News, On Campus

Jefferson-Jenkins Talks Progress, Equity, and Advocacy at Women in Leadership Forum

Everyone has the ability to make a difference in the world, according to former President of the League of Women Voters Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins.

“While the things that I do may be important, I think what is more important is who I am and what I believe, and I believe in the power that we each have to make a difference,” Jefferson-Jenkins said.

Jefferson-Jenkins spoke at Boston College on Thursday as part of the Women in Leadership Forum, hosted by the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics. 

Jefferson-Jenkins became the first person color to serve as president of the U.S. League of Women Voters in 1998 is the author of several books, including One Man, One Vote: The History of the African American Vote in the United States and The Untold Story of Women of Color in the League of Women Voters.

Beginning her speech, Jefferson-Jenkins reminded the audience to use their judgment while listening to others.

“I do not represent all Black people,” Jefferson-Jenkins said. “I do not represent all women. No one person represents all, and we need to remember that as we listen to people who speak to us and how we give weight to what they say.”

According to Jefferson-Jenkins, progress toward increasing rights for women of color has slowed in recent years. 

“I would submit to you that after two centuries, the U.S. Constitution is showing its age,” Jefferson-Jenkins said. “And once again, we the people are beginning to question the need for makeover and renewal.”

Displaying a series of slides showing transformational moments in American history that led to increased equity for marginalized groups, Jefferson-Jenkins emphasized the importance of continuing advocacy even after the major improvements are made.

“Having a seat at the table is fine,” she said. “Having a voice at the table is what is required.”

Sacrifices must be made in order for notable change to take place, according to Jefferson-Jenkins.

“You can’t break the glass ceiling without scars,” she said.

Jefferson-Jenkins said her grandmother—who was born in 1903—largely influenced her interest and passion for advocacy,

“My grandmother couldn’t vote as a citizen until she was 60 years old,” Jefferson-Jenkins said. 

On her path to becoming the first women of color to serve as president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, Jefferson-Jenkins said she made many sacrifices and endured numerous microaggressions. As president, the pressure was enormous, as many looked to her to set forth change and equity for all in the League, she said.

“I do not speak for all black people,” she said. “That should not be my sole burden. Everybody at that table has a responsibility to make sure that things happen.”

Concluding her talk, Jefferson-Jenkins reminded the audience that each generation has a unique role in promoting long-term change.

“My grandma’s generation is the Generation of Hope,” Jefferson-Jenkins said. “My parents’, the Generation of Promise. My generation, the Boomers, is the Generation of Commitment. And finally, the future generations—your generation—is the Generation of Possibilities.”

March 23, 2024