As the country mourns George Floyd and too many other Black Americans who have been the victims of racism and police brutality, Running Start is angry and heartbroken.

In this moment, our commitment is to the young Black women who are integral to our community and our hope for a better future. As we know, conversations change depending on who’s at the table, which is why Running Start trains young women to run for political office. The great Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (the first Black woman elected to Congress) once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”

That’s why Running Start can and will use our power to change what leadership looks like in this country. Our duty as an organization is to ensure that young Black women’s voices are heard. We will continue to work every day to ensure that Black women are strongly supported in the Running Start family, and that all Running Start participants are equipped not just to lead, but to be leaders in the fight against injustice and racism.

Running Start commits to:

  • Holding community forums to solicit feedback directly from our community (details of the first one below)
  • Including explicitly anti-racist curricula in each of our programs
  • Continuing a rigorous new monitoring & evaluation project to provide a sense of who is in our community, the effectiveness of our programs, and how to improve both
  • Adding racial justice resources to our online Network
  • Working with facilitators and mentors who reflect our community
  • Partnering with organizations and speakers that focus on uplifting marginalized communities. Some of the organizations we love include: Higher Heights for America, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Vote Lead Impact, Rebecca Thompson International
  • Making sure that we are reaching the Diversity & Inclusion standards we have set for ourselves by hiring a professional consultant on internal and external diversity, equity & inclusion efforts
  • Continuing to have this conversation and adding to this list

We invite all members of our community to continue this discussion with us at a Community Forum on Friday June 5th at 12:15 pm Eastern. RSVP here:

Training All Young Women to Run for Office Is My Life’s Work. Here’s Why.

By Sara Blanco

You can find Running Start’s official statement here.

As a Latina, I’ve felt at times that my presence is contingent. I am shaken, for example, by assertions that my own country, the United States, should not welcome people like me, the natural-born citizen children of immigrants. But on the balance, I am very lucky that I don’t experience existential terror due to individual and systemic anti-Black racism. Race is complicated, and my relationship to my own ethnicity is, too. My Latinx relatives who live in the US are not safe, not even from violence or death. But the scale of our fear of the consequences of racism, the intensity of it, the history behind it, are radically different from what Black and Afro-Latinx folks face. And so, we are certainly more safe.

With that in mind, I recognize that I have a responsibility to support Black people working hard for freedom from fear. And I can use my relative safety as a shelter that allows me to raise my voice, too. This is true when it comes to marching, when it comes to contacting elected officials, when it comes to amplifying the voices of Black people, when it comes to using the privilege of discretionary income to donate to Black organizations, and it’s true when it comes to my professional life.

I am an excellent example of that strange advice, “fake it till you make it.” Although I believe in authenticity, sometimes, you have to brace yourself to get started on something challenging. It’s like how forming your face into a smile can actually lift your mood. It started with a phone interview, where I gushed about how passionate I was about women’s political representation. Of course, I did care about this, in the abstract, but it wasn’t something I had any special interest in. I just needed an internship, and I needed an internship so that I could get a job — somewhere else, I assumed. Apparently, my performance was convincing, because Running Start welcomed me to the team.

And then, in a matter of weeks, it wasn’t a performance anymore. Running Start’s mission to make sure young women don’t fall through the cracks in the political leadership pipeline has become my life’s work. I’m only 30, so I suppose that might change, but I don’t think it will. Because even if my “day job” ever changes, this will remain central to my advocacy and philanthropy. Part of what has kept me hooked specifically to Running Start is our strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In many critical ways, we hold to it as a foundational value: in promoting our programs to young women from all kinds of backgrounds; in ensuring that we reflect who our young women are; in fostering community in our programs; and in taking very seriously the importance of data and evaluation so that we know how we’re doing.

It mattered, even back when I was starting out as an intern, when I shared a suggestion or critique that came from my experience and identity. Sometimes, that meant pointing out a snag that wasn’t really about me, but at the time, I was the only person of color in the room. That didn’t last long: as our organization has grown (at 8 staff members, we’ve almost tripled while I’ve been here), the mix of voices has grown more varied — as it should. I still feel that I can speak up and be heard, and I hope that’s something my newer colleagues feel, too. The frankness of some important discussions we’ve had suggests that they do.

These personal, internal matters in our organization are important. But there’s a wider impact, too. Striving for gender parity in political leadership isn’t meaningful unless we make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind. We train all young women to run for office, not just those who can easily access our programs or who have already been told (by their parents or by media message) that they can lead. And in this moment, we must turn our focus to young Black women, in particular. Conversations and decisions change depending on who’s at the table. The great Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm (the first Black woman elected to Congress) once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”

That’s where Running Start can — and will — use our power to change what leadership looks like in this country. How much better if we all shove folding chairs under our arms — for ourselves and for each other — and insist that all of our voices are part of these important conversations.

Professional headshot of Sara Blanco.

Sara Blanco is the Program Director at Running Start. She has always been interested in women’s empowerment and became especially passionate about women’s political leadership upon joining the Running Start team. As a Latina, she’s particularly interested in empowering women of color to run for office. With Running Start, she has had the opportunity to speak to audiences large and small about women in politics and appreciates the small nonprofit experience of wearing many hats and doing every kind of work.

In 2018, Sara earned a Master of Public Policy at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at the George Washington University. At Trachtenberg, she was a fellow in the 2015–2016 Women’s Leadership Fellows (WLF) program and a co-chair the subsequent year. She graduated from Swarthmore College in 2012 with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She continues to live in her hometown of Arlington, Virginia, enjoying the adventure of DC life and working to bring young women to politics. Sara is a member of the Women’s Information Network, the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, and has co-written an unpublished novella.

Summer Reading for Future Congresswomen

The 11 Books Recommended During Running Start’s 2019 High School Program

This June, Running Start’s annual week-long, residential political leadership program brought together 50 high school women leaders from across the country. In addition to meeting their Member of Congress and participating in a campaign simulation, the participants heard from over 40 speakers from the world of politics and leadership. A common theme among all of these speakers’ remarks? Book recommendations! Here are all of the books our expert speakers say helped them on their leadership journey.

The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — -What Women Need to Know by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay

Confidence. We know it when we see it or think we do. And we want it for ourselves. The authors of the New York Times bestseller Womenomics deconstruct this essential, elusive, and misunderstood quality and offer a blueprint to bring more of it into our lives. Ultimately, they argue, while confidence is partly influenced by genetics, it is not a fixed psychological state. You won’t discover it by thinking positive thoughts or telling yourself (or your children) that you are perfect as you are. You won’t find it either by simply squaring your shoulders and faking it. But it does require a choice: less worrying about people-pleasing and perfection and more action, risk taking, and fast failure. Inspiring, insightful, and persuasive, The Confidence Code shows that by acting on our best instincts and by daring to be authentic, women can feel the transformative power of a life on confidence.

Represent: The Woman’s Guide to Running for Office and Changing the World by June Raphael and Kate Black

Turn “can I do this?” into “yes, I can!”

Join the growing wave of women leaders with Represent, an energetic, interactive, and inspiring step-by-step guide showing how to run for the approximately 500,000 elected offices in the US. Written with humor and honesty by writer, comedian, actress, and activist June Diane Raphael and Kate Black, former chief of staff at EMILY’s list, Represent is structured around a 21-point document called “I’m Running for Office: The Checklist.” Doubling as a workbook, Represent covers it all, from the nuts and bolts of where to run, fundraising, and filing deadlines, to issues like balancing family and campaigning, managing social media and how running for office can work in your real life. With infographics, profiles of women politicians, and wisdom and advice from women in office, this is a must-own for any woman thinking of joining the pink wave.

Go Fish: How to Catch (And Keep) Contributors: A Practical Guide to Fundraising by Nancy Bocksor

This 66-page book is full of practical advice about how to ask for money, organize finance committees, host profitable events, write successful fundraising letters and other best practices for political and non-profit fundraisers. You’ll learn how to develop successful strategies in this step-by-step guide that demystifies the fundraising process. In Go Fish, Nancy Bocskor has translated her years of fundraising experience into the definitive fundraiser’s handbook.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®, continues to be a best seller for the simple reason that it ignores trends and pop psychology and focuses on timeless principles of fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity.

One of the most compelling books ever written, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®, have empowered and inspired readers for over 25 years and played a part in the transformation of millions of lives, across all age groups and professions.

Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks

In Love Your Enemies, the New York Times bestselling author and social scientist Arthur C. Brooks shows that abuse and outrage are not the right formula for lasting success. Brooks blends cutting-edge behavioral research, ancient wisdom, and a decade of experience leading one of America’s top policy think tanks in a work that offers a better way to lead based on bridging divides and mending relationships.

Love Your Enemies offers a clear strategy for victory for a new generation of leaders. It is a rallying cry for people hoping for a new era of American progress. Most of all, it is a roadmap to arrive at the happiness that comes when we choose to love one another, despite our differences.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

You can go after the job you want…and get it! You can take the job you have…and improve it! You can take any situation you’re in…and make it work for you!

Since its release in 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People has sold more than 15 million copies. Dale Carnegie’s first book is a timeless bestseller, packed with rock-solid advice that has carried thousands of now famous people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives.

As relevant as ever before, Dale Carnegie’s principles endure, and will help you achieve your maximum potential in the complex and competitive modern age.

Learn the six ways to make people like you, the twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, and the nine ways to change people without arousing resentment.

How to Win Friends and Influence People for Teen Girls by Donna Dale Carnegie

Donna Dale Carnegie, daughter of the late motivational author and teacher Dale Carnegie, brings her father’s time-tested, invaluable lessons to the newest generation of young women on their way to becoming savvy, self-assured friends and leaders.

How to Win Friends and Influence People for Teen Girls offers concrete advice on teen topics such as peer pressure, gossip, and popularity. Teen girls will learn the most powerful ways to influence others, defuse arguments, admit mistakes, and make self-defining choices. The Carnegie techniques promote clear and constructive communication, praise rather than criticism, emotional sensitivity, tolerance, and a positive attitude — important skills for every girl to develop at an early age. Of course, no book for teen girls would be complete without taking a look commitment issues and break-ups with romantic partners. Carnegie also provides solid advice for older teens beginning to explore their influence in the adult world, such as driving and handling college interviews.

Full of fun quizzes, “reality check” sections, and true-life examples, How to Win Friends and Influence People for Teen Girls offers every teenage girl candid, insightful, and timely advice on how to influence friends in a positive manner.

Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in CIA’s Clandestine Service by Henry A. Crumpton

Revelatory and groundbreaking, The Art of Intelligence will change the way people view the CIA, domestic and foreign intelligence, and international terrorism. Henry A. “Hank” Crumpton, a twenty-four-year veteran of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, offers a thrilling account that delivers profound lessons about what it means to serve as an honorable spy. From CIA recruiting missions in Africa to pioneering new programs like the UAV Predator, from running post–9/11 missions in Afghanistan to heading up all clandestine CIA operations in the United States, Crumpton chronicles his role — in the battlefield and in the Oval Office — in transforming the way America wages war and sheds light on issues of domestic espionage.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In The Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

The instant New York Times bestseller from the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder shares how saying YES changed her life. “As fun to read as Rhimes’s TV series are to watch” (Los Angeles Times). With three children at home and three hit television shows, it was easy for Shonda to say she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. And then, over Thanksgiving dinner, her sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything. Shonda knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.

This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes — from her nerdy, book-loving childhood to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her. The book chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun — when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.

The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins

Throughout your life, you’ve had parents, coaches, teachers, friends and mentors who have pushed you to be better than your excuses and bigger than your fears. What if the secret to having the confidence and courage to enrich your life and work is simply knowing how to push yourself?

Using the science of habits, riveting stories and surprising facts from some of the most famous moments in history, art and business, Mel Robbins will explain the power of a “push moment.” Then, she’ll give you one simple tool you can use to become your greatest self.

It takes just five seconds to use this tool, and every time you do you’ll be in great company. More than 8 million people have watched Mel’s TEDx Talk, and executives inside of the world’s largest brands are using the tool to increase productivity, collaboration, and engagement. The 5 Second Rule is a simple, one-size-fits-all solution for the one problem we all face — we hold ourselves back.

Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts — Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak — that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts — from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.

Let’s Be Vulnerable: Unlearning Toxic Leadership with Brené Brown

by Senanee Abeyawickram

When women run for office, they win at the same rates as men.

But women face external and internal barriers that dissuade them from wanting to run. For example, due to internal barriers, women often struggle with confidence and the fear that they lack experience — in other words, ‘imposter syndrome’. This has led me to question if there is a gap in how society defines good leadership versus what it really is. Conventional wisdom suggests that good leaders are those who have solutions and make no mistakes — a kind of ‘superhero’. Masking our own imperfections, we embrace this definition, despite knowing that such a person cannot exist. Perhaps these expectations are what create the toxic environments that foster unapproachable, inauthentic, and sometimes discriminatory leaders.

As a young woman who has always been interested in politics, I have been asked, on several occasions, if I would ever run for office. My response has ranged from a hard ‘yes’ to a meek ‘maybe’. Somewhere between the encouraging ‘you should get involved’ and vexing ‘politics is not for women’ rhetoric, I have conjured some deep apprehensions within myself. Largely, this has been fueled by a fear that being in political leadership will force me to be inauthentic or strip me of my true identity. I wonder if it is possible to be successful as a politician while being true to myself.

Society’s perceptions of political leadership are embellished in notions of bravado, perfection, and prowess. In the face of stereotypes that men are more likely to fit this bill, women have to push even further if they want to prove themselves. Amid the complexity of these issues, I have been in awe of the simplicity with which Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, characterizes strong leadership. Her paradigm is a good starting point for hopeful young women, like myself, to unlearn the societal standards that deter us from wanting to run for office.

Brown introduces us to a more realistic and honest approach to leadership. In her TED talk, which has now gained over 40 million views, Brown talks about vulnerability, its power, and its importance in leadership. At first glance, leadership and vulnerability may seem counterintuitive. We are taught that vulnerability is an inherent weakness — and Brown’s definition of vulnerability, “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”, tends to reinforce that idea. Yet, her research posits that vulnerability is, in fact, a sign of strong leadership. In thinking about the intersection of vulnerability and leadership Brown asks us to ponder how the definition of vulnerability is similar to that of leadership: “the ability to be in uncertainty, take risks, and manage exposure.”

Key to her quest in realizing the power of vulnerability was a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910. He said:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Brown pins the genealogy of the power of vulnerability to what Roosevelt refers to as “daring greatly”. In this frame of thinking, there is greater emphasis and value placed on leaders who admit to their mistakes, ask for help, take risks, and speak the truth. These behaviors reflect ‘authenticity’ and ‘humility’ — adjectives that aren’t as intimidating as ‘perfection’ and ‘prowess’. As hopeful young women leaders, what if we were asked: “Do you have the authenticity, courage, and humility it takes to run for office?” instead of “Do you have the power and prowess to run for office?”

Brown’s broader theories on vulnerability and leadership have been extrapolated into the world of business with many CEOs and managers implementing them in their workplaces. The world of politics is indeed another realm in which the intersection of vulnerability and leadership is highly potent, especially in the discourse on women in politics. We often complain that our leaders make fake promises, turn a blind eye to wrongdoings, or lack authenticity in general. Brown’s research is a nudge in the right direction for our generation to start creating a new culture — one that normalizes vulnerability, embraces it, and uses it as a tool to foster change. Brown questions, ‘has man ever created anything without having to be vulnerable?’ ‘No, because vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity and innovation.’

Dismantling the notion that vulnerability is a sign of weakness can be a useful tool of empowerment for women. But just because we know that vulnerability is a sign of strong leadership does not mean it is easy to be vulnerable. Brown says that, “for women vulnerability is hard because it pushes against the messages and expectations that fuel shame”. These are the same forces that make women in leadership feel like they need to talk, walk, and dress a certain way to be taken seriously.

Leaders who know how to be vulnerable recognize that it is not a weakness, that it is not something you should opt out of, and that it has boundaries. Brown informs us that vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability. This is why it is important to know when to be vulnerable by assessing the quality of what is being disclosed and the intention behind it. And if this is true, Brown is right in saying that “vulnerability is our most accurate way to measure courage.”

Leadership development coach, Kate Turner, shares similar views on this issue. In particular, when asked how we can debunk the myths surrounding vulnerability, she says that it is important to ‘catch people doing it right. If you see other people showing up in the right version of vulnerability, then comment on it and congratulate them. This is the way to start making a measurable change.’ Lucky for us, we can look to many recent examples of female politicians who have fearlessly embraced vulnerability.

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is lauded for how well she handled the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Christchurch. In addition to prescribing immediate policy measures, Ardern took on the role of ‘national healer’. She embraced and mourned alongside those who were affected, speaking openly about her own struggles. In that moment of collective weakness, she found strength for her country with courage, compassion, and her willingness to be vulnerable.

In the United States, sharing a personal story of sexual assault can be extremely frightening and risky for politicians. But that didn’t stop Senator Joni Ernst, Senator Martha McSally, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer from courageously participating in the #MeToo Movement and contributing towards its momentum. Their decisions empowered and set a powerful precedent for other survivors. Importantly, it reminded everyone across the political spectrum that the issue of sexual assault and harassment sees no political party — it is a nonpartisan issue that affects us all. The fact that Martha McSally offered one of the most powerful testimonies in the growing debate on Capitol Hill over how to adjudicate claims of sexual assault in the military shows that the outcome of her decision to be vulnerable was both powerful and tangible.

Similarly, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was caught in a moment of profound vulnerability with her infamous ‘misogyny speech’ in parliament. It was one of the first times the issue was addressed by a woman so passionately and unapologetically in a political forum. The response to her speech was mixed. But as Brown says, being a strong, vulnerable leader means ‘leaning in to the discomfort’. And that’s exactly what Gillard did. In the end, many women from around the world saw it as a defining moment for feminism in Australia.

The myth that vulnerability is a weakness has, in many ways, been debunked. It’s just that the negative connotation of the word has not been fully unpacked and realized by our leaders. At the same time, the stereotypes that plague perceptions of women make it even more difficult to talk about this subject without being labeled as ‘emotional’. But that does not mean we should silence ourselves. These exemplary women have shown us that it is okay to be vulnerable; we do not have to be perfect and politics does not have to change us. But, it seems, we might have to change politics.


Running Start Summer 2019 Intern Senanee Abeyawickrama is a political science and economics major at New York University Abu Dhabi, where she was awarded a full scholarship. At university, she has been an active member of the Model UN club having participated in numerous international conferences as both a delegate and chair. She has been involved in on-campus initiatives aimed at women’s leadership and empowerment including “Women in Business” and the “Girls’ Education Network”. Senanee has experience with research-based internships in her home country, Sri Lanka. One of her most rewarding experiences was when she worked with the gender team at the United Nations Population Fund on a project titled “Sexual Harassment of Women in Public Transport”. Although an introvert, Senanee enjoys meeting new people and engaging in debates over issues she cares about. After graduation, she hopes to get work experience in a policy-oriented field related to human rights. One day, Senanee hopes to run for local office and advocate for issues affecting women and children.


Notes from the Running Start Campaign Trail

By Sara Blanco (email interviews conducted by Alex Aiello)

Running Start alum Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, the youngest-ever Black woman elected to Congress, shared her story with our high school students earlier this summer, and that got us thinking. What other gems could our amazing alums share?

Meet Maryland State Delegate Lesley Lopez, Dallas Independent School District Board of Trustees Member Karla Garcia, Fairfax County School Board candidate Abrar Omeish, Prince William County Board of County Supervisors candidate Margaret Angela Franklin, former New York State Assembly candidate Morgan Zegers, and former Polk County School Board candidate Kala Tedder.

Here’s what these real young women candidates took away from Running Start’s political leadership programs and their advice for young women leaders.

Excerpted and edited for clarity.


LL: I think that in order to recognize certain leadership qualities in myself, I needed to be exposed to a group of equally passionate peers who I could start to see myself in, as well as meet speakers in positions that were aspirational but still attainable. I had the energy and conviction, just needed a spark to help me connect the dots and see that potential in myself.

KG: I don’t think there’s anything more empowering than convening young women from all backgrounds and addressing their concerns (because we already know what we want — that’s why we’re here) through training and mentorship by leaders we see ourselves reflected in. I am affirmed that I belong — and that I can do this — in every sense of the word.

MZ: When you run for office you have to be able to push yourself outside of your comfort zone every day, even if you’re struggling with impostor syndrome or feel out of place. Running Start gave me the courage to embrace the awkwardness of being a young, female candidate and instead focus on the most important factor: I was a member of my community who cared and wanted to bring positive change.

AO: I learned the power and importance of fighting, fighting some more, and continuing to fight despite the discouragement and dismay of those around you. I learned to derive confidence from within and to lean on those mentors and women who are out there rooting for me and who are counting on me to get there because politics is not easy… In the same way some of the senior leading ladies we met were able to make it in a time that rejected them, perhaps I, a young Muslim woman, may be able to push for my values and make it today.

Left: Abrar Omeish (second from left) participating in Running Start’s 2012 High School Program. Right: Kala Tedder (left) participating in Running Start’s 2018 High School Program.

KT: Prior to Running Start, I had the confidence needed to run, but not the confidence make the most out of my run. I was unsure of myself and what people would think of an 18-year-old running for office, and the more time I spent thinking about what other people thought, the less time I spent actually communicating with those very people. Running Start helped me to put myself out there and be apologetically me in a world where authenticity is not always valued.


LL: Being collaborative, more results-driven than ego-driven, being unafraid of compromise — these are what women effective leaders in government.

KG: The importance of building relationships. Extend your hand, give a firm handshake, confidently state who you are and what your aspirations are, and work on it — you’ll never know where it takes you!

MZ: Running Start taught me the power that comes from lifting up those around you and building relationships. As an underdog candidate, building a strong network of key stakeholders and party leaders in the district was key to securing needed endorsements, volunteers and supporters.

KT: Running Start taught me to view networking differently. I learned how to make strong connections with people from the beginning and, most importantly, how to maintain those connections, which was absolutely crucial for campaigning.


LL: The fact that it’s a nonpartisan org was also really helpful, not just because it strips the tactics down to the essentials, but because you work on shared missions with women from the other side — just as I do now as a legislator.

MAF: Running Start not only introduced us to women who are elected officials, but they also introduced us to consultants, heads of agencies, and other dignitaries who helped us envision ourselves as candidates and elected officials. They gave us the courage to step up and run for office and normalized the idea of women running for office, particularly women of color.

Right: Margaret Angela Franklin, at Running Start’s 2012 Young Women to Watch Awards.

AO: I should add — the mentorship of women and seeing what they were willing to do for us inspired me to further value mentorship and giving back as I go up. There is never a time when I can justify not giving back for being “too busy.” I am not too important for anyone and no one is too unimportant for my full attention.


KG: Build your network of support. When times get tough (and they inevitably will) have a solid team of mentors, advisors, and simply good friends.

MZ: Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into using campaign tactics or messaging that doesn’t fit your personality or come from your heart. Authenticity gives you extra confidence in yourself and in your campaign, and increases the effectiveness of your message to your community members.

Speak up when you are mistreated. I experienced sexual harassment when I was a candidate, and I wish it took me less time to gain the confidence to speak out about it… Sexual harassment can be uncomfortable to discuss, but I would rather feel uncomfortable for a small time if it means young women who run for office and experience these negative situations won’t feel alone. If we don’t share our experiences, they will continue to be brushed under the rug. If we share our experiences, we can move forward with a plan for change and serve as mentors and supporters for each other.

AO: Stay true to you and to the principles that guide us towards a better world.

KT: One of the most invaluable tools Running Start will ever give you are the people in the program with you. Those bonds, if you choose to put the work into maintaining them, form a national network of support. Learn from each other, grow with each other, support each other, and you will find friendships that cross political and geographic boundaries.

As a Latina, Running Start Outreach Director Sara Blanco is especially interested in empowering women of color to run for office. Her leadership experience includes participating in and then co-chairing a women’s leadership development series in her grad program. Sara is a current and lifelong Arlingtonian. Under her fresh leadership, Running Start’s social media presence has grown 500%!

BA, English Literature & Gender and Sexuality Studies, Swarthmore College (2012); MPP, Gender Policy, the George Washington University (2018)

@sarablancosays, LinkedIn,

Running Start Summer 2019 Intern Alex Aiello is a sociology and religious studies double-major at Davidson College, Class of 2021. She has served as secretary for Amnesty International, small group Bible study leader for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and treasurer for a mental health awareness club. Alex is a member of the Davidson College Democrats and advocates on campus for students to get involved in politics. She is from New York City and loves trying new coffee shops in Manhattan and going for runs along the East River or in Central Park. She hopes to attend law school and then represent sexual assault survivors. Ultimately, Alex hopes to run for office and make lasting policy changes protecting women from sexual assault and harassment.

@AlexAiello8, LinkedIn

Recap: 2019 High School Program

Running Start’s 2019 High School Program had too many amazing moments to fully capture in a blog post, but here are a a few highlights from the elected Class Representative, Roxie Richner.

Throughout the week, we participated in a campaign simulation where we worked in groups to run a mock campaign. Each group had a candidate, campaign manager, communications director, political director, and new media director. Our campaign deliverables included a 60-second speech, a campaign video, a research report on our district, a fundraising strategy, and a social media campaign.

Left: us with Congresswoman Lauren Underwood; top right: me meeting Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema at the Congressional Women’s Softball Game; middle right: Aliza, Molly, Naomi, and Sophie at McDermott Will & Emery; bottom right: us meeting Congresswomen at the Congressional Women’s Softball Game.

We also visited Capitol Hill to meet our representatives in Congress. During the Congressional Reception at McDermott Will & Emery, we were welcomed by Congressman Will Hurd, Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón, and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood. We not only engaged with members of Congress on the Hill, but on the field too after the Congressional Women’s Softball Game.

Top: executives from Forbes Tate Partners facilitating a session on campaign video production; bottom: award-winning actress Jayne Atkinson-Gill (from House of Cards and The Walking Dead) teaching about public speaking and presence.

Each day, we listened to experts in fundraising, campaigning, social media, public speaking, campaign video production, and networking. In addition to skill-building and leadership training, we also learned about finding common ground, self-defense, and resilience.

Top left: career coach Rebecca Thompson with Emily; bottom left: Molly and Aliza at the networking reception; right: Leena participating in the networking workshop.

We also attended a networking workshop and reception at The Wing in Georgetown, a network of work and community spaces for women, to help us practice our networking skills.

Running Start High School Program Class of 2019

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have met everyone, and I can’t wait to see what we’ll be up to in the future! Thank you to everyone for sharing a week of your summer with me and with Running Start.

ANN at Arena Stage – July 25, 2019

Susannah Wellford, Running Start’s CEO & Founder, worked for Governor Ann Richards early in her career. She was an important role model and mentor to Susannah and to many others.

Running Start’s friend and award-winning actress Jayne Atkinson is starring in the upcoming production about former Governor Ann Richards’ life. ANN is written by Holland Taylor and directed by Kristen van Ginhoven at Arena Stage July 11 — August 11.

Jayne Atkinson teaching Running Start High School Program participants about public speaking June 2019.

Proceeds from tickets purchased by June 28th through Running Start for the Thursday, July 25th show will help train more young women to run for office.

Ticket sales to benefit Running Start are now limited — please email about availability. Those wishing to support our work to empower young women can make a tax-deductible donation at

2019 High School Program Speakers

Thank you to our volunteer speakers for making this week so wonderful!

Click here to learn more about the program.


Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR),ález-Colón

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY),

Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-IL),

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-MI),

Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX),

Laura Cox Kaplan, Board Co-Chair, Running Start; Adjunct Professor, American University; Board Member, The Hunt Companies,

Krysta Jones, Founder & CEO, Virginia Leadership Institute,

Chief Chanel Dickerson, Assistant Chief of Patrol Services South, DC Metropolitan Police


Ariel Hill-Davis, Director of Policy, Republican Women for Progress; Vice President, Industry & Regulatory Affairs,

Audrey Henson, Founder and CEO, College to Congress,

Danielle Prendergast, Principle Consultant, Policy By Design LLC; National Elect Her Training Facilitator, Running Start,

Heather Barmore, Advisor, VoteRunLead,

Jennifer Higgins, Partner, Chamber Hill Strategies,

Jessica Grounds, Co-Founder, Mine the Gap; Co-Chair Emeritus of the Board of Directors, Running Start,

Kelly Gibson, Partner, Hamburger Gibson Creative,

Martina Fitzgerald, Irish Political Journalist and Author,

Regina Monge, Finance Assistant, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for Congress,

Sohini Gupta, Principal, Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas,

Kate Black, Policy Advisor, Federal Communications Commission; author,

Nancy Bocskor, Director, Texas Woman’s University Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy; Running Start Board Member,

Allyson Carpenter, Director of Public Engagement, DC Council,

Jayne Atkinson-Gill, actress,

Sarah Beccio, CEO, Indigecomms,

Sarah Blahovec, Disability Vote Organizer, The National Council on Independent Living,

Charlotte Clymer, Press Secretary for Rapid Response, Human Rights Campaign,

Elliott Kozuch, Deputy Press Secretary, Human Rights Campaign,

Farah Melendez, Political Director, Democratic Attorneys General Association,

Lucky Sasiphong, Scheduling/Operations Intern, US Senator Kamala Harris,

Rina Shah, Co-Founder, Women Influencers Network,

Chris Baer, artist,

Sabrina Siddiqui, Vice President, Forbes Tate,

Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah, Director of Constituent Relations, Office of Senator

Winnie Brinks (MI-29),

Hind Essayegh, Regional Director, MALIKAH DMV,


Rebecca Thompson, Clarity + Confidence Coach,

Running Start Staff

Susannah Wellford, Running Start, CEO and Founder

Melissa Richmond, Running Start, Chief Strategy Officer

Jessica Kelly, Running Start, Leadership and Programs Director

Sara Blanco, Running Start, Communications Director

Natalie Caraballo, Running Start, Operations Assistant

Reniya Dinkins, Running Start, Development Coordinator

Carly Madsen, Running Start, Program and Events Coordinator

Political Pipeline Design: Insights from a Survey of Women Serving in State Legislatures

By Reniya Dinkins

According to the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP), 29% of the 7,383 state legislators in the United States are currently women. This is a step forward from 2018, when only 25% were women.

From June 2018 to April 2019, Running Start surveyed women serving as state legislators in US states, territories, and the District of Columbia, who were in office June 2018 in order to collect self-identified demographic information and to learn more about their leadership training, experience running for office, and ties to mentorship. We’d like to thank our partners at the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University and at Women in Government for providing us with the data resources in order to make our outreach successful. Thanks also to supporting partners The National Foundation for Women Legislators and Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center.

Most legislators responded by filling out an online form we emailed them; we also conducted some phone surveys and recorded their responses. We recognize that these preliminary findings are not perfect, as our methods were not perfectly scientific. However, we received a 19% response rate from legislators and believe that this data is generally reflective of women state legislators across the country.


Compared to women in the US population, the demographic data we found on women state legislators reveals that their backgrounds are not always a perfect representation of the country. Two characteristics especially jump out: age and education. Most of these women are at least 40 years old (65%) and only 7% are under 40. Yet, across the US, a whopping 26% of women are younger than 40 and only 49% are 40 or older. And while 88% of our women state legislators have a bachelor’s degree or higher, among all women in the US, only 32% have attained these educational credentials. Clearly, there is still work to be done to make sure women of all backgrounds and identities run for office. (A forthcoming formal report will paint a more detailed picture with the rest of the characteristics we collected data on.)

What encourages women to run? According to our survey results, community involvement, support from family and friends, being asked to run, and having a supportive partner are among the top factors that motivate women to run for office, revealing that encouragement from others is indeed key to women deciding to run. In addition, we found that when women participate in leadership activities at a young age, they are more likely to run for office in the future. 52% of legislators were Girl Scouts and 47% were in student government in school. Running Start trains young women to run for student government in our Elect Her program, which we bring to over 75 schools (2,500+ students) every year. These results support the importance of this work to create a pipeline of young women who will run for elected office.

In addition, 50% of women state legislators are mentoring a successor. While it was the least popular motivator for them to run for office (perhaps indicative of the lack of women in leadership in the past), mentorship still seems to be important to these women for raising up the next generation of leaders.

Check out a sneak peek of some of our other most interesting findings below!

Geographic Demographics

We received responses from legislators in all 50 states. The most responses came from the following states:

10% New Hampshire
6% Kansas
4% Pennsylvania
4% Maine
4% Oregon

Party Affiliation

67% Democrat
30% Republican
3% Other Party

According to Pew Research Center, here is the party breakdown among women in the US:
54% Democrat (or lean Democrat)
38% Republican (or lean Republican)

Women Under 40

7% are under 40 years old
65% are 40 years old and older
28% preferred to not respond

For context, 26% of women in the US are between the ages of 18–39, while 49% are 40 and older.

Race & Ethnicity

80% White
11% Black/African American
3% American Indian/Alaska Native
2% Asian American
0.2% Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander
8% Hispanic or Latino
0.8% Multiracial
7% preferred to not respond

According to the 2010 Census, here are the race and ethnicity demographics of women in the US population:
77% White
13% Black/African American
1% American Indian/Alaska Native
3% Asian
0.2% Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander
16% Hispanic or Latino
2% Multiracial


44% Heterosexual
2% Lesbian/Gay
1% Bisexual
52% preferred to not respond

According to the CDC, here are the sexuality demographics of women in the US population:
98% Heterosexual
1.5% Lesbian/Gay
1% Bisexual


80% identify as a cisgender woman
20% preferred to not respond

First-Generation College Student

23% were first-generation college students
73% were not first-generation college students
4% preferred to not respond

Veteran Status

2% are US veterans
96% are not US veterans
2% preferred to not respond

According to the US Census Bureau, 1.2% of women in the US are veterans.


2% have a disability
96% do not have a disability
2% preferred to not respond

According to the US Census Bureau, about 20% of women have a disability.


2% are immigrants
96% are not immigrants
2% preferred to not respond

Religious Minority

8% identify as religious minorities
89% do not identify as religious minorities
3% preferred to not respond

Highest Level of Education

1% received high school diploma or equivalent
5% completed some college, no degree
4% received an associate’s degree
30% received a bachelor’s degree
36% received a master’s degree
11% received some professional degree
11% received a doctorate degree
2% preferred to not respond
(88% have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher)

Compared to the US Census’ women in the US attained have the following levels of education:
20% received high school diploma or equivalent
36% completed some college or received an associate’s degree
32% received a bachelor’s degree or higher

Household Income Growing Up

13% low income
26% low-middle income
32% middle income
14% middle-high income
1% high income
1% varied
13% preferred to not respond

Current Household Income

1% low income
4% low-middle income
31% middle income
37% middle-high income
13% high income
14% preferred to not respond

Lost an Election

30% have lost an election before
69% have never lost an election
1% preferred to not respond

Motivation to Run for Office

1. Involvement in your community (85%)
2. Support from family/friends (73%)
3. Being asked to run (68%)
4. Having a supportive partner (65%)
5. Interest in a specific issue (54%)
6. Financial security (49%)
7. Involvement with a political party (46%)
8. Mentorship (29%)

Legislators with a Woman as a Chief of Staff

33% have a woman as a chief of staff
61% do not have a woman as a chief of staff
6% preferred to not respond

Legislators with Legislative Staff Experience

15% were once legislative staffers
83% have never been legislative staffers
2% preferred to not respond

Former Girl Scouts

52% were Girl Scouts
41% were never Girl Scouts
7% preferred to not respond

Student Government Experience

47% were in student government in high school and/or college
46% were never in student government
7% preferred to not respond

Campaign School & Leadership Training

36% went to a campaign school or had other leadership training before running
58% never went to a campaign school or had other leadership training before running
6% preferred to not respond

Popular campaign schools listed include Emerge, EMILY’s List, Wellstone, and the Women’s Campaign School at Yale.

Running for Higher Office

70% would consider running for higher office
28% would not consider running for higher office
2% preferred to not respond

Mentoring a Successor

50% are currently mentoring a successor
44% are not currently mentoring a successor
6% preferred to not respond

Sara Blanco contributed to this post.


Reniya Dinkins was born and raised in Washington, DC. She recently graduated from Columbia University with a double major in Political Science and Sociology, and her academic interests are centered on radical black feminism and black political thought. In 2016, Reniya was a Running Start intern through Urban Alliance, and while in college, she also interned at the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Eric H. Holder Jr. Initiative for Civil and Political Rights. She also helped run a nonprofit called the WomanHOOD Project. Reniya’s passion is serving and uplifting underrepresented and underserved communities. Women’s leadership is particularly important to her because she values the importance of redefining what political leadership looks like.

Reniya currently serves as the Development Coordiantor at Running Start. Outside of work, she loves finding new books to read and enjoying the many things to do in DC.


As a Latina, Sara Blanco is especially interested in empowering women of color to run for office. Her leadership experience includes participating in and then co-chairing a women’s leadership development series in her grad program. Sara is a current and lifelong Arlingtonian. Under her fresh leadership, Running Start’s social media presence has grown 500%!

BA, English Literature & Gender and Sexuality Studies, Swarthmore College (2012); MPP, Gender Policy, the George Washington University (2018)

@sarablancosays, LinkedIn,


Elect Her was developed with AAUW, the American Association of University Women.

“We must lift others as we rise.” — How Running Start is changing the status quo of political power.

by Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah

I am a first-generation American who for some reason found myself drawn to politics as a child. Maybe it is because as I grew up, I saw that while my parents lived in a country they loved, they did not have much ability to influence the decisions made about their community because they were not citizens. Maybe it was because I realized on some fundamental level, even as a child, that women, especially women of color, were not often in positions where they were calling the shots. (As a fifth grader, my student council president speech ended with — I kid you not — “Don’t stick to the status quo! It’s time for a female president!”)

Either way, though I was interested in politics and ran for leadership positions from fifth grade student council president all the way to student body vice president at my university, I never had the opportunity to see what things looked like within the great halls of power. At least, not until my Congressional Fellowship with Running Start.

I was placed in the office of a Senator I admire, in part because of her position on a Senate Committee I am interested in and the work she has done around issues I am passionate about. Unusually contentious committee business that took place during my internship made the experience especially challenging. But there were other profound issues at play as well.

Before my internship, I’d had an idea about what Capitol Hill might look like. Even as a child, I was attuned to the fact that not many women had the opportunity to serve as leaders in any capacity. I looked up to the women closest to me but had few women to look up to as political role models. So, I approached my time on the Hill clear-eyed, and with the understanding that I just wouldn’t see many people who looked like me. Even with my expectations, it was still disheartening for me to see how few women and people of color, especially women of color, there were throughout the Hill, in both staff and elected positions. It was frustrating that the nation’s highest body of government felt in many ways unrepresentative of our country.

It was in these disheartening moments, though, that I was most grateful for my involvement with Running Start. As a Congressional Fellow, I was told every week in different forms and from different people, that I was strong, smart, capable, and tough — and that though it might be hard for me to see at times, I could do anything I put my mind to.

Left: Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah making her #ILookLikeAPolitician contest speech to the crowd of DC movers and shakers at the Young Women to Watch Awards. Right: Ewurama and Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin taking a selfie at the event’s reception.

After my fellowship, in a beautiful full-circle moment at Running Start’s Young Women to Watch Awards, I had my own newly-elected Congresswoman, Representative Elissa Slotkin (whose campaign I had strongly supported) cheer me on and campaign for me as I competed to serve as Running Start’s Ambassador. Being surrounded by multitudes of politically-inclined women to celebrate the most diverse Congress in American history was unbelievably special. More than anything else, it helped me realize that we have the ability to shape what the future of our politics looks like. And that’s because organizations like Running Start are working hard to change the face of power.

So many of us have not seen ourselves represented in our nation’s politics. As Running Start’s #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador, I hope to use my platform to reach out to young women across the country and help them see that we need their voices in the political realm. Even a few months ago, Congress didn’t look the way it does now. We all have the responsibility to ensure that we don’t go back to how things were before. We must continue to tell young women from all backgrounds that they are strong, smart, capable, and tough, and encourage them to share their ideas. We must follow the example of people like my own Congresswoman, mentoring those who aspire to be in their positions. We must lift others as we rise.

I like to think my fifth-grade self would be proud of me today; it is for her that I will continue working. The status quo, slowly but surely, is beginning to change, and I’m proud to be a part of changing it.

Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah is a graduate of James Madison College at Michigan State University. As a student, she served as the Vice President for Academic Affairs in ASMSU, where she focused on college and textbook affordability issues. She is an alumna of the Running Start / Walmart Congressional Fellowship, where she interned for a Senator. She was recently elected to serve as Running Start’s 2019 #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador, a position which will give her the opportunity to encourage young women across the country to embrace their political ambitions.