By Kim Huynh
It’s not without some irony that a women’s organization active in fighting the political gender gap initially grew out of a campaign to elect a man.
In 1968, the 12 founding members of what would become Black Women Organized for Political Action, or BWOPA, formed Bay Area Women for Dellums, an organization that soon grew to more than 200 members, raised $75,000, and succeeded in helping elect the first African-American Congressman from Northern California, Ron Dellums.
Spurred by the victory, the women continued to meet and engage in political issues. Forty-five years, seven chapters, and 600 members later, BWOPA remains the oldest and largest organization of its kind in California, and one with a long legacy of political accomplishments including Charter Member Ella Hill Hutch, the first African-American woman elected to office in the Bay Area, former California legislators and Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters and former Congresswoman Diane Watson.
“We’ve played a major role in the election of many dynamic women, and we have big plans to accomplish much more,” says President Dezie Woods-Jones. “African-American women traditionally have not been engaged in politics, whether it is because they hold a negative view of it, or they don’t see roles in it for women.”
To that end, BWOPA’s focus is threefold. Chapters of the “mothership,” as Woods-Jones refers to the main organization, focus on member education and advocating for local and regional issues. The political action committee, with a separate board, endorses, assists and advises political candidates. To prepare women for future candidacies and to provide interested people with a grounded civic education, BWOPA developed the Training Institute for Leadership Enrichment (TILE) in 1999, an independent nonprofit to incubate “a new and necessary generation of future civic, political, community and business leaders,” as Woods-Jones says.
Since 2000, close to 1,500 women have participated in leadership development training, through Leadership University, TILE’s four-day certificate leadership training program, or frequent one-day workshops, including “Effective Advocacy” and “Running for Office 101: Nuts & Bolts.”
“This year, we launched our new vision with a laser focus on building partnerships throughout the state and nation to significantly increase black women in leadership roles by 2020,” says LaNiece Jones, TILE and BWOPA’s executive director. “The curriculum is presented by seasoned public policy experts, elected officials and scholar-practitioners to empower women to explore social issues, and strengthen and hone their skills to take their leadership to the next level.”