On Advancing Structural Change for Black Women: An Interview with Maya Rockeymoore

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Building our personal, economic, and political power by getting educated and organized, that’s what we’re all about at BlackHer!  

This week we were thrilled to catch up with Maya Rockeymoore, former Democratic Candidate for Governor of Maryland and President of Global Policy Solutions, a social change strategy firm dedicated to making policy work for people and their environments.

Me: Maya please tell us a little about yourself.  You’ve done so much from running a think tank and working for the Congressional Black Caucus to running for Governor of Maryland.  

Maya: I have had a robust career.  I’ve worked on health, education, economic security policy, and technology inclusion with a throughline on intersectionality and advancing structural change.  

How do we create inclusion and equity across race, class, gender, and geography and create spaces and places where we can all actualize our potential?  This is the question that drives me.

Me:  At BlackHer, we’re focused on advancing economic inclusion for Black women because we think that economics drive other outcomes.  We’re deeply troubled by the fact that even though we are doing everything right – participating in the electoral process, seeking higher education, and starting our own businesses, our outcomes don’t match up.  For example, the fact that single Black women have $200 in median wealth is devastating. Sometimes, it feels like we have no hope.

Maya: The fact of the matter is that our challenges are great and they are mostly structural.

We need to do much more to advance policies and reform or build new systems that help us to actualize our health, wealth, and educational outcomes.

Me: At the Power Rising Summit in February, which brought together 1,000 Black women to build our policy agenda, we talked about what it would mean to build more power for Black women.  How do you define power?

Maya: In a capitalist society, power equals wealth.  And wealth translates across access areas like health and politics.  

But, in my view, power is also the ability to articulate and act on your position in the public realm.  

Whether we’re talking about voting, engaging in advocacy, articulating an argument, writing an Op-Ed, or attending and participating in local meetings, these are all mechanisms for actualizing power.

Me:   So, talk to me about what Black women need to do next to build our economic power.  If you were Governor of Maryland or President of the United States, what policies/legislation would you pursue to advance our wealth?

Maya: As research continues to show, inheritance is a key driver of wealth.  For us (African Americans), since we don’t have inheritances, income matters greatly for wealth-building.  If I were Governor or President, I would work with the legislature or Congress to pass a “Pay Transparency Act.”  We would require all companies to field an anonymous census of their staffs to assess compensation by gender, race and ethnicity, tenure, and education, etc.  This would help us to understand and highlight pay disparities. And, of course, we’d include an enforcement mechanism to pressure companies to address and close these wage gaps.

Me:  You mentioned the fact that we don’t have inheritances.  Where do you stand on Universal Basic Income (UBI), and Baby Bonds?

Maya: I’m for Baby Bonds or providing every child born in the U.S. with a nest egg that can be used for future wealth building activities like buying a home or going to college. I also support UBI as long as it does not become a substitute for Social Security or other important safety net programs.  

Me: That makes sense.  And I think that is a concern for some folks.  That we’d swap UBI for other critical income supports.

Maya: That wouldn’t work.  UBI would have to be additive or we’d be in the same situation we are now.

Me:  Maya, I want to change tack a bit.  Who are your Black woman sheroes, where do you get your drive?

Maya: I’m inspired by the possibility of a fully empowered future.  I also truly admire women like Ava DuVernay. She switched careers and still rose to the top.  That’s hard to do and is truly powerful. I also admire Oprah who took her talent to a new level and became a billionaire in the process.

Finally, and I know I’ll get criticized for this, but I admire Meghan Markle.  I know she’s becoming a royal but she’s also taking on an institution. And she’s doing it unapologetically with her head held high.

Me: Let me ask you the “miracle question.”  It’s this date next year and you’ve had great success.  What happened?

Maya: I’ve achieved significant professional success.  My personal life is in order, I’m happy and healthy, and I’m honoring my own talents, goals, and desires.

Me: What would you tell BlackHer readers who are in transition or have multiple desires and talents like you?

Maya: Don’t listen to anybody, including family members, who want to limit your possibilities.  If you have a concept of what you can do and be, go do and be it!

Me:  Amen!

Jocelyn