just how people are treated. It is by being a part of the system that I can have a voice and at least expose some issues."
Evans, like Palumbo, indicated that familial support was important, but she also gleaned a lot of encouragement from Emerge America, a seven-month training program to prepare more Democratic women to seek office.
Carr-Seals is also a graduate of Emerge and recently was elected Fayette County Magistrate for District 3.
"I went through the Emerge program and thought I had the tools to (run for office)," Evans said. "That's just my personality," she said. "I've always been one to say if there is an opportunity, I'm going to take it."
So far, she thinks it was worth it. Just by her being on the council, "people know that we all have something to contribute," Evans said. "I think I bring a different perspective by being there."
I would agree. It wasn't until I saw a black face reporting the news that I began to think of journalism as a potential career.
Surely there are young girls of all cultures and races who can look at Palumbo and Evans and believe they, too, can help lead their state and city. And surely there are young boys who need to see women office holders, women as leaders.
The program will be held at the Northside Branch Public Library on April 11, starting at 10 a.m. Men are just as welcome as women.
"We want them to come out of curiosity and then decide to look more deeply into it," Carr-Seals said. "We want them looking into what's possible."