The number of Alabama women participating in politics is growing, and one Birmingham-based group is working to make sure that keeps happening.
Leading Edge Institute is trying to equip college women to make a difference in their home state.
Many women, especially Southern ones, are reluctant to speak up and don’t emerge as leaders like their male counterparts, executive director Benga Harrison told The Birmingham News.
“A lot of women are very bright, very motivated and don’t want to stay in Alabama — they feel like they are shut down here,” she said.
Women’s Policy Research, a nonprofit group in Washington that tracks women’s participation in politics, ranked Alabama 41st in 2000. By 2002, the state was up to 37th, and it moved to 24th in 2004.
Alabama ranked first for women in statewide elected executive offices with five females, and it ranked fifth for having 75 percent of females registered to vote.
Leading Edge Institute began leadership training six years ago. It trains up to 36 young women each year, nominated and paid for by their schools.
To help keep young women in Alabama and involve them in state issues, the institute exposes the participants to issues such as Black Belt poverty, education funding and constitutional challenges. They hear from some of the top female leaders and work on community projects.
Christina Bryant, 20, of Wenonah, has realized that her extroverted personality isn’t the problem she thought it was. Institute contacts helped Bryant land an internship in the office of U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala.
“I was concerned I was the Black stereotype — too loud or silly,” said Bryant, a communications major at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It took me a while to become comfortable with that. For me, it was learning how to regulate it.”
The institute has reshaped some students’ long-term plans.
UAB graduate Lucy Jones was ready to move to Washington before she became part of the 2001 LEI group. Leaders urged her to channel her political aspirations at home instead of leaving.
“I’m absolutely going to come back to Alabama and work on public policy for the rest of my life,” said Jones, now a law student at Georgetown University interested in tax reform and constitutional reform. “Both of those issues were introduced to me through LEI. LEI demonstrated to me that there were people fighting every day to make Alabama a better place.”
— Associated Press
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