Breaking the Glass Ceiling Takes Grace

Disillusioned with the woman candidate, I found my heroine in a children's book.


It was the refrain echoed again and again throughout Hillary Clinton’s campaign: It was time, her supporters claimed, for a woman to be president. It made me angry, and it made me tired, the way that white women assumed that my support of Barack Obama was a race thing; a “stand by your man” thing, as if all the analysis and intelligence I brought to casting my ballot could be dismissed as easily as the myopic antics of a heroine in a Tammy Wynette song.

During this heated campaign for the Democratic nomination, I fell in love with a children’s book by Kelly DePucchio called Grace for President. The uber-talented illustrator Leuyen Pham has cast Grace as a beautiful brown-skinned elementary school girl with the brains and moxie to run for president of her school.

In the real world, Shirley Chisholm mounted a symbolic and historic campaign for the presidency, and I will tell my daughter that story, again and again.

But I also loved that during this election year, I could turn at story time to a beautiful picture book that was not as reductionist as the race Hillary Clinton was running.

In Hillaryland, it was always white men first, white women second and everybody else take a number. In the world of Grace for President, trifling white women simply do not play a part.

“Where are the girls?” asks Grace as she studies a wall of portraits of the U.S. presidents. “Where are the girls?” I read to my daughter, night after night. “No girl presidents EVER? Who’d ever heard of such a thing?”

While Grace’s opponent is a popular white boy—spelling bee champion, captain of the soccer team—who declares that he is the “best man for the job,” Grace never addresses “isms” in her campaign. Grace never plays the race card or the gender card. Rather, she sets about proving to her fellow students that she is worthy of the electoral votes they’ve been entrusted with. She writes powerful speeches, works hard on fulfilling her campaign promises and because she’s no fool, she gives out free cupcakes at her rallies.

At the end of the book, after a very close, very hotly contested race, Grace wins the election with the deciding vote of a white boy (thank you, little John Edwards) who decides that she is simply the “best person for the job.”

It’s an important message because I need for my daughter to judge people by the content of their character. I need my little girl to know that sometimes, when you least expect it, it’s a white boy that has got your back. I need her to know that every woman is not her “sista” and every black person does not get an automatic pass. The real message of black history, the kind that lasts 365 days a year, is one of excellence. We are a people who are committed to and capable of extraordinary excellence against inconceivable odds. The story of excellence is the story ofGrace for President, but it’s the story of Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Malcolm, Martin and Barbara Jordan, too.