Jocelyn Harmon is a co-founder of BlackHer, a new media company built for the 24 million Black women in the U.S. The online content, provided in BlackHer Weekly and BlackHer Guides, educates and inspires powerful Black women to take action for personal and collective economic and political change. To beat Trump, Jocelyn believes the Democratic Party needs to muster the humility to follow the lead of people who know the landscape, and to expand the electorate by investing in local Black groups now and forever.
Q: Tell me about how you came to create BlackHer. When did you do this and why?
My co-founder, Angela Dorn and I launched BlackHer in February 2018. She and I were working at a national nonprofit. We started on the same day; I was vice president of development and communications and she was chief operating officer. I was excited about my new role and the fact that I wouldn’t be “the only,” since there were two Black women on the leadership team. It turned out we were window dressing. It was a toxic environment.
In 2018, I was also getting ready to turn 50, so it was a soul-searching moment. I was figuring out my third act. I had achieved a lot in my career, and I wanted a more generative role. Layer that with the fact that Trump had become president and the country was going to hell in a handbasket. It was a lot.
I said to Angela, “I am tired of white folks being in the center of the miracle.” So, we started BlackHer, which puts Black women in the center. We are amplifying the leadership of amazing Black women in government, nonprofits, and business and inspiring each other to work for progressive change. It’s been an amazing journey both personally and professionally. I love my work.
Q: You have written, “The older I get, the more power I want.” How is this playing out in your life?
A: “Power” is a tricky word, because it’s supposed to be negative, as in “power over others.” But when I really think about the word, it means having agency and influence over my own life, not necessarily over others. I can get up in the morning and say, “What do I want to do today?” Many Black women don’t have that power because of structural realities; we’re often bound by the dictates of the culture.
Q: Speaking of power, the Democratic Party has been criticized for pandering to Black voters before elections, then forgetting about them when it comes to policy-making. Do you think this changed during the 2018 midterms?
A: Absolutely, there is a rising interest in the power of Black voters, especially Black women, as a progressive voting bloc. We can see that.
We have The Squad in Congress, and it is fantastic that there are more groups helping Black politicians win, but real change requires that the Democrats run a different election playbook. There is still too much emphasis on the elusive white swing voter. The party needs to invest in expanding the electorate by investing in local Black groups now and forever.
Q: If you were head of the DNC, what would you be doing right now to get out the Black vote and Dump Trump?
A: I’d partner with tons of Black organizations like the Color of Change, Higher Heights, BlackPAC, PushBlack, Black Futures Lab, Advancement Project and more. There are so many amazing organizations doing organizing work year-round. They are embedded in the community and have trusted relationships. With additional investment, they can make the difference in future elections.
Funders love to say there is no infrastructure in these communities. That’s hogwash. They have an infrastructure – the problem is that funders just don’t know it.
You know, it’s so simple. The DNC needs to have the humility to follow the lead of other folks who know the landscape. If you own a pizza company and want to enter a new market to sell pizza, what do you do? You find channel partners to help you gain cultural competence, to learn the language. Better yet, you hire people locally who know the market better than you. It’s the same concept. The DNC should invest in the right messengers in communities.
Q: Biden has pledged to choose a woman as his vice president. Do you feel this is a consolation prize?
A: No. But I’ve been struggling with the whole field. After Stacey Abrams’s race was stolen from her in Georgia, I was heartbroken; I haven’t been as excited about another candidate since then. There is something very special about Stacey. Hopefully, Biden will pick a woman who is exciting and energizes Black and Brown voters by speaking to our issues. The VP candidate has got to be way more exciting than Biden, especially now that we’re in a pandemic.
Q: Stacey Abrams has predicted she will be president by 2040. Do you think this is possible?
A: Yes. She is very planful and disciplined, so I don’t think she would give that date without having thought it through. But 2040 is so far off! I hope she runs sooner.
Q: If Trump invited you to the White House would you go?
A: This seems like a preposterous thing. If Yamiche Alcindor was organizing a panel at the White House I would go.
Q: Would you shake Trump’s hand?
A: That is not a good question. The challenges we face are about much more than Trump. We give him too much oxygen. He has simply highlighted all the fissures in our society – gross economic inequality, toxic racism and sexism – that we have to address. White progressives have been surprised by his racism and the resurgence of white supremacy but black folks are not surprised. We knew it was there.