‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’: Q&A with Michigan Senator Sarah Anthony

What does resilience truly embody? How does it feel to snatch victory from the jaws of countless defeats? And what is the authentic sound of strength?

In the narrative of the Black community, these questions are answered with profound familiarity. We persistently rise, Whether shaped by our efforts or the unavoidable barriers of systemic issues. This is especially true for Black women, who consistently step up, regardless of the arena or adversity. The fortitude of Black women is neither subtle nor should it be underestimated—it’s a documented truth. Reflect on the lives of figures like Creola Katherine Johnson, Shirley Chisholm, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Ethel L. Payne; their stories illuminate this fact. And today, that legacy is still being written.

Particularly in the political sphere, and notably, right here in Michigan, this legacy is being carried forward by leaders like Senator Sarah Anthony, who serves as state senator for the 21st district and the Senate Appropriations Chair. The story of Black resilience and strength continues, as vibrant and determined as ever.

EMILY’s List, the foremost national resource for women in politics, has honored Michigan State Senator Sarah Anthony with the prestigious 2024 Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award. This accolade is bestowed annually to an extraordinary woman in state or local office who exemplifies commitment to community, dedication to women and families, and steadfast determination and civility—qualities that defined the career of the award’s namesake, Gabrielle Giffords.

Senator Anthony, celebrated as a trailblazer, is the first Black woman in Michigan elected to both chambers of the state legislature and the youngest Black woman to serve on a county commission in the United States. She also made history as the first Black woman to chair the Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee. Her advocacy and legislative efforts focus on equity and opportunity for all Michiganders, making her a vital voice in the state’s political landscape.

Anthony is a Lansing native whose roots run deep in Michigan’s capital. She graduated from Lansing Public Schools and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from public Michigan universities. After college, she returned to Lansing, where she worked on progressive campaigns, served as a community organizer, and eventually became a legislative staffer in the Michigan Legislature.

Anthony has been a staunch advocate for women and girls throughout her political career. She led the charge on legislation to end child marriage in Michigan, codify rights for reproductive health care, and pass the Michigan CROWN Act, which prohibits hair discrimination, marking significant strides in social justice.

In a recent, revealing interview with the Michigan Chronicle, Senator Sarah Anthony delved into the intricacies of her journey as a prominent figure in politics and a beacon for women. Although she has recently been honored with the Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award, Anthony has been a luminous presence in the realms of leadership and advocacy for quite some time. There’s nothing “rising” about her star—it has long since ascended, firmly establishing its place in the firmament of political and social advocacy.

During this candid session with the Chronicle, she offered an insider’s look at the realities that underpin her public successes, emphasizing that what often appears effortless is backed by relentless struggle and unwavering perseverance.


Q: With this Emily’s List award, the 2024 Gabriel Giffords Rising Star award, it is very evident that you are a star who has risen long ago, and you’re shining so effortlessly. how does it feel emotionally and personally to have this charge of being the first, being the youngest, and most importantly, being a black woman who holds this responsibility?

A: That’s a heavy question. I feel like over the past 15-20 years, I’ve been so busy that I don’t provide myself a lot of space to really celebrate or acknowledge all that we’ve been able to achieve because, you know, like most women, and particularly most Black women, we’re just too busy doing the work. We’re not padding our resume and thinking about, oh, I’m the first Black or I’m the first woman. I’m really interested in doing a good job and honestly making my community and my state proud not because of who I am, but because of what I’m able to achieve for people. I’m not in it for any of the accolades. I am resolved that if an award, this national award, can afford me the opportunity to get things done for people, things like payday lending reform, more housing options for people in Michigan, making student loan forgiveness or college affordability at the forefront of what we’re talking about that makes an award like this worth it for me. You mentioned that my rise has seemed effortless. And I think that particularly for Black women, in this mantra of, like, having Black girl magic, well, magic is something that is mysterious and just happens because you have it. This comes with a lot of bumps and bruises, hardship and sacrifice. And so, while often I think I make things look effortless and easy, it’s sometimes difficult for me to translate just how difficult these jobs can be. The strain on my personal life, the sacrifices of my family even, like, stress on my life, all those things have contributed to me now being someone that people at the national stage are looking at as someone who is just leading and a “rising star.” So, it does come with a lot of sacrifice, but it is still an honor to just be recognized.

Q: What are some of the challenges you faced? At what point in your life did you say, this is what I want to do?

A: I have been surrounded by strong women, women from all walks of life, all races, all ages, for my entire professional journey. And watching women work really hard to make their communities and their families better has inspired me to do the same thing. But in the public policy realm, what I have learned over the course of the time rather I was on the county commission or at the state level is there are some issues that do not get discussed, do not get fought for and do not have a champion unless someone like me is at the table. So, we mentioned earlier a little bit about the CROWN Act. To be very clear, when I first introduced that in 2019 people thought I was crazy and it’s an issue that disproportionately impacts Black women and children. And yet, without me and other sisters in the legislature providing the voice behind something like hair discrimination, we just would not have seen it being passed into law last year. I’m a former community organizer and I’ve always stood on the premise of, “Nothing about us, without us.” So, whether we’re talking about reproductive healthcare or we’re talking about educational opportunities, I feel like my voice as a woman, as a woman from Lansing, and as a Black woman provides a unique voice to spaces. As soon as I realized that many of the issues that our communities care about were not being elevated, I had to step up and say, yes, I’m not only going to be in the arena and fight for these issues, but I have to stay in it.

Q: What are your hopes and thoughts regarding the presidential race and all things here specifically geared towards Michigan and Detroit? Specifically, Black Detroiters?

A: My mom is from the show me state, she is from Missouri, and I look at what people do, I do not listen to what people say. You have to show me how you’re going to treat marginalized communities, women issues and people from our state. And the receipts under Donald Trump were a legacy of hate and divisiveness, like attacks on my health care as a woman, attacks on my economic opportunities as an African American and a middle-class Michigander. Then you have President Biden, who, first of all brought on a Black woman, my sorority sister, to be his vice president, and also has been on the right side of the issues related to reproductive health care for women, making sure that we are creating programs at the federal level with a racial equity lens. That’s important to me. The amount of resources that have been brought to Michigan because President Biden has been at the helm is just, extraordinary. And so, when I look at the contrast between the two candidates, there isn’t an option. There is no way on the planet that I would stand for another Donald Trump presidency, because he just never showed up for people like me. And I think that we cannot have short memories in Michigan. I think we have to really look at and compare the accomplishments and compare the policy priorities of who has shown up for us and I don’t think there’s even an inkling of the debate between the two candidates. I know that I’m going to be advocating for us to not turn back the clock, because anytime the clock turns back in this country, it disproportionately impacts people like me.

As we examine stories like Senator Anthony’s, we must ask ourselves: How does the resilience of Black women challenge and inspire us? How do their journeys redefine what it means to overcome adversity? Their stories are not just chapters in history books but ongoing lessons in courage, determination, and the power of lifting as one climbs.

The resilience of Black women is a profound narrative woven into the fabric of history. It is a story of overcoming systemic barriers through sheer will, indomitable spirit, and an unwavering commitment to excellence. Black women have not only risen to the occasion time and time again, but they have also redefined what it means to be resilient. As society progresses, the strength and resilience of Black women remain a beacon of hope and a standard of strength that calls on all of us to rise, support, and celebrate their ongoing contributions and victories.


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