A District chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., has held a training academy for the past several years designed to help young women learn about and become engaged in the city’s political process.
The Federal City Alumnae Chapter of Delta sponsors the Claudia L. McKoin Public Service & Leadership Training Academy annually beginning each January. The academy has been designed to increase the number of women of color, particularly those who reside in the chapter’s service area of Wards 5, 7 and 8, in the District’s public policy development and to assist them in running for elected office.
“We encourage Black women to be politically involved,” said Toni Harper, the president of the Federal City chapter. “Even though we operate the program with the women in our service area in mind, the program is open to any woman who resides in the District. We want to give women, especially young women, the tools and the resources to run for office.”
Harper’s chapter operates the academy as African-American women in the District continue to play integral political roles. Eleanor Holmes Norton has worked as the District’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives since 1991 and Muriel Bowser has managed the city as its mayor since 2015. The majority of the members of the D.C. Council count as female. Additionally, the 2020 census reveals 52.47% of the District’s residents are female.
Specifics of the McKoin Academy
The McKoin Academy got its name from a former president of the chapter, Harper said.
“The program was created in honor of Claudia McKoin,” she said. “Soror McKoin worked in the government for many years as an attorney and was a mover and shaker behind the scenes.”
Harper said the chapter developed the academy in 2012 and 2013 and started its first class in 2014. The program doesn’t require its participants to have a college degree and has no fee for participation but does insist that participants be at least 18-years-old before they can enroll.
“You must have a desire to give back to the community,” Harper said.
The program has featured speakers who include: Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, D.C. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) and Rosie Allen-Herring, the president and CEO of the United Way of the National Capital Area and a past president of the chapter. Mayor Bowser has also sent remarks to program participants.
Sheila Bunn, a Ward 8 resident who works as the chief of staff for Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), serves as a co-chair for the McKoin Academy. With fellow chapter member Naomi Kinney. Bunn said she jumped at the chance to volunteer her services.
“I was asked to take on this,” she said. “What we offer is near and dear to my heart. I decided to do it out of the memory of my father, James Bunn, who was a political activist in Ward 8 and because I am a Black female. I want to help inspire and motivate women of color. We need more women of color in elected office.”
Bunn said the program initially took place over a six-month period with meetings one Saturday each month. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the sessions have recently occurred on Zoom for about five hours, still on Saturdays.
“We cover such topics as political messaging, how to brand yourself and how to tell your story,” Bunn said. “We have a great lineup of speakers. Nothing works like having elected officials as guest speakers.”
Bunn said the general office of the sorority has expressed interest in replicating the academy throughout the country. She added that other Black Greek letter sororities have inquired about the academy with some even sending potential participants to the chapter.
Applications for the 2022 cohort, which begins in January, will be accepted until mid-December.
Stevenson praises the McKoin Academy
Tambra Stevenson, a Ward 8 resident of the Hillsdale neighborhood, participated in last spring’s academy. A doctoral candidate at the American University, Stevenson said she looked forward to networking with “local women who are interested in public service and advocacy.”
“I wanted to meet like-minded women who are interested in their community and may run for office someday,” Stevenson said. “Even if you aren’t interested in serving in elected office, it teaches you how to be an effective advocate for your community. This program was great and I got a lot of valuable information. Even better, it was free.”