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  • Writer's pictureFawn Walker Montgomery

How Does It Feel Being First: Erasure and White Supremacy

*Please note that Liv is being extremely brave and vulnerable sharing her thoughts regarding her experience. She's doing this to speak truth to power and let others know that they are not alone. Keep that in mind when you read this and share. *

As many of you know I am the first Black person and woman to run for Allegheny County Executive. This brings about various challenges with race and how this has affected me receiving support. When I initially decided to run, I only told those in my inner circle. Yes, the local “progressive” crew that you typically see me with. So, yes, they knew I was running. However, there was a ballot referendum that I had to wait for approval before making a public announcement. There was a rule that stated no seated County Council people could run for another seat. A referendum passed in last year’s November election that got rid of this. We have gotten a lot of work done on the County Council with the Police Review Board etc. Therefore, I thought it was important to make sure I kept that seat and didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the work we were doing. This is also why I am running for both seats (County Council District 13 & Allegheny County Executive). I’m pleased to say that we did get the Allegheny County Police Review Board passed among other things.

Before I continue, I do want to address something else. Sort of the elephant in the room. Last year I supported Jerry Dickerson for Congress. He’s a lawyer, community advocate, Black man, Husband and Father. So, yes, I was proud to support him. I made the decision to do this

before I knew that Congresswoman Summer Lee was running. We did speak about it, and she understood I had to make a decision based on the information that I had. When Summer stepped into the race, I kept my word and stayed with Jerry. To be clear none of this changes how I feel about Summer or the work she’s done. I have endorsed her other historic runs for State Representative, canvassed, made calls, donated and worked alongside her on various projects. Am grateful for the support I received in the past, from her as well as the organization she founded UNITE. That’s my story and I'm sticking to it lol. Now, back to the matter at hand.

I have been pretty quiet about State Representative Sara Innamorato as well as others jumping in the County Executive race. I bring up Sara because she and I are the ones in the race that are considered to be “progressive”. We also have similar circles etc. I also keep hearing that were pretty much the same candidate. However, this is not true. Please note that I have worked with Sara in the past and this is not an attack on her. It’s just the reality that we are in now. A reality that I don’t have the privilege to escape or take a break from.

I know Sara has worked at some grassroots organizations and supported “progressive” policies as I have but, that is where the similarities end. Let’s begin with the fact that I am a Black woman who grew up in a predominantly Black community in the 80’s and 90’s. This means I witnessed the epidemic of crack cocaine as well as the trauma, pain and grace of losing friends to prison & violence.

My lived experience brings a different perspective. I am able to understand the issues and don’t have to talk with experts. Furthermore, I am an elected County Councilwoman who has been working at the County level consistently the last three years. I’m not leaving a State seat where we just won the majority, to run. I am here and have been here doing the WORK!!

The fact is that a strong candidate, Black woman with county government experience, master’s degree, proven track record of getting county legislation passed and longtime community leader is being overlooked and at times ERASED. In addition, I am extremely disappointed that Black elected officials are being used to prop up a White woman for this office. I guess I should not be surprised about any of this as we are the worst place for Black women to live per the 2019 Gender Equity Report and actions like this are exactly why.

First and foremost, we must trust Black women to be in leadership positions to be part of the solution to the problems that are most severely impacting us. It is great that about 300,000 people will be positively impacted by the Black leadership of Mayor Gainey and Congresswoman Lee, but we are talking about 1.3 million people whose lives can be uplifted by the leadership of a Black woman.

Secondly, this Black woman has been an elected leader in the County for the last 3 years and has successfully passed 5 major pieces of legislation for the County. In case you need to be reminded, I passed legislation banning hair discrimination and conversion therapy, made Juneteenth a County holiday before the City of Pittsburgh and the Federal government, I got the Independent Police Review Board passed after it failed numerous times on Council. I also worked to pass Paid Sick Leave and to ban fracking in County parks.

I have dedicated years of my life fighting for justice in Allegheny County, advocating for sensible gun control, police accountability, and anti-racist policies in the workplace. In 2018, I was involved in the process of opening the Northview Heights Public Safety Center in my neighborhood. Here residents come to get connected to community resources and specialized training programs. I’m a member of Macedonia Church of Pittsburgh, where I volunteer with the audio visual ministry. Additionally, I have worked with various community organizations such as Bethany Community Ministries; One-PA; Northview Heights Tenant Council; Sisters Pittsburgh; Alliance for Police Accountability, Casa San Jose, Take Action Advocacy Group, formally, Take Action Mon Valley and was a mentor in the "Be a Middle School Mentor" for United Way. Moreover, I also helped to create the Black Equity Coalition, led a Black Mental Health table that hosted a National Day of Racism program, and I also led when I participated on PBEOC. I did not just show up but have been working in this county even before being on Council.

Speaking of being on the County Council. This is a part time position that is paid just under $11,000.00 per year and shares a staff. I have accomplished a lot with limited help and support. Imagine what we could accomplish for the people in the county if I actually had staff and financial resources to allow me to devote all my energy to this position.

Though I do not lead with my education, I am educated and have the skills to hold this seat. I graduated Magna Cum from Carlow University with a BS in Business Management and a minor in IT. I graduated with honors from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) with a Master of Public Policy and Management.

Black women are the most educated in this Country but are not trusted to lead. This is also a part of White Supremacy. White Saviorism is deeply ingrained in this region. The belief that BIPOC are unable to find the solutions to their own problems. We can’t continue to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion and then try to squash a qualified Black woman when she steps out to run for office. An office that she is absolutely qualified for.

I am sure some will say well we just elected our first Black Mayor and Congresswoman. Ok, well why not support another qualified Black candidate for Executive and make history again? Or is that just too much? This region would rather lean into tokenism by raising up a select few Black folks those who keep them comfortable, instead of raising up all Black people which is what this area desperately needs.

The issues of this County often touch me personally. I know and receive communication from people in the County jail, I know Black women who have almost died while giving birth here, I live in subsidized housing that is not always the safest and repairs are slow. These are all issues that personally touch me so I will have an urgency to actually solve them with care and understanding. Let’s finally trust Black women in real life to create the solutions to the issues that most deeply impact us. Thank You

Liv Bennett

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