#DYK. Shirley Chisholm: Making History in Service

This Black History Month, we’re highlighting Black individuals who have fought to feed kids. Their stories are part of a movement that for years has recognized the direct relationship between systemic racism and childhood hunger. We hope their stories inspire people to fight childhood hunger and its disproportionate impact on communities of color.

Black woman sitting at a table. Black and white picture

Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman in Congress and the architect of WIC, a federal program that offers healthy foods for children 0-5 and pregnant women, as well nutrition education, counseling and referrals to local health and welfare agencies.

Growing up in Barbados, her grandmother and her father, a devoted follower of Marcus Garvey, instilled in her a desire to serve. 

“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time,” said Chisholm about her calling.

During her time at Brooklyn College, her professors urged her to consider a political career. Initially, she refused, saying that as a Black woman she had a double handicap, and pursued becoming an educator instead.

While teaching, Chisholm developed an increasing awareness of how politics affected her as a woman and the children she was serving. She decided to become more involved in political organizations, working her way up from stuffing envelopes and writing speeches to become a member of the New York State Legislature

Group of Black men and a women talking by a big table

“If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” Chisholm said as she embarked on the beginning of her political career.

In 1968, she ran for the US House of Representatives for New York’s 12th Congressional District. Under the slogan “Unbought and Unbossed,” she achieved an upset victory to become the first Black woman in Congress.

She quickly became a prominent figure, earning the nickname Fighting Shirley.

Even though her district was in New York City, she was assigned to the House Agriculture Committee. She still decided to make the best of it, focusing on ensuring kids and families had access to food.

Chisholm was a staunch advocate for minorities and underprivileged groups. 

She fought tirelessly for the expansion of food assistance programs to all the states, introduced bills to protect domestic workers, was an advocate for improved access to education, fought for the rights of immigrants, and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus

Black woman on a podium with Democratic National Convention sign

In 1972, she also became the first Black person to run for a major party nomination. Even though she didn’t expect to win, she said she hoped her candidacy would "change the face and future of American politics."

During the campaign, Chisholm survived multiple assasination attempts and had to sue to participate in televised debates. She made it all the way to the Democratic convention, losing to George McGovern, but her campaign made a lasting impact.

After serving seven terms in congress, she continued her career as an educator.

She passed away in 2005 and received the posthumous Presidential Medal Award in 2015

“Shirley Chisholm’s example transcends her life,” said President Obama at the award ceremony. “And when asked how she’d like to be remembered, she had an answer: ‘I’d like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts.’ And I’m proud to say it: Shirley Chisholm had guts.” 

The legacy of Chisholm’s program continues today. WIC has been an essential lifeline for feeding kids during the pandemic. Last year, your contributions to No Kid Hungry helped us support WIC agencies by awarding over $63,000 in grant support.

We are grateful to Shirley Chisholm for her unwavering support for kids who face hunger, as many still do today. 

As many as 1 in 4 kids in our country may be living with hunger right now because of the pandemic. And in times of crisis and not, communities of color live with disproportionate rates of childhood hunger, with systemic racism a root cause. 

That’s why No Kid Hungry is prioritizing grants and support to these communities. More than two thirds of our emergency grant funds have gone to organizations working primarily in communities of color.

The work that Shirley Chisholm started continues today. Join us to help feed hungry kids nationwide today, and stay tuned for more stories of Black individuals fighting childhood hunger.