Above: Heidi Harmon and her Emerge California roommate Nichelle Hunter Henderson
Black Friends Matter
By Heidi Harmon, Emerge California Class of 2014
Like all of the women at Emerge, I was excited to be accepted into this amazing program. Having just run for office without much experience, I am especially grateful to be a part of a well-respected training program that would give me the skills I need to become the leader I want to be. I live on the Central Coast of California, and we don’t have anything like Emerge here; without it, I would be missing an opportunity to be a better candidate. The other thing missing from my community are people of color. According to the most recent census data my county is about 2 percent Black, 3 percent Asian, and 22 percent Latino. We are 70 percent White, which is almost twice the state average. And before Emerge, I had exactly one black friend less than the average in the United States: zero.
How can I ever cultivate friendships with women of color in a town without women of color? Why do I live in a community where people of color can’t or don’t want to live? What can or should I do to make my community more diverse and inclusive? And how can I explore these questions in depth without women of color in my life?
The diversity of the Emerge program is one of the elements I am most grateful for. To be great leaders, we need to know as much as possible about all of the people that our vision and policies will affect. As we have seen in many of the tragic events across this country recently, race is still playing a huge role in our lives every day. It is powerful to share a sisterhood with a mother who has openly worried about her young black sons in a way that I fully realize I don’t have to worry about mine. These personal moments make us aware of important issues in ways that a New York Times article never could.