An overflow crowd turned out Monday, August 13, to hear four accomplished African-American women, including former senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett, discuss the role of black women in shaping political discourse and future elections, Also on the panel at Lola’s restaurant in Oak Bluffs were the Rev. Dr. Renita Weems, an author and religious scholar, Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and April Ryan, White House correspondent for Urban Radio Networks.

Ms. Jarrett told the enthusiastic crowd that sometimes it takes looking beyond attempts to marginalize powerful African-American women to be effective. She reflected on her time as the longest serving senior advisor to President Barack Obama.

“Because I was close friends with the Obama’s, people presumed that I was just a friend in the White House, that I didn’t have 10 years practicing law, or 11 years running a company, or sitting on a bunch of corporate boards, or chairing a corporate board,” Ms. Jarrett said. “They diminished me, and I’m not always sure why. I guess my attitude is we can’t let it matter. We have to be strong. We have to be resilient.”

Also on the panel were the Rev. Dr. Renita Weems, Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and April Ryan, White House correspondent for Urban Radio Networks. — Ray Ewing

Reverend Weems spoke of the role of churches in current efforts to organize voter turnout for the upcoming elections.

“That is an untapped market and untapped audience, when talking about organizing and grass roots work,” Reverend Weems said. “Contrary to what people think, just because you’re Christian or religious does not mean therefore that you are conservative, social conservative, political conservative. The church becomes the training ground for a lot of us who are out there working, and there’s an untapped group of women there who are just waiting, waiting, for them to take them seriously.”

Ms. Garza talked about forming alliances with other groups to influence elections.

“There’s a lot of work that folks can be doing to organize white women to divest from white supremacy, which is what we saw in 2016,” Mr. Garza said. “Lots of folks thought we were going to have a woman as president, and what we saw in 2016 was that race trumped gender, no pun intended. We need millions of people to be part of the movement, not just to change who is in the White House, but to transform all the ways in which power is being abused. We can’t just put somebody in with the same tools and say I hope you do it differently. We need to shake up the toolbox a little bit.”

April Ryan told the crowd about some of her experiences as a prominent black reporter in the White House briefing room. She said it is sometimes a challenge to get the narrative of African-American women into the public arena.

“We have to look at what’s true, and find out this truth of ourselves, and don’t accept what they say,” Ms. Ryan said. “People are trying to change history, they’re trying to change facts, and they would have you believe the sky is orange instead of blue. They have never seen a bunch of black women proud and got it going on in this room like we are today. They don’t believe we exist.”

During a question and answer period, one member of the audience questioned the commitment of the Democratic party to black women candidates.

“The Democratic party is us,” said Ms. Jarrett. “If you have a candidate that you think isn’t getting enough attention, you have to pick up the phone and start to call the Democratic party. There are a lot of great people running for office. We have an embarrassment of riches right now. We need to figure out who do we want to get behind, start raising money for that person. When they get a little money in their coffers, the party will pay attention.” The forum was sponsored by the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan policy institute based in Washington, D.C.