Organization strategy

This organization wants to make Odessa Kelly the first black woman out of Congress

Glynda Carr has dedicated her life to helping progressive black women gain political power.

As co-founder and president of the Higher Heights organization, she has worked for more than a decade to help black women get elected to office across the country.

The organization provides training for those interested in running for office or working on campaigns at all levels, from school board to senator. The connected federal PAC, Higher Heights for America PAC, focuses on supporting Black women running for federal, statewide leadership positions and for mayor of the Top 100 cities.

Carr describes Higher Heights as “a political hotbed for black women” and a place to “collectively harness our political power from the voting booth to elected office.”

Midway through, Higher Heights for America PAC endorsed Odessa Kelly, who could become the first gay black woman in Congress.

Kelly, a progressive Democrat and local organizer, is running in Tennessee’s 7th congressional district. His Trump-endorsed opponent, incumbent Rep. Mark Green (R), called being transgender a disease and was one of the republicans who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Green has represented the district since 2019, but Carr said Kelly is “running a very strong race.”

“She nationalized this race, as black women often have,” Carr said.

“We are excited about Odessa because its story translates all over the country… It runs in the deep south. She is a young activist and someone who has been active and engaged in her community.

Kelly was running in the 5th congressional district before moving to the 7th earlier this year due to redistricting efforts that Kelly and Green called unfair.

Although Green didn’t explain why he thought the new lines were unfair, Kelly said Tennessee Viewpoint that the new districts divided Nashville “for the purpose of suppressing the black vote”.

In a 2021 interview with LGBTQ Nation, Kelly said she was running for office because she “needed to”.

“I couldn’t sleep at night thinking about the impact this seat has on not only the community here in Nashville, but also the collective impact that one person holding a seat in Congress has across the country.”

Originally from Nashville, Kelly grew up in a working-class neighborhood and spent fourteen years working for the city’s parks and recreation department, where she was eventually forced to work part-time due to budget cuts. While there, she saw the families she worked with struggle to get health care, pay rent and put food on the table.

“I was embarrassed that we have public policies that trap people in poverty instead of building pathways out of poverty,” she said.

This frustration led Kelly to become co-founder and executive director of Standing Nashville, a non-profit organization that focuses on racial and social justice work through an economic lens. His work is well known in the Nashville community.

Carr touted Kelly’s deep understanding of the issues facing her community, her ability to connect with constituents and her intersectional identities.

“Decision-making tables, whether it’s corporate tables, nonprofit tables, or an elected office, these decision-making tables make better decisions when they’re diverse. It’s not just based on race, gender, political ideology, but lived experience, and so we’re excited about Odessa because its history translates across the country.

Carr added that Higher Heights has been focused on creating a culture shift around how black candidates are viewed and talked about.

“Some of our biggest successes have been creating an environment for black women to vote, run, win and lead. A lot of our culture change work and storytelling work has been about ensure there is a space to talk about black women’s political power and black women’s leadership.

Carr’s most important message: vote.

For the November 8 midterm elections, voters can visit Higher Heights for America PAC’s #BlackWomenRun Database – a comprehensive guide to the more than 500 black women running for state and federal elections across the country.

“Our daily lives are tied to public policy, from regulating our food to whether there’s a street light outside your house,” Carr said.

“When you sit outside of an election cycle, you are actually contributing. That “no” vote helps who represents you. It is therefore incumbent on us to be informed voters, to hold our elected officials and those who seek our votes accountable, and to be prepared not only to vote but to organize our house, our bloc, our church, our sorority.

“We can do that by electing representatives who will help make our democracy look like it truly reflects the American tapestry, and that’s by electing more women, more candidates of color, and for us, helping to elect more black women across this country in 2022.”