9 Women of Color who Won and Made History

Run for Something
7 min readMar 10, 2023

It’s Women’s History Month and what better way to celebrate than by sharing the stories of nine incredible, ceiling-shattering women of color?

Women make up 51% of the U.S. population but less than 32% of elected officials are women: this number is magnified when you look at representation for women of color.

Look, we know that when women of color are elected to office, they are more effective leaders: they are able to solve problems, build consensus, and when needed, shake up stagnant systems and effectively remind governing bodies who they work for. They are also more likely to bring funding to their communities, work collaboratively, sponsor and pass legislation that helps women and children — think paid leave, expanded healthcare, and stronger schools.

That’s why we’re thrilled to share these Run for Something alumni with you; these heavy hitters are changing their communities, and our country, for the better every day.

Alexandria Ayala

When she was elected in 2020 at just 27 years old, Alexandria Ayala became the first Latina ever to serve on the Palm Beach County School Board. Alexandria moved to Florida from Puerto Rico when she was just seven years old and in a school district where 37% of the students in her district are Latinx, she’s the only School Board member fluent in Spanish. She’s used her first-hand experiences to champion dual-language education and meaningfully improve the lives of kids. When asked about the importance of having diverse voices in elected office Ayala said,

“Traditionally, government and elected roles are something that’s held for older white gentlemen, and that’s what it’s been,” Ayala said. “We are changing and breaking down barriers of who is allowed to run, who has the pedigree to run, who has the look to run.”

Sasha Renee Perez

If you’re going to shatter a ceiling you may as well shatter several. Elected in 2020, at just 28 years old, Sasha became the youngest ever woman, the first LGBTQIA+ person, and the first renter to serve as Mayor of Alhambra, California. Upon her election she said,

“Being the youngest, I also feel a sense of responsibility, to do a good job and to set the bar really high, to show folks that young people are capable of doing this work, and can be really great and excellent leaders, especially during a crisis”.

Since being elected, she’s been an advocate for higher education access, homeless support, and worker protection. She recently announced she’s eyeing her next move- a run for the California Senate.

Francesca Hong

A mom, a restauranteur, and community organizer, Francesca Hong added another job to her resume in 2020 when she became the first AAPI person to ever be elected to the Wisconsin legislature. In the years since, she has been a fierce advocate for affordable healthcare, transportation access, and paid family and medical leave. This fearless champion of the community has aptly stated,

“The work is expansive, but with constant collaboration and involvement with this community, I am confident we will get shit done together. The time for incrementalism is over. I believe in change, but more importantly, I believe in transformation.”

Dr. Priya Bhat- Patel

Okay, so hear us out, yes she was the first Indian American elected to a City Council in San Diego County, and the youngest person ever elected to the Carlsbad City Council, and yes she won her election while completing her doctorate, but the most bad-ass first we think Dr. Priya Bhat- Patel accomplished? First person on the Carlsbad City Council to attend a Council meeting while in labor! When she’s not bringing new little activists into the world, Councilmember Bhat- Patel has been a fierce public health leader and a staunch supporter of government transparency and sustainability.

She was encouraged to run because frankly, she didn’t see anyone that looked like her in local government. After her election Dr. Bhat- Patel stated,

“I want to change the narrative of North County,” she said. “It’s a more diverse place than people realize, and its elected governments have not always reflected that. There’s room for more women and people of color at the top.”

Dr. Priya Bhat- Patel is certainly leaning into that mission every day.

Joanna Kelley

Resilient doesn’t even come close to describing Portsmouth Assistant Mayor Joanna Kelley. When she was elected in 2021, Joanna became the first Black person to hold a seat on the Council and her second top vote-getter status launched her to the post of Assistant Mayor.

A small business owner — she owns the cutest coffee shop, Cup of Joe — she overcame a childhood that included time in the foster care system, and when she ran for City Council the first time, she finished in tenth place. Never one to let adversity stand in her way she made history when she was elected and continues to champion local small businesses, work towards solutions for more housing, and support reproductive freedom.

In a community that is less than 3% Black she is often asked about her historic win, she has said,

“I hope someday it doesn’t matter that we have a minority in office, but at this point, it’s not equal…It matters until it doesn’t.”

Mai Chong Xiong

Mai Chong Xiong had to learn how to navigate the complexities of local government at an early age. As a first-generation Hmong American, she often had to help her parents navigate county services to maintain their benefits; as refugees, they didn’t speak English very well. As a result, she became adept at learning systems and organizing people. Mai was able to translate those skills and became a long-time community organizer and Council aide before her run for elected office. A fixture in local organizing she helped defeat a measure that would have banned same-sex marriage and she helped secured a $15 minimum wage.

When Mai won a seat on the Board of County Commissioners she became the youngest, the first Asian American and the first Hmong American elected to the Ramsey County Board. Of her historic victory Mai stated,

“But this historic win is not just a victory for me, it’s for all of us. It’s a victory for all the young children, all the working-class people who are getting by paycheck-to-paycheck, all of the people going through housing instability. This victory is for you, and I promise that I will always fight for you and with you.”

Helen Tran

Helen Tran never expected a life in politics, she always assumed she would become a third-grade teacher. After her college graduation, though, she took a job working for the City of San Bernardino; eventually, she became the city’s youngest ever human resources director.

When asked about her path to becoming San Bernandino’s first Asian American Mayor and only the third woman to ever hold the post, Mayor Tran said,

“I never thought I was going to end up in this role, but connected the dots and my inner consciousness told me there’s a reason why I’m here. There’s a reason why I was exposed to politics at a young age. We need to serve this community better and I know I can do it, given my experience and knowledge and background.”

Samantha Sencer- Mura

An educator, non-profit executive, working mom, activist, and now a State Representative, Samantha Sencer- Mura broke a major barrier when she became the first Japanese American elected to the Minnesota legislature in 2022. After college, she became the Executive Director of a non-profit that teaches creative writing as an outlet for young people. She’s looking forward to bringing the spirit and voice of young people with her to the legislature. When discussing the work ahead Rep. Sencer- Mura notes that young people are ready for change right now- especially around issues like climate change, education, and policing. She states,

“That’s where I think the urgency piece comes in: this feeling from young people that we are not waiting,”

Fentrice Driskell

Florida Rep. Fentrice Driskell shattered a glass ceiling when she was unanimously elected as the first Black woman to ever serve as the House Minority Leader. Since then she has gone head-to-head with Florida’s governor and the Republican supermajority in the Florida Legislature fighting against gerrymandered redistricting, working to protect LGBTQIA+ rights in the state, and was even 1 of 5 state legislators invited to The White House by Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss abortion access.

When reflecting on what it ascending to the Minority Leader seat meant, she stated,

“I am the first Black woman to serve as House Democratic Leader. I grew up in Polk County from very humble beginnings. My dad was a truck driver and a dispatcher, and my mom was a public school teacher for over 35 years. They instilled a number of values in my sister and me. The values my parents taught me, hard work, honesty, doing what you say, are the values that always guided me. They will guide me in this new role as well.”

To support Run for Something’s work of electing more courageous, ceiling-shattering women chip in at www.runforsomething.net/give.

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Run for Something

Recruiting & supporting young people running for office. Building a Democratic bench. Want to help? hello@runforsomething.net