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Six Questions for BWOPA: For 55 Years, This Women’s Org Has Stood at the Frontline of Black Politics in California

Edward Henderson | California Black Media

Founded in 1968, Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) is a statewide non-profit advocacy and membership organization committed to solving problems affecting Black Californians.

BWOPA originated as an extension of a group known as Bay Area Women for Dellums, under the leadership of Edith M. Austin. Starting with 12 politically active women from various Bay Area cities, the group grew to over 200 Black women working to elect former U.S. Rep. Ron V. Dellums to Congress.

After raising $75,000, and succeeding in electing Dellums, the original group members continued to meet and work on other political causes.

BWOPA’s political influence and involvement has played a major role in the election of many other dynamic women who were the first African American women elected in their respective areas. Women such as the Honorable Judith Ford, Alameda County Municipal Court; Darlene Lawson from the Oakland Board of Education, and Doris Ward, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and former County Assessor for the City and County of San Francisco.

Former Congressmember Diane Watson, who represented California’s 33rd Congressional District; U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris; Congressmember Barbara Lee (D-CA-12) and Congressmember Maxine Waters (D-CA-43) are among the powerful female elected representatives who received early support from BWOPA.

California Black Media spoke with LaNiece Jones, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of BWOPA, about the organization’s impact, challenges and successes during the last year.

What does your organization do to improve the lives of Black people in California?

We believe African American women should be included within the top ranks of corporate executive leadership and at all levels of elected or appointed political decision-making to positively influence policies affecting the African American community.

Our core issue areas are health, education, criminal justice reform and economic security.

What was your greatest success over the course of the last year?

BWOPA/TILE (Training Institute for Leadership Enrichment) in partnership with WeVax (Human Services Association), Sierra Health Foundation and the California Department of Health, rolled out the statewide “Black & Vaxxed” campaign to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and to empower the Black community to make informed decisions about vaccines.

This past May, BWOPA/TILE hosted its annual Legislative Learning Day in Sacramento at the State Capitol.

There were close to 100 attendees. Every year, high school students, young leaders, and BWOPA chapter members have a chance to meet with their state representatives and learn how the State Legislature works.

Also, in May of this year, 13 emerging leaders matriculated through the 7th session of the Dezie Woods Jones (DWJ) Public Policy leadership program. Launched in 2015 and named after founding member and state President of BWOPA, Dezie Woods Jones, the fellowship program aims to develop and assist aspiring young Black women, between the ages of

25-45, to become thought leaders, subject matter experts, advocates, and innovators of public policies that positively impact their communities.

In your view, what is the biggest challenge Black Californians face?

We’ll start with health equity.

This holds especially true for the working class and lower-income individuals in our community. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), health equity is achieved when everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health. Good health is important to us and our organization, because we believe that there is a direct link between a person’s overall health and their quality of life.

What was your organization’s biggest challenge?

There is a lot of work that needs to be done to improve the quality of life for Black people in California. To that end, it can sometimes be challenging to orchestrate and juggle the time, manpower and finances around the most actionable and advantageous programs, initiatives, and collaborations that address our core issue areas of health, education, economic security, and criminal justice reform.

Does your organization support or plan to get involved in the push for reparations in California?

We have been involved in the fight for reparations in a few ways.

First, BWOPA created its own Reparations Now Task Force led by Rita Forte (Oakland). Several BWOPA Reparation Now Task Force members attended the California reparations task force statewide hearings for the past two years.

Last year, we also partnered with California Black Power Network to host reparation listening sessions with our members and other Black residents in California to hear and gather information on recommended reparation priorities.

Lastly, Dr. Kerby Lynch, a 2022 DWJ Public Policy Fellow alumna and a BWOPA Reparations Now Task Force member, became a sought-after speaker upon releasing the findings of her study on the city of Vallejo and its unfair practices.

How can more Californians of all backgrounds get involved in the work you are doing?

BWOPA welcomes anyone who is interested in helping us fulfill our mission to build Black power. We encourage anyone who is interested in supporting Black women leadership or becoming a member to visit our website at www.bwopatileleads.org.

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