Learn about an organization that early on saw the value of recruiting African-American women to run for office. See our other Allies.

By Kim Huynh

The Los Angeles African American Women’s Public Policy Institute (try saying that three times quickly) began with a simple premise: to provide a pipeline for women to assume political leadership. What they quickly discovered were that women were less interested in running for office and more in gaining a basic understanding of public policy—how does one have influence at city hall, speak with elected officials, or raise the profile of an organization in the public eye?

“We wanted to develop a leadership class with something for everyone,” says Joy Atkinson, executive director. For a tuition of $1,600, the intensive 10-week program offers comprehensive training in corporate advancement, running for elective office, managing political campaigns, seeking government appointments, understanding public policy decision-making and sharpening leadership skills—all on University of Southern California’s sunny campus.

For those interested in political office, the program forces them to confront issues of coalition building, grassroots organizing and campaign management. “Can you fund-raise? Can you gather community support? Can you organize?” Atkinson notes that these are the questions LAAAWPPI asks its students to consider.

Since its inception in 2002, the brainchild of the Los Angeles African American Women Political Action Committee (LAAAWPAC), the institute has graduated 204 students from its program—success in and of itself. Of these alumna, many have gone on to successfully run for electoral office, receive appointments, or promotions in the private sector. There’s Pasadena’s Vice Mayor Jacque Robinson, a 2005 graduate of the program who won a seat on Pasadena City Council in 2007, and is currently preparing for a state senate run in 2016. There’s also Kellie Hawkins, who was appointed executive director of L.A.’s Commission on the Status of Women in 2008 and works as a health policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The institute also boasts private sector successes like Tammy Tumbling, who after the program was promoted to director of philanthropy and community Involvement at Southern California Edison, and nonprofit leaders including Monique Watts, who went on to complete her master’s degree and became executive director of AbilityFirst’s Harry A. Mier Center, which provides programs in Inglewood for people with developmental disabilities.

“We try to relate interest in creating good public policy—not just politics. You can do that in a lot of ways,” explains Atkinson. “Women can make effective changes and be influential no matter where they are, even in corporate America. We try to find something in our class for everyone.”

Applications for LAAAWPPI are generally due December 1st each year. The 10-week sessions begin in January and end in April. The tuition covers training, materials, parking, lunch and refreshments, although there are scholarship opportunities and financial assistance is available based on financial need. For more information, contact Joy Atkinson at

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