’09 Alum Shares Passion for Political Organizing
Shakya Cherry-Donaldson ‘09 credits her F&M education with giving her the resources
to succeed even when faced with challenges. Through her work as a political organizer,
she’s working to make sure the same opportunities to thrive are available to everyone.
“I want to see liberation in my lifetime,” Cherry-Donaldson said. “I want to see an eradication of discriminatory practices, and I want it for everybody, not just myself.”
Cherry-Donaldson is the founder and executive director of 1000 Women Strong and will deliver Thursday’s Common Hour lecture, “Behind the Political Curtain: Making a Difference Without Running for Office” at 11:30 a.m. in the Barshinger Center for Musical Arts.
“I want to see liberation in my lifetime. I want to see an eradication of discriminatory practices, and I want it for everybody, not just myself.”-Shakya Cherry-Donaldson '09
A self-described “student activist,” from a young age, Cherry-Donaldson was working to mobilize voters while still in high school, before she was old enough to vote herself. She remained interested in activism while majoring in economics and Africana studies at F&M.
Cherry-Donaldson says her experiences outside of the classroom were just as formative as the courses she took. As a member of the Black Student Union, Mi Gente Latina, and S.I.S.T.E.R.S., she found a community of students who were also advocating for justice and equality.
“I really got to meet a diverse group of students and have conversations about what people’s values were,” Cherry-Donaldson said, adding that the opportunity to study abroad in Italy and Ghana further exposed her to new perspectives.
After graduation, Cherry-Donaldson spent 18 months teaching English in South Korea before starting graduate school. She earned a master of arts degree in political economics from the University of Sydney in 2013.
After returning to the United States, she moved to Nashville, Tenn., to work as a community organizer for the Children’s Defense Fund, where she successfully advocated for the removal of discriminatory policies from a local school’s code of conduct.
Cherry-Donaldson said this success showed her how much impact she could have, despite often being the youngest person in the room at her workplace: “I just had to be willing to learn and trust the process.”
She went on to work as a senior education organizer with Rocketship Education and as a consultant on several congressional campaigns. In 2017, Cherry-Donaldson moved to Georgia to work for Sen. Jon Ossoff’s special election campaign in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.
Cherry-Donaldson found herself immersed in a robust political ecosystem of groups advocating for change in Georgia. A colleague invited her to hear Stacey Abrams speak at an event, and after Ossoff’s campaign concluded, Cherry-Donaldson was hired as deputy outreach director for Abrams' 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
During the primary, Cherry-Donaldson began 1000 Women Strong as an initiative aimed at mobilizing 1,000 women in every county in Georgia to take action in support of Abrams. The movement grew to include women outside the state who volunteered to make phone calls for the campaign.
Cherry-Donaldson continued to work for Democratic campaigns throughout 2018 and 2019, but in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted her to reflect on her career. She asked herself what she would do if anything were possible, and envisions building 1000 Women Strong into a national grassroots network.
Since launching in 2020, 1000 Women Strong has worked to empower and mobilize voters in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan and Texas. As the organization continues to grow, Cherry-Donaldson has been working to recruit talented organizers and volunteers.
“I’m striving and I’m pushing to create spaces, to create leaders, to create capacity,” she said, adding that she tries to encourage individuals who might not see themselves as organizers or activists to get involved.
“The best thing I can do is bring people into the room,” Cherry-Donaldson said. “People ask, ‘Why me?’ and I say, ‘Why not you?’”
Thursday’s Common Hour takes place during Franklin & Marshall College’s second annual Inclusion Week, which commenced Oct. 16. Focusing on the theme “Vitality at F&M: Feeling Value & Worth,” the week offers 23 distinct programs and workshops proposed and organized by various clubs, organizations and offices across campus. Events include spoken word performance art, stand-up comedy, community discussions and one-on-one conversations.
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