Episode 86 features a great conversation with A'shanti F. Gholar, President of Emerge and Founder of The Brown Girls Guide to Politics. A'shanti's political career includes political appointee under the Obama administration, political strategists, grassroots organizers, and activists for women and communities of color. During this interview, A'shanti takes us through her career journey, why she loves politics, the experience of taking on a new role at the beginning of the pandemic, and a lot more.
We want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of Minority Report Podcast with Erik and Kerel. Each episode we talk with leaders in business, tech and media. Today's episode is sponsored by MarketingEDGE, a national nonprofit committed to shaping the future of marketing leadership by connecting students, academics and professionals to the resources and relationships they need to see, move and stay ahead. Today joining us is A'shanti Gholar the President of Emerge and Founder of The Brown Girls Guide to Politics. Let's jump in and get to know A'shanti. A'shanti, Welcome, how are you?
I'm good. How are you? Thanks for having me.
We're thrilled you're here. We're super thrilled. We know that you've got a lot going on these days. Excited to hear about all the work you're doing and also excited to learn a little bit about you, A'shanti Where were you born and raised? Tell us a little bit about growing up.
So I am one of those people who was actually born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. Yes, those people actually exist. But I have been living out in DC since 2008, I moved down here for a job. It was my very first big girl job in politics, as I like to call it at the Democratic National Committee. And I've just been out here ever since. And in my second year as President of Emerge, I am just honored to be the first black woman to lead this organization. And we are going into our third year of The Brown Girls Guide to Politics, which I founded in 2018.
That's awesome. I want to talk a little bit about Emerge, work and everything else here shortly. But I'm fascinated by Las Vegas, very different from DC. What was that like growing up there? And tell us about your family and what it was like growing up in Las Vegas and a little bit about your family?
Well, what I love about Las Vegas is no allergies... its only when I moved to DC, though I am missing home right now, listeners if you're like that girl sounds a little odd. It's my allergies because it's allergy season out here. With my family, I actually didn't come from a very political family. They voted that was it. And how my political journey started is one day I was just watching TV with my mom. She got up from the couch, I did what kids do, I turned the TV to what I wanted to watch. And then that's when I discovered some coverage of c-span. And I was like, what's this? I was just so intrigued by all of these people who were arguing and fighting about how to make our country better. And I was just very fascinated by this thing called politics. I didn't know what it was called at the time. But I knew that I liked this. But even at that young age, I realized I didn't see a lot of people that look like me. Not a lot of people color. Not a lot of women. So even as I learned more about politics, and even looking around Las Vegas, looking around the state of Nevada, I still never knew if politics was for me just because I didn't see a lot of people that looked like me. So fast forward to high school. I had that amazing teacher, Mrs. Kane, and she just knew everybody who was anybody in politics, and there was a very hot Senate race happening. If she brought in both of the candidates. My issue was the minimum wage. I worked a part time job to have extra money. I had friends that worked part time jobs to have extra money to help support their family. I obviously thought we should be making more money. So I asked the one candidate. What is your position on the minimum wage? He said, I'm all about raising it. I was like fabulous. Love you. The other candidate. He was the congressman at the time. And I asked him why he voted not to raise the minimum wage. And he said, Oh, no, I did though to raise it. I was like you didn't. He said I did. Like you didn't. And he kept arguing back and forth with me. I'm like, sir, I can check your votes. You did not vote to raise the minimum wage. He told me I didn't know what I was talking about. So as a high school student I was like, You know what? You're not that hot. Your ties are ugly. I hope you lose. He was just like offended. So afterwards. My teacher called me over. I was like, oh, man, I'm in trouble now. But he actually snuck a call to her and said, you know, she's right. I didn't vote to raise it. I just didn't like the fact that she called me out. And I was offended. And I was like, Is it because I'm young because I’m a girl because I can't vote. And all of those things are true. I was young. I was a girl. I couldn't vote. But I do like volunteering. I volunteer for his opponent every few seconds. I had, and his opponent ended up winning that race by less than 500 votes. And that's probably the power that we all have in politics. No matter our gender, no matter age, we are able to participate in some way. And just from then on, I just became completely enamored in politics and was able to have a career in politics. It wasn't until 2008 that my family actually really started paying attention. And that's when Obama ran. In my head. I was just like, Can you all go back to not liking politics? They just follow me all the time. Ask me these questions. Oh, my gosh, I think I liked it better when he really did care so much. But that's how my journey started. And my nieces and nephews who love watching MSNBC, and they love politics too.
A'shanti, I mean, oh, watching c-span and loving it and enjoying it, you're definitely in the right line of work, then. Not many love a good long session c-span. That's awesome.
I’m one of those really weird kids. And whenever I do c-span now. That's the question a lot of people ask. So happy to get involved. Where did your love of politics come from? And I always tell that story. And they always send me the clips that they choose to put on their website.
You know, I want to ask you a little bit about your career, political appointee, under the Obama administration, political strategists, grassroots organizer, activists, for women and communities of color, tell us about how all that you know, even ties into like what you're doing today at a Emerge.
All of that really led me to the path that I'm on as the President at Emerge. At the end of the day. I'm an organizer. I love working in our communities. I love working to create change. And that's what I get to do every day at Emerge. We focus on recruiting and training women to run for office. We currently have 1,000 of our alums, who are in elected office, including Deb Haaland who is the Secretary of the Interior, and the first indigenous cabinet secretary. We have Emerge alums in Congress, including Lucy McBath. If her name sounds familiar, her son is Jordan Davis. He was the young man who was shot and killed for playing loud music in his car. Afterwards, she became an activist and I had a conversation with her about running for office. And now she sits in Congress and oversees the committee that actually gets to introduce legislation around gun violence prevention. We have alums that are secretaries of state, that are in state houses that are on moderate boards. And these are all women that are not only changing their communities, but they're really just changing the face of politics of this country. There's 520,000 elected offices in this country, women are 51% of the population. We don't occupy 51% of those offices, men still occupy 75%. So we still have a long way to go. And especially over the past year, when I like to say we're facing two pandemics, the COVID pandemic, the racial injustice, pandemic, it's been wonderful to see how these women have led their communities around these issues that are really moving our country forward. So I just very blessed. This is what I get to do every day.
And A'shanti. I mean, hopefully at some point, we will get out of this pandemic and return to some sense of normalcy. What do you see as the future for Emerge?
I'm very excited for the future of Emerge. Last year we celebrated 15 years. And our strategic plan is called 2035. We just went big, bold, I said let's play it for the next 15 years. And a huge part of that is focusing on recruiting and training women of the new American majority. And that is black, brown and indigenous women...women of color, young women, unmarried women, LGBTQ women. And we want to train 100,000 of those women. And we are continuing to see lots of women who are stepping up and want to run for office and lead their country. We're going to be focusing on advanced candidate trading because with 1,000 alums in office, so many of them are ready for higher office, but also making sure that they're reaching back and recruiting efforts to run for their seats when they do run for higher office. Because if they don't do that, then we don't make progress. Yeah, the third piece is continuing, do what we do best and that is repowering political structures. If you look at the top 10 states that have the most women in their state houses, Emerge has affiliates at 9 out of 10 of those states. If you look at the top 4 states, that are majority women, which are Nevada. my home state, Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon. Emerge alums helped make that happen. So I'm very excited about this future. And I tell people, we're just getting started. There's so much work to be done. And I'm just proud to lead this amazing team.
Exciting times ahead. Exciting times ahead. Earlier on, if I heard you correctly, I think you mentioned that you were the first black woman president at Emerge. And if I heard you correctly, I'm curious to understand from you, if you feel an extra sense of responsibility, if you will, for being the first. Erik and I talk a lot about that in our particular industries of, you know, sometimes being the only one in the room or being the first and so I'm curious to get your thoughts on that.
I mean, the answer is, absolutely. I think we all know, there's just a difference. Even though everyone is very supportive of you, you do feel that weight, because you do want to do a good job, you want to lead your team while you and lead the organization. Well, you want to make your donors happy, you want your alums, love the training, there absolutely is that huge weight that is on your shoulders. And I literally took over in my role, right when the pandemic kicked. And I was just like, oh my goodness...this is gonna be interesting, especially because at Emerge, one of the things that makes us so special is we do in person training. And all of that got taken away from us. So I had to switch us to be a virtual organization. So what does that look like for an organization that is just so focused on the connections that you make in person, so we had to switch to a virtual environment, all of our fundraising became online. But we were able to do it. And despite everything 2020 was the most successful year that our organization had. So I think it also is just a testament to when you are the first that doesn't have to be a bad thing there are those great elements those fresh elements that were able to bring to the table, even at the midst of unprecedented times, because there is no playbooks on how to lead your organization during a pandemic. I said that to the team. I was like, I do not get to go, okay, entry, the second period of the pandemic. Let me pick up value two in our handbook. Does it work that way, you really have to figure this out. And you're figuring it out with every other person who's leading an organization. Because nobody knows that I think this is a good time to mention the fact that I'm so lucky to be leading during a time where there are more black women who are leading organizations that I was able to turn to for support. We just have a great network of support system. I'm just thankful for that. So even though you're doing it alone, I wasn't fully alone because I was able to turn to them.
And as a leader, what have you learned during the pandemic that you will continue to carry forward in your career?
Oh, I have learned so much. I think the biggest thing is, you just got to go with your best sometimes. Because that's really what it was every day last year, even this year, is just going with your gut, feeling confident that you're going to make the right decision for your organization. And just sticking with it. I think that is definitely the biggest thing that I learned just to trust your gut, trust your intuition, that when your team believes that they will follow you. And when they know that you feel it's right. They'll also think that it's right. And they'll work with you to make it happen.
Gotcha. You are also a podcast host yourself. Tell us a little bit about The Brown Girl's Guide to Politics.
Yes. So the podcast came about because of a post that we had on the blog. That was about being the only Brown Girl in the room. Being the first being the only and myself and the other contributors on The Brown Girls Guide to Politics blog talked about, okay, this is what it's like to be the only woman of color in a room when people say the most messed up inappropriately things and how we've navigated in our career, because again, even at 2020 would, there's still so many first and there's going to be lots of first down the road, and we really wanted to give other women of color, who did just have to be in politics or in any other industry, just the advice about how we were able to navigate the situation. When we did that series, we had so many women, email us say, we want more of these conversations, we actually want to hear you talk about this. And that was the panelists who created the podcast which we started in 2019 for us to take the story from the blog to an audio format and really have those conversations that aren't happening, about what it is truly like to be a woman of color who's an elected official, who is a candidate, whose campaign staff who's leading the organization, who's running a nonprofit, and all the things that you have to deal with on a daily basis, to try to make this change that is so needed in our communities so needed in the world, that is not super easy. But at the end of the day for them to realize they're not alone, and to pick up some great sensitive advice on how to navigate this crazy world as a woman of color in leadership.
A'shanti when I asked you, because you work in politics, and you work in an environment where earlier, you shared some simple, yet powerful statistics about even being just a woman, let alone a woman of color. You know, they're you're a minority in that sense they're. How have you handled those issues of discrimination, when you've been faced with them and your podcasts you get to cover you know how others sort of manage that I want to ask you about your personal experiences, how have you handled some of those issues of discrimination, I'm sure they've happened several times.
They absolutely have happened. It is just a part of the lived experience. Just being a woman of color and politics. And I can tie this together nicely that to c-span, I did c-span over the weekend, they had me on to talk about Emerge and The Brown Girls Guide to Politics. Every single caller was mad about women being in elected office, we were talking about race. I was fielding angry male callers. And the way c-span is set up, I only saw myself. So I didn't see the host. I didn't see anything. So I didn't know how anything was going. But I was just going through these questions just answering these questions. I was just like, Oh my gosh, are any women going to call in? I'm like, nope, here's a guy who's literally saying that women are incapable of serving in Congress, they make bad decisions. Here's the guy who says that black women mayors of major cities are ruining those cities. Here's a guy who says that, we just need to stop seeing race. And I just need to stop talking about it so we can get over it. There was a guy who was asking me, what do I think about Candace Owens? and I'm like, What? I don't know where that one came from.
It has to be hard, A'shanti. How did you and where did you learn the ability to shield yourself for almost sort of, you know, rise above that? Was that from family or friends? Or how do you learn that ability?
I've had great mentors, especially the colored girls, and that's Donna Brazile. Leah Daughtry, Yolanda Caraway, I've learned by watching them and just others strong, especially strong black women in politics, even when I say that, you know, oh, here's the strong black women. And the fact is, I know there's so much behind that. Because now I see it, I experienced what they've had to deal with on a daily basis. So this is why especially when Ben from Baltimore City, wanted to make his comment about black women mayors ruining major cities. There is no way I was going to let him get away with that. comment. Like at all. First of all, there's less than 10 black women that are mayors of major cities. So let's talk about that. So if you're feeling that all of these major cities are being ruined. Then they're actually being ruined by nonblack women, and you're not going to take away their hard work. They have to beat people in a primary. They had to win that general election. They had to raise the money. They had to convince voters they had to deal with racism, sexism, misogyny on a daily basis to win those seats. And you're just not going to boil it down to... Oh people only put them they're because of their sex or their gender, or, I mean, they're the color of their skin and their gender. It's not like people just woke up what day and said... I think we need to put a black woman in as mayor. That's what we're going to do. It takes so much for them to get there. After the interview, I did a post. And I was just like, Why are these men just so mad on Saturday at 8am? Like, if anything I realized that people are like, oh, A'shanti, it's okay, keep doing it, we support you. And I wasn't upset or anything. I was like, completely unfazed by the questions. Because I was just so used to it.
It's that terrible.
That's, that's the terrible part. Like I was just so I used to when I was ready for the questions, because this is what I deal with. You just have to learn that, especially when you're trying to make change, especially in politics. This is what you're going to have to deal with. I tell our alums and just other women in general who are thinking about running for office, who want to get involved in politics, we are playing in a system that was built for us. This system was built for straight white men. So they never anticipated the political participation of people of color, or women. So wherever we show up in any political space, we are evidence that we have disrupted this system. And here I am, as the black woman, leading this organization to get more women into elected office letting you know, I'm here to disrupt this some more that causes people to lose their damn mind and just show their ass at 8am on c-span. Right? That's unfortunately, what you have to deal with, to make this change. But I also realize for so many people, that was their first time I've actually seen that. They hear me talk about it. They hear me talk about the racism, the sexism, the misogyny, but they actually got to stop, see it play out live. And they're just like, Oh, my gosh, what you all do is really hard. And when women step up to run for office. They are really putting themselves out there. And I'm like Yes, absolutely. It was really a peek into my daily life.
Yeah, tremendous insights. And thank you for sharing your personal experiences and your personal accounts there. Thank you very much for that. Curious, you're on c-span at 8 in the morning. You're the President of Emerge, you have a busy podcast. What's work life balance for you? Is there such a thing? Is it? Is it maybe not a thing? What's that like for you?
Well, I'm one of those people right now who's like, living where you work. So that's what I'm working from home. So last year, I had my office downstairs so I just kept it down there because people are like, Oh, your background is so nice. I'm like, Okay, great. And I moved to you know, upstairs this year, because I'm like, okay, year two, need a different set up. But it is hard. And this is why I say it's so important to have that good network of friends. They will just be like, are you at your desk? Like have you eaten lunch? Have you gone outside and like no I ain't going outside with these allergies. I don't even know why you think that..
Didn't you know these cherry blossoms are out. hahahaha
A'shanti, has not gone outside and does not plan to...but to have those friends who check in on you. But I will say this year I am so much better about taking care of myself than last year, because I will admit last year was just awful. Like I just become President of Emerge you're working from home. You're just trying to figure all of this out. Like I was doing my budget at the end of the year and I was like you spent how much with doordash Oh my goodness.
Now, there's a ketchup package shortage
I may have something to do with that. hahahaha
This year, I, you know very much more intentional about it. You know, found some really great vitamins. So I got my vitamin routine. Like every morning I wake up a little bit earlier, just so I can just enjoy my coffee like, check email but it is stressful situation. I really stopped watching a lot of TV just after 2016. I was just one of those people who was just distraught with the election. So I started just watching a lot of YouTube. So YouTube is my favorite thing. And I love supporting a lot of the black women influencers. Even though every time I watch whether there are videos, I buy something I don't need, but they are very, very good at what they do. So that's how I learned to do the balance. Much better this year than last year though, and I will admit that
What are some of your favorite YouTube channels?
Oh my goodness. The Queen of course, Jackie Aina, absolutely love her. She's the best. I love Andrea Rene. I love Alissa Ashley and her sister Arnell Zinnerman.... those ones are my absolute favorites.
Nice, nice. Where do you draw inspiration from?
Where I draw inspiration is really from the women who are making a change. Even on Twitter you never know what you're going to get when you log on. I just love to see articles about Tishaura Jones, the first black woman, mayor of St. Louis. I love watching LaTosha Brown with black voters matters sign. Who has just created a new initiative to raise $100 billion to support black women and girls, I love to see women who are to declare their candidacy. I love international politics where there's women who are leading these countries that are doing a bang up job. That's really where I draw the inspiration from these women who I know, are getting up every day, and doing great work in the face of adversity. They really are the ones that inspire me. And last year, people would ask me all the time, what keeps me going, and I was say its our Emerge alum... the fact that these women are still running for office in the middle of a pandemic, holding down a job, doing home schooling, like they are what inspire me.
What advice would you give to any woman that's out there that's thinking about getting into politics?
Just do it, absolutely, just do it. If I didn't do it, I wouldn't be here. And I'm just so thankful for all those women who saw faith in myself that I didn't see and believed in me because they are absolutely why I'm here. And even though I don't know all of these women, you have to know that there are people that are rooting for you and are out there and work for you to succeed. And there's just so many avenues to be involved in politics. I started off as a volunteer if you would have told me when I was out there learning how to canvas how to phone bait that I be leading a national organization I would have absolutely laughed at you like no I'm just trying to keep these packets in order because this I've got to be really confused. So you could do things such as just be the activists we need especially more black women in senior campaign roles. That is really important. Especially if these candidates want have policies that are inclusive of our communities, and you could be the candidate yourself. There are an array of opportunities at the BGG website. We have Brown Girl friendly organizations, where we list an array of organizations that women of color can reach out to to get involved with and as activists campaign training, or to be a candidate.
Love it. Love it. All right, fun question. Ashanti that I love asking every guest that we have on the podcast, which is to give us the top three apps that you use on your phone, but you can't name email, calendar or text messaging.
Okay, so definitely Twitter for sure will be the top one. My other one would be maps because your girl has no sense of direction at all. hahahaha. I own that. Everyone was all like we're going out... A'shanti is not driving and I'm like your dam straight I ain't driving
It's tricky getting around DC it's tricky
It is and also I'm from Las Vegas. We didn't have to parallel park. I pass my drivers test and I come out here and I have to do it once a day. I'm like, Oh my gosh, I was so stressed. I was so stressed ya'll. That's why I moved to Virginia. Like I need a parking spot. I can't keep doing this. And I love astrology. So Chani Nicholas new app Chani app is my other app that I use.
All right. Excellent. Excellent. Well, thanks again, A'shanti for joining us and a lot of our listeners like to stay in touch, follow and reach out. What are some ways that our listeners can follow you and stay in touch?
Oh, these are asking you that. I am on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at A'shanti Gholar. And the BGG website is https://www.thebgguide.com/. And we're on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram at the BG guide and for Emerge is at https://emergeamerica.org/ and the Facebook, Twitter Instagram and YouTube is Emerge America.
Excellent. All right, a couple of closing messages. So listen up. First, thanks to our friends again at Marketing EDGE for sponsoring our podcast. And also, thank you to all the readers and Adweek for nominating Minority Report Podcast with Erik and Kerel to be part of the selection for diversity advocates of the year. We thank you kindly. And there's a lot of time to vote. And we're excited to be a part of the mix. And thank you very much for your continued support. And we look forward to seeing who the winner is. So thank you very much. Adweek. And thanks again to Marketing EDGE thanks to A'shanti talk to you soon.
Thanks so much for having me. I enjoyed this conversation.