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American Trailblazer

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By Joe Carrel, Buffalo Exchange HQ

You know those “doodles” that occasionally appear on Google’s homepage to celebrate a person or event? Well there have been 763 folks commemorated in this way since Claude Monet first appeared there in the fall of 2001.

I’ve got a heck of a suggestion for the next.

One might say that, due to the way most politicians act, the best preparation for politics would be a job in child care. I’m sure Shirley Chisholm would agree. While pursuing her master’s degree in elementary education, Shirley worked as a nursery school teacher’s aide. She soon found herself as the director of the school en route to becoming a consultant for New York City’s Division of Day Care. That’s when the politics part would kick in.

Her expertise in early education and child welfare led to her 1965 election to the New York State Assembly. Three years later she ran for Congress, campaigning through Brooklyn in a truck with rooftop speakers announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen… this is fighting Shirley Chisholm.” Considered a political maverick, her slogan was “Unbought and Unbossed.” She won that election, becoming the first African American woman to enter Congress. But she wasn’t finished there.

In 1972, despite numerous death threats and meager financial resources, Shirley campaigned for the Democratic nomination for President. Though George McGovern would eventually get the nod, Chisholm’s supporters, mostly women, minorities and young people, were proud to get her on the ballot in 14 states and garner 150 delegate votes. She later wrote, “The next time a woman runs, or a black, or a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is ‘not ready’ to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start… I ran because somebody had to do it first.”

She went on to serve in Congress for seven terms. “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”

So regardless of whether a Google homepage appearance is in the offing, Shirley Chisholm’s place as an American trailblazer is secure.

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