ABOUT BLACK WOMEN ORGANIZED FOR POLITICAL ACTION (BWOPA)
Founded in 1968, BWOPA understands that everything that affects the quality of life is in most ways political. Therefore, BWOPA’s primary goal is to educate, train, and involve as many African American women as possible in the political process. Today, BWOPA is a statewide 501c4 non-profit advocacy and membership organization.
Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) mission is to activate, motivate, promote, support, and educate African-American women about the political process, encourage involvement, and to affirm our commitment to, and solving of, those problems affecting the African-American community.
BWOPA's purpose is to:
- Provide leadership, training and mentoring to insure participation in the political process; (TILE)
- Developing long-range strategies to insure representation of African Americans within the political spectrum.
- Articulate our collective positions on issues affecting African Americans;
- Develop collaborative linkages with other political organizations; and
- Preserve and chronicle the political experience of African American women in California.
Work is accomplished through our main organization (BWOPA), our Training Institute for Leadership Enrichment (TILE), and our political action committee (PAC).
BWOPA is committed to addressing those core issues which adversely affect the African American community. These core issues fall within the realm of:
- Criminal Justice
- Economic Security
African-Americans have higher rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, HIV/AIDS and cancer. African-Americans also are more likely to suffer from depression and substance abuse, and have less access to quality care due to financial barriers and lack of insurance.
BWOPA will raise awareness about health disparities in our community, and actively advocate for policies that increase access to and utilization of high quality health and mental health care. BWOPA will also advocate for just and fair environmental policies that reduce exposure of African Americans to environmental toxins in the built environment, land, water, and air.
High school and college completion rates are lower for African-Americans than for the general population. Urban schools in which African Americans are concentrated are under-resourced. BWOPA will advocate for school reform that promotes universal access to preschool/early education, more supportive school climates, high quality and culturally appropriate instruction, increased graduation rates, reducing the minority achievement gap, and more equitable funding support for urban schools. We also advocate for a special education focus on:
- Foster Youth
- Suspension and Expulsion Rates
- Interventions for risk of youth incarceration
- Teen Pregnancy
Criminal Justice Reform
African American youth and adults are more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. BWOPA will advocate for fair policies that reduce discrimination in the adjudication process, provide alternatives to incarceration for youth and drug offenders, encourage prison reform that promotes rehabilitation, and assists those who were formerly incarcerated in re-entering the community.
Economic Security / Jobs
Rates of poverty and unemployment are higher in the African American community than in the general population. African Americans are also less likely to own their own businesses than non-African Americans, and have less access to job training programs. BWOPA will advocate for greater economic opportunity for African Americans, including green jobs training, equal opportunities for advancement, financial literacy, small business development and entrepreneurship.
Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) was founded in 1968, as an outgrowth of a group calling itself Bay Area Women for Dellums. This group consisted of 12 politically active women from various Bay Area cities under the leadership of Edith M. Austin. It was Paul Cobb, political activist, running for Oakland City Council, who labeled the group Women Organized for Political Action.
The small group grew to over 200 black women from throughout the Bay Area - all diligently working to elect Ron V. Dellums to Congress.
After raising $75,000, and succeeding in electing Dellums, the original group members who included Alfreda Abbott, Margaret Amoureaux, Belva Davis, Ruth Hagwood-Webb, Aileen Hernandez, Ella Hill Hutch, Mary Jane Johnson, Dorothy Pitts, Teola Sanders, Frances Taylor and Dezie Woods-Jones, continued to meet and work on other political issues.
In April 1971, WOPA put out a call for women who were interested in political action and over 350 women convened at what then was the Bay Area's Black Culture Center, "The Rainbow Sign" to form what is now known as Black Women Organized for Political Action. To date, BWOPA is the oldest such organization in the State of California.
A strong belief in democratic leadership has existed in the organization since its inception, and the founding members governed as co-chairs until 1970.
However, in 1970, growth of the organization required more centralized leadership, and Dezie Woods-Jones was elected the first president of the organization. The organization flourished and made significant inroads during the near 30-year Woods-Jones leadership. Ms. Woods-Jones has dedicated her life to advocacy in education, youth development, women's empowerment, and matters of poverty and disenfranchisement. Ms. Woods-Jones was also elected by voters to the Oakland City Council in 1991, and served as Vice-Mayor for two years.
President Woods-Jones administration has encouraged:
- Leadership Development
- Youth Development & Involvement
- Chapter Expansion
- Membership Growth
- Building Strategic Alliance
As a result, the membership is experiencing a wonderful resurgence and revitalized sense of mission.
From the humble beginnings of twelve (12) women simply organized to elect the now retired Honorable Ronald V. Dellums to office; the organization has already created a legacy of political accomplishments.
Charter member Ella Hill Hutch, who served on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board of Directors and San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was the first African-American women elected to office in the Bay Area.
BWOPA's political influence and involvement also played a major role in the election of many other dynamic women who were the first African-American women elected in their respective areas. Women such as the Honorable Judith Ford, Alameda County Municipal Court; Darlene Lawson from the Oakland Board of Education, and Doris Ward, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and former County Assessor for the city and county of San Francisco.
Additionally, former California legislators Congresswomen Diane Watson and now United States Senator Kamala Harris, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, are among the powerful female elected representatives receiving early supported from BWOPA. These pioneers have led the way for many Black women who are in politics today.
BWOPA is a multi-faceted organization focusing not only on political representation of the African-American community, but also on education and training. Its functions are divided among three distinct branches - operations, political advocacy, and education and comprised of two major non-profit corporations.
In 1977, under the leadership of President Woods-Jones, BWOPA's executive committee established its first non-profit corporation to promote and implement "non-political" educational programs, services, and activities focusing on the special needs of African American women and youth in the Bay Area community.
Twenty years later in 1999, began a major re-organization effort this considering the special leadership needs of African-American women. The new focus gave rise to its current structure, including the establishment of its second non-profit agency, The Training Institute for Leadership Enrichment (TILE).
Additionally, the BWOPA-PAC came out of the restructure to continue the critically important political activities of the organization.
In recent years, BWOPA has continued to demonstrate its independent leadership while recognizing the value of building meaningful coalitions, especially recognizing the changing political landscape. Thus, BWOPA has been instrumental in the formation of several organizations including the Bay Area Black Women United, a network comprised of over 30 women organizations.
BWOPA has also formed coalitions and worked on special projects with such organization as:
- American Heart Association;
- Bay Area Black Women Lawyers;
- Black American Political Association of California (BAPAC);
- National Black Women's Health Project,
- National Coalition of 100 Black Women;
- Women's Economic Agenda Project (WEAP);
- National Women Political Caucus, and
- Women In Action Lobby Day
- League of Women Voters
- National Organization of Women
BWOPA's parent organization is chartered in California and the state office is based in Oakland, with chapters throughout the state.
In addition, networks exist in several cities throughout the United States. The organization has a strong and active membership.