The track record of the Los Angeles African American Women Political Action Committee (LAAAWPAC) is pretty good, especially in light of the many Black women who attained elected office through the group’s fundraising efforts.
Since its founding in 1990 by Celestine Palmer, LAAAWPAC has played a decisive role in several campaigns ranging from former U.S. Congresswoman Diane Watson and retired AME Bishop Carolyn Guidry to current U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and U.S. Representative Karen Bass.
Fueling the group’s success is Palmer’s passion for equal justice and opportunity combined with her desire to help women attain their political goals. By uniting the two qualities, she created an organization that provides much-needed financial support for Black female nominees as well as acquaints viable candidates to community members.
“The mission of LAAAWPAC is to identify and support progressive candidates, ballot initiatives and political issues to benefit the African American community through the power of people and money,” she said.
“African American women are confronted with many obstacles, in addition to money, and our political action committee is proactive by hosting candidate forums and debates, issues’ roundtables and gala events featuring panels of experts and keynote speakers,” noted Palmer, a former LAUSD teacher who served many years with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union’s House of Representatives.
In fact, her involvement with a 1989 UTLA election inspired Palmer to organize LAAAWPAC. While assisting the current vice president, a Black woman vying for UTLA president, a teacher’s strike occurred, which caused the election to be postponed for a year. When the campaign resumed, another union faction backed a different female candidate
“This UTLA group brought in a woman who had lots of money to support her to run against the vice president. That was the moment of awakening for me. I realized how important money was in having a successful campaign,” recalled Palmer.
“That was the force that compelled me to start a political action committee and to start raising money and have money ready to back African American women.”
Over the years, LAAAWPAC has partnered with local elected officials and business owners to present fundraisers such as “Breakfast on the Block” and “Sheroes and Cocktails” where attendees hear from various decision-makers. Guests have included the state assembly members, senators, controllers, insurance commissioners and attorney generals along with councilmembers, supervisors and other officials on the municipal level.
With an eye towards the future, Palmer established the Los Angeles African American Women’s Public Policy Institute (LAAAWPPI) in 2002, to prepare women interested in public service careers. The nonprofit offers an intensive 10-week program to train women to assume leadership roles as commissioners, elected officials, board members, community activists and other positions in the civic arena.
“We recognized the need for candidate training and so, LAAAWPPI is designed to create a larger pool of women interested in developing public policy and running for public service,” explained Palmer.
After 17 years as head of LAAAWPAC, Palmer was succeeded by Jacquelynn Hawthorne, who serves on the L.A. City Commission on Community and Family Services and the late Dr. Stanley Camilla Viltz, who was the interim dean at Fullerton College.
Currently, her daughter, Ingrid Palmer, serves as president. The board of directors consist of Debora Bright, vice president; Dana Henry, 2nd vice president; Thela Thatch, secretary; Ada Hollie, corresponding secretary; Irene Tall, financial secretary; Gwen Moore, parliamentarian; and Aletheia Bloom, communications officer. Celestine Palmer remains as an active board member by focusing on resource development.
“Ingrid and her team represent the current and the future paths for this political action committee,” said Palmer. “They will continue LAAAWPAC’s goal of raising money for financial power and being a voice of political influence by proactively searching for and identifying qualified leadership voices in order to keep the political pipeline full with fresh progressives who will become the driving force of change.”
And change would not have occurred if not for the scores of women and men, who contributed to LAAAWPAC’s success throughout its history, added Palmer.
“That’s why I feel so strongly about African American leadership. It’s such an important part of changing the society that we live in. That was the case 20, 30 years ago and it’s even more of the case now. I’m so happy to see so many African Americans involved to bring issues to the forefront and deal with them up front!”