Meet Aliya Allen, Founder of Women of Color for Progress

By: Daniella Saldana, Staff Writer, The Memo

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Aliya Allen, co-founder of Women of Color for Progress (WCP), an organization committed to encouraging women of color to be more involved in the political system. WCP aims to create “an inclusive and transparent political system that empowers women of color to excel, lead, represent, and be heard.”

Here’s what Aliya had to say about the creation process, role models, dinner guests, and what’s next for her and the WCP:

So tell us about your organization, Women of Color for Progress.

WCP has isolated two major factors -- lack of representation for Women of Color (WOC) in public office, and low voter turnout -- that contribute to the continual neglect and abuse of communities of color, and to the quality of life of the women who live there. Our goals are to streamline services that are already available for those interested in running, and to partner with other organizations to solve the specific issues and lack of resources that hinder WOC candidates from winning elections.

How did you make this idea a reality – how did WCP become the platform it is?

WCP is actually the brainchild of the amazing Cristina Gonzalez. She galvanized us founders. We are a mix of people she's known for a while, and people she built bonds with while initially building this organization. She connected us around the fact that WOC have always played pivotal roles in being change agents for their communities. Our acute intersectionality allows us to shed light on ways in which various levels of oppression create systems that undermine and destabilize communities of color. We brought together our think-tank late last year to hash out some possibilities, but it was ultimately the election of #45 that drove us into hyperdrive. We wanted to do this right though. As November waned into January and February, we all saw the various protests and groups forming, only to have them quickly fizzle out. I guess starting a new organization in New York City has a shorter shelf life than starting a new restaurant!

What tools does WCP offer to help women of color?

We are in the coalition-building phase so we are still hashing out a few specifics, but currently we use our membership body as a way to get communities engaged in local politics, and to create a larger network for our members. We offer forums and engaging workshops for our dues paying members. We are also building a program to offer professional services for women of color interested in running for public office. Lastly, we will be assisting our communities by searching for and developing women of color to run in races that may not otherwise have any women of color representation.

What are some words that you live by – i.e. what is your life motto?

Of late it has been "Lean into the uncomfortable." I think that it's hard to have conversations about race, gender and sexual equality because we believe that a "safe place" means having no difference or conflict. Personally, I prefer to see safe places as spaces in which ideas are allowed to flow freely, even if those spaces are slightly uncomfortable. There's a lot of growth and learning in uncomfortable spaces. It reminds us to never be complacent – we can be comfortable and safe, but not asleep and complacent.

Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

Really I can't answer that because it hasn't happened yet.

If you could sit down with anyone (dead or alive) for dinner, who would it be and why?

It would have to be Toni Morrison. I have always felt that her works capture the beautiful and ugly nuances of life. I'd want to ask her about her own hauntings, both as a black woman and as an individual. How do we prevent them from haunting others?

Who do you look up to? Who is your role model?

Ha! I have a bunch and they are all women. My grandmother, my mother, Gina Ramcharan, Princess Jenkins, Elinore Galindo, Cristina Gonzalez,and my BFF Christina Matson. There are so many other women I need to name -- I hope if they read this, they know they're meant to be here, too. Each of these people has impacted my life and my sense of self in ways that I can't explain. I am eternally thankful to them.

What is the next goal you're hoping to accomplish for WCP?

The next personal goal I'd like to accomplish is developing our program and workshops outside just our General meetings.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

Well this is more of a saying: "Faith is like a midwife who holds your hand and says PUSH. It's supposed to hurt."

Women of Color for Progress offers a variety of tools to empower women of color in the political system: from creating educational arrangements, to helping create a more inclusive political system that includes women of color. To find out more about Aliya's organization, visit: www.womenofcolorforprogress.org.