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ELECTIONS 2018-19 Forum spotlights women of color candidates in Illinois
by Melissa Wasserman

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Morten Group, E3 Radio, Reunion Chicago, Equality Illinois and Chicago NOW PAC partnered to present the 2018 Women of Color Candidate Forum for Illinois on March 8 at Reunion Chicago.

The event, held on International Women's Day, gave first-time women of color candidates running for elected offices a platform to introduce themselves and talk about various issues.

"The purpose [of the forum] was to shine a light on first-time women of color candidates," said Morten Group President Mary Morten. "We have not seen any type of forum that focused on the perspectives and experiences of women of color and I happen to know or be friends with numerous women of color who are running for the first time. It's exciting and I wanted to do something to draw attention to campaigns where people really need our support!"

Morten came up with the idea of this forum, knowing a number of women running for office. Morten then spoke to Anna DeShawn, founder and CEO of E3Radio, an online radio network streaming with a queer point of view, about some programming ideas. This project was a first-time partnership and Morten added it was amazingly easy.

"My work as an activist and advocate has always been as a bridge builder trying to bring people together across differences for some productive conversations," said Morten.

Reunion Chicago, Morten explained, was the ideal venue to hold such an event as it is "an accessible location and an open space you make your own." The art gallery, event space and project incubator is located in Humboldt Park and has been under the management of event/cultural producer Kristen Kaza and brand strategist/cultural producer Elijah McKinnon since 2016.

"Kristen and Elijah want to do this kind of programming, so it was a perfect match," said Morten. "Equality Illinois and Chicago NOW PAC made sense since we wanted organizations that do electoral work and that Anna and I had connections with prior to the program."

The panel of candidates included Gaylon B. Alcaraz, candidate for Cook County commissioner, 4th District; Maria Hadden, candidate for 49th Ward alderman; Delia Ramirez, candidate for Illinois state rep, 4th District; Charise Williams, Cook County commissioner, 3rd District; and Sameena Mustafa, who is vying for a U.S. congressional seat in the 5th District. Mary Morten moderated the forum.

"We have far too few of these opportunities," said Morten. "It was quite obvious that these women wanted nothing more than each other's success."

To start, Morten asked each candidate why she was running and "why now." Then questions covered topics such as LBT issues and inclusion, healthcare, education, gun violence, incarceration and mental-health support, among others.

"If I could add anything else, I guess it would be that, when the question was 'why are you running and why are you running now,' I think it's just important as a mom, a grandmother, as a former Girl Scout troop leader, as a woman that has mentored young women, I think it's important for people to see this, for young people to see this, for children to see this, for young women of color to see this—that this can be done," said Alcaraz. "I just think that it's critical for us to see these type of images; to know that this can be done."

"It's important because we're changing the landscape of how things look—politically, across the board, sports, boardrooms—we're doing these things," said Alcaraz. "So, we have to have these types of spaces to come to, to have discourse, to talk, so that's pretty much it, wrapped up into the other thing that I said. It's just critical. These spaces are not open for us or people don't lay these out or make these available to us, so our voices can be heard. Our voices have to be heard. "

In talking about her ideas for the LGBTQ community with Windy City Times, Alcaraz said she will work toward total inclusiveness by creating various councils in her office fueled by the community, including an LGBTQ council. She added that now is not the time to hide and it is the time to be more visible than ever.

After the prepared questions, attendees had the opportunity to ask their own questions. The forum was also livestreamed.

Speaking at this type of event on International Women's Day, Alcaraz said, was important, adding women are considered almost second class citizens.

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