In 2014, a study found that Republicans and Democrats were more divided than ever along ideological lines. That was a decade ago. Since then, as our country has endured tumultuous election cycles, vicious national arguments and policies that have rolled back our rights, we’ve only seen partisan antipathy intensify—that is, until now. 

What’s different? We’ve reached a point of collective exhaustion. 

It may be 2024, but many of us are unaware that we are still carrying the physical and mental traumas of the pandemic on our shoulders, along with devastatingly tangible effects of climate change, lack of paid leave, global conflicts, continued racial injustices, inflation, and the clear inability of our elected leaders to address these dangers. Last year, we saw the highest ever increase in mental health diagnoses—from 31% in 2019 to 45% in 2023, according to a survey from the American Psychological Association. All of these stressors have significantly changed us—we’re just waiting for someone to finally listen to our overwhelming concerns.

American exhaustion has also seeped into our engagement with politics. While partisan animosity has deepened over the years, studies also show that a growing share have become exasperated by the ongoing bickering between parties, and more focused on the issues that are impacting our lives. Take paid leave, for example. A recent poll from Paid Leave for All Action found that the creation of a paid leave program would be a strong motivator for Americans to vote. Another study found that while young voters appear less motivated to vote in the 2024 presidential elections, if abortion is on the ballot—and it will be—it will drive them to the polls. 

On the cusp of—and deep into—so many human rights crises, the data illustrates the unique moment in which our country finds itself. Because every one of us now knows what this impact feels like—whether we’re trying to find affordable childcare, access reproductive healthcare, or constantly calculating the rising cost of groceries—we are finally realizing that there is one thing that unites us: we all want to live a life that recognizes and honors our humanity.

In this critical time in our country, we have to push to tackle these issues in a different way. We have to fix the issues and be clear that in order to fix them, we must address the underlying cause: namely the historic and entrenched racial exclusion of Black women. If we continue to ignore this, we stand to only make quick fixes to surface problems, and not the source. By creating a shared commitment to dig into the systems, institutions, and policies that have long denied the humanity of Black women, we can finally take deliberate and meaningful steps toward holistic solutions that benefit us all. When we move away from solutions focused on human productivity like inflexible, unpaid leave, and replace them with solutions centering humanity like paid family and sick leave, subsidized child and elder care, we meet not only the basic needs of Black women long excluded from society but create conditions for them to thrive, we actually improve the quality of life for everyone.

Study after study shows that there are significant economic gains when we crack open the issue to its root cause, and focus on holistic solutions that center Black women in policy making. The U.S. economy would be $8 trillion larger by 2050 if the country eliminated racial disparities in health, education, incarceration, and employment, according to a staggering report from the Kellogg Foundation. What’s more, studies also show that when Black women—who have been at the core of our nation’s economy—are elevated in policy, the economy at-large flourishes. Take for example Magnolia Mother’s Trust, created by Highland Leader Dr. Aisha Nyandoro. As the nation’s longest running guaranteed cash initiative for Black women in Mississippi, it has created a track record, proving that a monthly cash stipend can significantly move Black mothers and their children out of poverty and into financial stability, and more.

For generations, Black women have powered our country’s greatest acts of progress by elevating the needs of Black communities—but in order for them to continue to lead, we must address the mounting barriers and challenges to their leadership that are driven by systemic inequities. It’s not enough to just acknowledge what these barriers are—we hear about them time and time again. We have to make real investments—from capital to community care—to recognize that Black women need to thrive as they lead. 

There is no doubt that we are at a crossroads in Black women leadership. The weight of abuse, racism, and a large swath of attacks have already taken an irrevocable toll. This we know is centuries-old. As Black women continue to step up to create and lead solutions for the common good, all of us have a responsibility to remind and show them with our investments that they, too, matter. Our country’s survival rests on our ability to do so. 

For the past three years, The Highland Project—a nonprofit I founded—has been building an intergenerational coalition of Black social justice leaders, who are imagining, designing and leading the solutions our country needs. Known as Highland Leaders, these women are fighting systemic issues like climate change and voting rights, working on student debt relief and helping families break out of cycles of poverty. By investing in the long-term visions of Highland Leaders through capital and community care, our strategy has been clear: to center on the very real and lived experiences of Black women across the nation as the key to rebuilding our economy and our society in ways that benefit everyone. 

Recently, we developed Black Women Deserve to Thrivea groundbreaking national poll where we surveyed the largest sample ever of registered Black women voters. While typical polls only give voice to a small number of Black women, usually less than 5% of people surveyed in any given study, in this poll, we focused on Black women’s dreams, aspirations, and barriers to accessing multi-generational opportunities for themselves and their communities. The findings reinforce what we have known to be true in our everyday lives as Black women: racism, the economy, gun violence, and climate change are the top barriers to Black women thriving. By leveraging this data—not as an afterthought, but as a guide for our path forward—we have been able to shape our priorities and investment areas so that they strategically and fully support the solutions that truly matter. 

Today, we are beginning to see the results of investments made by Highland Leaders. In the education sector, Highland Leader Rhonda Broussard partnered with Founder and CEO of Generation Hope Nicole Lynn Lewis to expand her incredible Scholars Program to New Orleans.

Dedicated to ensuring all teen parents have the opportunities to succeed and experience economic mobility, the organization welcomed 26 teen parent scholars into their program, with wrap-around supports as they pursue college degrees and secure jobs to support their families. With investments like this, we are beginning to address the significant need to break cycles of generational poverty by positioning young parents and their children for success. This not only supports women and families, but our communities, cities and country.

Last year, Highland Leader Mary-Pat Hector, founded Equity for All, an ecosystem to train young leaders to run for office. Our investment seeded her organization, which helped them engage 60,000 Gen Z voters in the state of Georgia, mobilize 5,000 young voters for local elections, train their first cohort of young people seeking political office, and kick off mobilization efforts in over ten counties across the southern state. With 41 million Gen Zers newly eligible to vote this year, reports show that young people will have a tremendous impact on the coming election—if they are adequately reached and supported by parties, campaigns, and organizations. Our investment has already begun engaging with young people to take action on the issues they care about. 

Systemic change takes time—and so while it’s early to share the long-term impact of our work, here’s what we know to be true: if we select and invest in issues that center closing equity gaps, all boats rise. This isn’t zero sum. 

As we move through Women’s History Month, and consider the weight of our vote in board rooms, polling booths and investment committees, we need to not only rally around the issues, we need to rally behind its leaders, particularly Black women, and their well-being in and out of the seat. By investing in Black women, we are stitching a collective vision for a more just and safe world—a world that we all want and deserve.