Hillary Clinton May Be The First, But This Group Wants To Make Sure She’s Not The Last

By Hannah Wise
The Dallas Morning News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) With Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination this week, it was a time for many to reflect on women in politics….how far women have come and how far women still have to go. One non profit organization wants to make sure momentum is not lost. “Ignite”, a nonpartisan group, works to educate women 14 to 22 years old about civic government and politics. The goal is to empower women to consider running for elected office once they’re out of school.

The Dallas Morning News

That sound you hear is the glass ceiling cracking.

The same week that Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be nominated to lead a major American political party, more than 250 young Texas women will gather to celebrate their own political empowerment. The Ignite Girls Rock event is set for Saturday at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

Ignite, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group, works to educate women 14 to 22 years old about civic government and politics and empower them to consider running for elected office once they’re out of school.

“Ignite is for the girls who are out there in their communities seeing what problems need to be solved,” said Anne Moses, founder and president of the national group.

In Texas, women accounted for 19.9 percent of the state Legislature, holding 36 of 181 total seats in 2015. The founders of Ignite say the disparity is not because women cannot win, but rather because no one is fostering their political ambitions.

That is why the organization, active in California, Texas and Colorado, created curricula that supplements what they’re learning in high school and college and pushes them to become involved with issues that matter to their communities.

“It helps them identify their leadership potential and find their voice,” said Whitney Harp, the Texas program manager.
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“We get a lot of students who have never been told that they are destined leaders, and the Ignite program gives them that platform to develop those skills and step into a leadership position.”

Twenty-five Texas high schools, including Dallas’ Ursuline Academy, DeSoto ISD campuses and Dallas Law Magnet, use the program. Ignite has chapters at 12 Texas colleges, including Brookhaven College, Southern Methodist University and University of Texas at Dallas.

The group boasts support from a number of elected female Texans, including Margaret Keliher, the first female Dallas County judge; Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia; and Becky Gregory, former U.S. district attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.

For Antonia Okafor, 26, of Carrollton, joining the Ignite chapter at UTD gave her the courage to get involved with politics. Her exposure to the group and its program also helped her realize that she’s a Republican and a conservative, despite being raised in a family of Democrats.

Antonia Okafor (left), an alumna of the Ignite chapter at the University of Texas at Dallas; Rachel Jessie, a current member of the Brookhaven College Ignite chapter. (Contributed photos)

“I love the fact that they are actually nonpartisan,” Okafor said about the organization. “They don’t care what beliefs [the girls] have.”

Since graduation, Okafor has interned for Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and worked on the campaigns of Greg Abbott and Rand Paul.
She now works as the Southwest director for Students for Concealed Carry.

Okafor also serves as a GOP precinct chair in Denton County and is weighing a run for Carrollton City Council in the future.

Okafor’s planned path into local government is something Ignite hopes more of its participants will embrace.

“It is an entry point, and they can see themselves as future leaders there,” Harp said.

Ignite urges its participants to leverage their histories as a strength rather than shying away from them.

“Personal stories are the things that qualify you to make policy,” Moses said.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Rachel Jessie, 20, never considered politics.

“I didn’t think I was educated enough to be involved,” she said.

She found the the Ignite chapter at Brookhaven College last fall, and it changed her, she said.

She began studying peace, conflict and justice as well as French and hopes to work for the United Nations as an ambassador to a French-speaking country.

She said she voted for Bernie Sanders in Texas’ primary but is ecstatic that Clinton earned her way onto the November ballot.

“They couldn’t keep us down for long,” Jessie said. “Someone else would have done it. I would have done it.”

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