Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: Celebrating the Women Who Raised Us; ‘Mother of Juneteenth’ Opal Lee Receives Medal of Freedom

Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation is a compilation of stories about women’s representation in politics, on boards, in sports and entertainment, in judicial offices and in the private sector in the U.S. and around the world—with a little gardening and goodwill mixed in for refreshment!

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day weekend! Whether in the classroom or at the dinner table, women have made remarkable contributions to our daily lives. RepresentWomen pays tribute to the women who illuminate our world with strength and compassion. This weekend, we celebrate their sacrifices and the invaluable gifts they generously share.

I am so grateful for my mother, Carolyn Nicholson Terrell, who introduced me to the natural world at a young age. Every spring, we collected tadpoles and watched as they grew tiny legs on a steady diet of oatmeal flakes and lettuce. Summers were spent at our cabin in the woods, swimming in the cedar water, looking for turtles along the banks, and reading aloud by candlelight every evening.  In the autumn, we collected bright red maple leaves to iron between wax paper and made grape jelly from our rambling Concord vines. Winter brought sledding and waffles for dinner on snowy Sunday evenings. While I realize I love many of the same things she loved—children’s books, sponge cake, gardening, The Wind in the Willows, monarch butterflies, Quaker history and blueberries—I most admire her capacity to listen deeply, to speak plainly, and to accept others unconditionally.

In this week’s reading:

  • Join RepresentWomen as we thank our mothers on Mother’s Day.
  • Discover El’ona Kearny, aspiring to become Washington State’s first Black woman governor, and civil rights icon Opal Lee hailed as “The Mother of Juneteenth.”
  • Explore the benefits of ranked-choice voting and how it can enhance presidential primary elections, and delve into the challenges facing our public schools as First Lady Jill Biden honors teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week.
  • Finally, we celebrate the success of our “Breaking Barriers for Black Women Candidates” virtual roundtable discussion, where we heard invaluable insights from brilliant Black women about their political journeys and how we can offer more Black women support when running for office.

Celebrating the Women Who Raised Us: RepresentWomen Honors Moms

Outreach manager Alissa and Bombardier Shaw with her mom, Pia Bombardier. 

“One thing I admire about my mom, Pia, is her dedication. She puts her all into everything she does, which has inspired me to do the same. She has given me the courage to pursue my dreams and the support I need to get back up after life has knocked me down. Happy Mother’s Day to my incredible mom and all the mothers out there!”

Research director Courtney Lamendola and her mom, Paula Lamendola.

“One of the things I’ve always admired about my mom is her love of learning. She is the one who taught me how to love reading, ask questions, and learn from difficult social situations (particularly in grade school). When I was in high school, she returned to school for her AuD, and that’s when her love of learning (and equally competitive spirit about earning good grades) shone. I’m so grateful for her warmth, love, and support and to have had her model how trying and learning new things can be a lifetime of love. Happy Mother’s Day – I hope your day is sunny and that you enjoy this month’s book from the book club.”

International research Manager Fatma Tawfik with her mom, Hewyda Hekal.

“The way I love my mother goes beyond what she does and did for me and all the hardships she endured in her life to make me who I am today. I love her as the person that she is before anything else, and I love her simply because I learned what love is from her.”

Partnerships director Katie Usalis and her mom, Robin Usalis.

“My favorite thing about my mom is that, even if she weren’t my mom, I’d still want to be friends with her. I love her fun personality, her sense of humor, how smart she is, and what a great leader she is. I also love her taste in music, how multi-talented she is, and how she just lights up a room when she enters it! Most of all, I love how she’s always in my corner, no matter what, no questions asked. I love you, Mom!”

Digital media manager Ria Deshmukh and her mom, Shivali Deshmukh.

“My mom is the most kind and caring individual I know, and anyone you ask could verify that. She is adored by her family, friends, students and her dog Hank. She has shaped the person I am today, and I am still learning so much from her. Happy Mother’s Day Ma!”


Research manager Steph Scaglia and her mom, Carole Dulong.

“I love my mom’s endurance and constant hard work in all aspects of life! She never fails to inspire me, both on and off the bike.”

Research intern Rechelle Gutierrez with her mom, Esther Gutierrez.

“I admire my mom because she has never backed down from any challenge. She has pushed me to follow all of my dreams and has believed in me every step of the way!”

Communications director Ashley Thurston with her mom, Dr. Elletta Denson.

“My mother is the guiding light of our family. She instilled in my sisters and me the importance of hard work through her tireless dedication, class through her unwavering integrity, and empathy through her warm-hearted nature. She has overcome numerous obstacles with unyielding resilience and graceful strength. She leads by example daily, and I am so blessed to call her my mama!”


El’ona Kearney Aims to Be Washington State’s First Black Woman Governor

(Courtesy of the EL’ona Kearney campaign)

El’ona Kearney is running for governor of Washington. If elected, she would be the state’s Black woman governor. Having experienced homelessness, Kearney is motivated by critical concerns like poverty and aims to represent the working class. Kearney acknowledges the financial challenges of running for office but hopes to inspire others to enter politics, challenging the notion that politics is only for the wealthy.

A lack of finances represents just one barrier women face when running for office. One of the solutions to this structural barrier is gender-balanced funding

Lionel Donovan from King 5 reports:

Kearney says she was inspired to run after seeing issues such as homelessness worsen over time. Experiencing homelessness herself, Kearney says she understands many of the challenges that face Washington’s working class.

Now, she’s pounding the pavement and has visited all 39 of Washington’s counties, looking to spread the word about her grassroots campaign.

“I’ve been pretty much out in these streets since May 2022, getting to know people because all our politicians always come out election year like that’s the only time we exist,” she said. 

But running for Governor isn’t cheap. Simply filing to register for Washington’s August primary costs nearly $2,000. Kearney says hurdles like that prevent many from running for office. She added that she can only run because her husband works full-time but hopes to gain support as the race goes on.

‘The Mother of Juneteenth’ Opal Lee Receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Civil rights icon Opal Lee, known as the “Mother of Juneteenth,” will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom today by President Biden. She has tirelessly advocated for the national recognition of the holiday, commemorating the day enslaved people in Texas were freed after a two-year delay since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Honoring Dr. Lee is crucial in recognizing the challenges, troubles, and suffering Black people in America have faced and continue to face today. 

However, actual progress requires a democracy that reflects the diversity of our nation. RepresentWomen’s research brief, titled Breaking Barriers for Black Women Candidates, highlights the challenges and solutions to increasing Black women’s representation in public office, a critical step in a more representative democracy. 

Melissa Noel at Essence reports:

“The Grandmother Of Juneteenth,” Opal Lee will add a new accomplishment to her resume Friday when she is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden.

She has famously said, “If we can teach people to hate, then we can teach people to love.”

It is the nation’s highest civilian honor, given to people who have made exemplary contributions to the “prosperity, values, or security of the United States,” according to The White House. Lee will be one of 19 recipients of the honor this year.

How Ranked-Choice Voting Would Improve the 2028 Presidential Primaries

In a recent article from our partners at FairVote, the discontent among voters regarding the current presidential primary system is highlighted.  This system often results in low turnout and early dropouts by candidates, leading to wasted votes and limited choices.

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a viable solution to this problem. It ensures meaningful voter participation by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference. RCV enables more women to run without being told to ‘wait their turn’ & it eliminates split votes among women candidates so more women win. Women hold 53 percent of seats in jurisdictions that use RCV.

FairVote’s CEO Meredith Sumpter and Research and Policy Director Deb Otis in The Fulcrum report:

The 2028 primaries may seem far away, but now is the time to think about a better process – one where voters feel their participation has actual value. The next presidential primary presents a tremendous opportunity for voters and parties alike: There could be two dozen candidates on each side as the parties move on from Trump and Biden.

One crucial nonpartisan fix is ranked-choice voting, which seven states and territories have already used for presidential primaries. Here’s how it would give voters more meaningful choice and voice and strengthen the parties’ nominees in 2028…

RCV would have guaranteed meaningful voter choice in the primary. An RCV election works like an instant runoff: If everyone finishes short of 50 percent, the last-place candidates are eliminated and backup choices come into play. No one has to worry about playing “spoiler” — a Christie voter could select Haley second, and a DeSantis supporter might pick Trump as her backup.

Voters in New Hampshire and 48 other states should have been able to select from the full field of GOP candidates. The debate might have been about issues and ideas, rather than consumed by calls for candidates to leave the race and make the political math work — hurting voters in the process.

Dr. Jill Biden Honors Teachers of the Year During Teacher Appreciation Week and Highlights Challenges of U.S. Public Schools

For Teacher Appreciation Week, Dr. Jill Biden hosts a White House dinner to honor the national and state teachers of the year, praising their dedication to students and excellence in teaching. While the event was celebratory, she highlighted U.S. public schools’ challenges, including teacher shortages, underfunding, and a gender pay gap. 

A 2023 study from the Brookings Institution found that female teachers, who make up most of the workforce, earn an average of $5,000 less annually than their male colleagues. This unequal pay discourages talented women from entering or staying in the profession. 

Darlene Superville from PBS reports:

“Tonight, we celebrate you because teaching isn’t just a job; it’s a calling. And all of you were called to this profession for a reason,” said the first lady, who has taught for more than 30 years. “You believe that a better world is possible, and you make that world real.”

President Joe Biden made a brief, surprise appearance at the East Room event immediately after he returned from a trip to North Carolina, saying he appreciates everything teachers do.

“You’re incredible,” he said. “You are the kite strings that lift our national ambitions aloft.”

Black Women in Politics: Recap of RepresentWomen’s Virtual Roundtable

Our Breaking Barriers for Black Women Candidates virtual roundtable event was a terrific success as it celebrated the release of our research brief. We are incredibly grateful for our panelists who shared their experiences as Black women in the political arena and the viable solutions needed to increase their political representation.

The first session featured our National Partnerships DirectorVictoria Pelletier, as moderator, where she led a powerful discussion featuring former and current Black women elected officials: VA Delegate Jackie Hope GlassCouncilwoman Laurie-Anne Sayles, and Former Mayor of Kankakee,  Chasity Wells-Armstrong.

The panelists brought refreshing transparency, sharing their experiences navigating the often-challenging world of politics. They discussed how their lived experiences have shaped their approach to governing. In a poignant moment, Victoria opened the panel with a question rarely posed to Black women, especially in political settings: “How are you?” This simple yet powerful question set the tone for a candid discussion about the barriers they have faced throughout their careers. 

Former Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, when speaking about one of the barriers, said, When you’re a younger person running for office, [you’re] told that you need to wait [your turn].”

The second panel delved into actionable solutions for boosting Black women’s political representation. Moderated by Glynda CarrPresident and CEO of Higher Heights for America, this session tackled Black women’s barriers to running for office. But the conversation didn’t stop there. Our esteemed panelists – Nadia E. BrownProfessor of Government at Georgetown UniversityKimberly Peeler AllenPolitical Strategist and Co-founder of Higher Heights for America and Visiting Practitioner at The Center for American Women and Politics; and Brittany BufordManaging Partner at Partners In Democracy – explored a range of viable strategies Black women can leverage during their campaigns. They also powerfully argued why investing in Black women candidates is crucial for strengthening our democracy.

Brittany Buford highlights the systemic bias in campaign laws, “There’s still the same campaign finance laws that exist that create ongoing financial barriers for a lot of Black women running for office.”

Mark Your Calendars! Upcoming Partner Events

Partners In Democracy is back with a new round of their Speakers Bureau training series. Sharpen your knowledge of democracy reforms while strengthening your organizing and communication skills to become a more powerful voice mobilizing your community. 

  • What: PID’s Speakers Bureau training intensive
  • When: May 15-June 18, Wednesdays 6 p.m. ET
  • Where: Virtual via Zoom

This FREE six-week program meets conveniently on Wednesday evenings. Learn from the experts: Braxton Campbell, PID’s Community Impact leader, will guide the training, while John Griffin, PID’s Strategy guru, will provide in-depth insights on crucial democracy reforms.

Sign up here.

How Do You Celebrate Mother’s Day?

Motherhood is a powerful journey that transforms children and mothers. We celebrate the mothers here at RepresentWomen who are raising the future changemakers of our world.

Operations manager Michele McCrary with her children. Left to right: Jessica, Ashley, Drew and Alex. Pups are Elvis and Pepper.
Executive director Cynthia Richie Terrell with her children, Becca, Anna and Lucas. Also pictured: husband Rob Richie and family dog Maizie.

My three children are now in their 20s, and while quite different from one another, they are all wonderful. I can’t claim sole credit for the thoughtful adults they’ve become. I suspect they learned a lot from each other in the hours spent reading aloud, jumping from the top onto piles of pillows, telling stories, spending time at our cabin, and playing with Playmobil, Steiff animals and American Girl dolls.

While my childhood was not entirely ideal, I learned how to mother from my mother. She nurtured individuality and imaginative play and encouraged me to think about children growing up in circumstances, cultures & traditions other than my own. She happily bought my son the American Girl doll of his choice and my daughters the microscopes & books that interested them. My mother was a constant in my life, supporting me without fail and consoling me when I felt uncertain. And now, I realize it brings me deep joy to do the same for my children. May we all be so fortunate to have mothers who love us.

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.