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Ten inspiring quotes from Shirley Chisholm

shirley chisholm

Looking at the life of Shirley Chisholm, there are numerous reasons to applaud her career as an activist. She was a political pioneer in many ways. She was the first African American woman elected from Brooklyn to the New York State legislature as well as the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968. She co-founded both the Congressional Black and Women’s Caucuses. She also ran for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination in 1972—the first time a woman or person of color sought a major party’s endorsement for the nation’s highest-ranking office.

However, one of the things that truly made Chisholm unique was her ability to take complicated issues and put them into words that could both galvanize and cause people to reflect at the same time. Her words often evoked emotions of guilt, sadness, and anger simultaneously because there was so much truth in what she said.

She fought with her actions, but her words brought the issues to life. In an era where women still have to be encouraged to “lean in,” Shirley Chisholm never waited to be asked to sit at the table or to give her opinion. And she did way more than just lean in – she took center stage and she told people the hard truths about inequity, racism, sexism and she spoke up for those that were often ignored by society. In so many ways, she was ahead of her time in taking a stance on issues such as the right to universal healthcare, encouraging women to run for office and highlighting the corrosive effects of money in our political system. Long before these topics were headlines on the nightly news, she forced Americans to take a good long look in the mirror and contemplate what equity really means.

Shirley Chisholm said so many prophetic things over her career, but here are ten quotes in particular that show how groundbreaking she really was as an activist and a leader:

  • “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”

  • “In the end, anti-black, anti-feminism and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing, anti humanism.”

  • “Health is a human right, not a privilege to be purchased.”

  • “Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to society simply because that talent wears a skirt.”

  • “At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.”

  • “We have never seen health as a right, it has been conceived as a privilege, available only to those who can afford it. This is the real reason the American health care system is in such a scandalous state.”

  • “My God, what do we want? What does any human being want? Take away an accident of pigmentation of a thin layer of our outer skin and there is no difference between me and anyone else. All we want is for the trivial difference to make no difference.”

  • “I don’t measure America by its achievement but by its potential.”

  • “Most Americans have never seen the ignorance, degradation, hunger, sickness, and futility in which many other Americans live...They won't become involved in economic or political change until something brings the seriousness of the situation home to them.”

  • “As things are now, no one can tell who members of Congress are responsible to, except that it does not often appear to be to the people. Everyone else is represented in Washington by a rich and powerful lobby, it seems. But there is no lobby for the people.”

Click here for more information on the life of Shirley Chisolm:

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