In today’s political landscape, ally is a word that is probably used too often. But in the case of Adair Ford Boroughs, ally is the only word that fits. Her commitment to the black community has been proven in word and in deed throughout her time in the classroom as a teacher and later in her role as President of the Stanford Public Interest Law Foundation and Editor-in-Chief of the Stanford Law and Policy Review. She also led the efforts of the Assistant Attorney General’s Diversity Committee to reform hiring practices and has been a force for good in her work on the high profile case, United States v. Dylann Roof, where she is helping to seek justice for nine African-Americans who were murdered during a prayer meeting at the historic Charleston Emanuel AME church. Most recently, she helped launch a nonprofit law firm that provides affordable legal services to those who don’t qualify for free legal aid but cannot afford the high cost of private attorneys.
When the Democratic Black Caucus of South Carolina was established, Adair was among the first to join and was, in fact, the organization’s first non-black member. She has been unafraid to acknowledge that, as a white woman, it’s ok for her to be uncomfortable and that it is critical to listen when marginalized people are speaking out about racial injustice.
In the fall of 2019, Adair announced her candidacy for South Carolina’s 2nd congressional district in an effort unseat Joe Wilson and be a voice representing all people in the district. That commitment to black voters, in particular, was on full display when she sat in on a meeting for the black male civic organization called For Brothers Only. For Brothers Only focuses on the personal, economic, and political empowerment of black men through their prospective communities.
As the first woman and the first Congressional candidate to meet with the all-black male group, Adair engaged the men in a lengthy conversation during which she spent more time listening to understand instead of talking to be heard. At one point, a member of the group asked, “what is your plan for empowering the black community?” She responded with the best answer I’ve heard from a politician in my 20 plus years working in South Carolina politics.
She said, “I don’t have a plan for the black community, I came here to listen and to learn, so you can tell me what I need to be doing for your community.” During an exchange with another member, she was forthright in saying that “that it was not the job of the group to make her feel comfortable.” Her answer was both refreshing and inspiring, and you could tell her sincerity by the vulnerability in her tone. It was a rare moment of total transparency from a politician, aspiring or otherwise.
Being an ally is hard. It requires a level of self-awareness and it demands that one humble themselves. Allys must acknowledge and dismantle their own internal biases and be comfortable listening when marginalized people are talking. They have to be ready to acknowledge lived experiences that may be different from one’s own reality. And most importantly, it is critically important that they speak up and be willing to call out others in the white community when they need to stand up and be an ally.
It isn’t easy but it can be done. Just ask Adair Ford Boroughs. Better yet, let’s vote her into office and give her a greater platform to use in her work to lead by example.