Since the adoption of affirmative action policies, a great deal has changed in our country, but one fact that remains is the lack of electoral participation of women of color. In response to this growing divide, the leaders of the Women’s Pipeline for Change, the Partnership for Democracy and Education, LLC, and the Center for Women in Politics and Policy (CWPPP), McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at UMass Boston came together to develop a Participatory Action Research Fellowship.

This initiative was launched in April 2011 to gather information about the experiences of progressive women of color who are engaged in political and community leadership to both deepen the understanding of factors that inspire and encourage them and contribute novel understanding about pathways to electoral participation by women of color. We believe the research results will allow different organizations and training programs to adopt new strategies that increase the electoral participation of women of color.

The initiative recruited five Research Fellows who are politically active women of color with deep connections to their communities in Massachusetts. Because of their expertise, these women were especially qualified to solicit and gather information about other women of color leaders, to find local experts and sources of skill and support to women candidates, and to make visible the pathways for leaders to emerge and offer public service.

The Research Fellowship was completed in June 2012 and the research results and details about the fellowship experience are contained in the Pathways to Political Leadership for Women of Color website. Read more about the extraordinary women of accomplishment selected for our first initiative.




Gladys Lebrón-Martínez Martina Cruz Elizabeth Cardona
Sheneal Parker Lisa Wong  


Gladys Lebrón-Martínez

Gladys Lebrón-Martínez is a role model not only to her children and grandchildren, but also to the Latino community of Holyoke. Gladys’ impact in Holyoke has been driven by her commitment to youth employment, education, parent engagement, anti-racism, and LGBT rights. She recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of the city of Holyoke and has been a fierce advocate and representative of transforming dreams into reality for over thirty years. She is respected for her dedication to bringing the voice of the community to the decision-making table.

Gladys provided exemplary service to her community of Holyoke as an elected School Committee member during eight years (2003-2011). She recently ran a successful campaign moving up the political pipeline to represent Ward 1 in the Holyoke City Council. She is a revered female leader of color for fostering the civic engagement and responsibility needed to expand opportunities for her community.

Gladys has always focused on developing and supporting leadership among youth and women. She wants them to understand the importance of becoming involved in the political process and to run for office.

Alex Morse, the young Mayor of Holyoke, praises Gladys’ leadership style rooted in humility: “Unlike others who have ideas and a vision, Gladys has a special ability to mix both vision and action, and is always thinking about what she can tangibly do to make the community a better place. She doesn’t do anything for reward or recognition, she does the work that she does to truly make a difference and change lives.”

Gladys explored the following research question as part of the Pipeline's Research Fellowship: How do women of color political candidates in Western Massachusetts find and use existing resources to run successful campaigns? Explore Gladys' findings and fellowship experience at the Pathways to Political Leadership for Women of Color website.


Sheneal Parker

A single parent, teacher, mentor, and leader of several community groups, Sheneal Parker exemplifies the resilience, commitment and determination she developed as a young woman. Sheneal was just a teenager when she had to help care for her five sisters. She is an amazing woman leader of color in her Boston community because she understands how hard it is to raise a family and how those difficulties can be overcome. Sheneal has organized her community around many issues, from affordable housing, to health and obesity, but her passion is to inspire young people to stay in school, while also recognizing business opportunities, and preparing to plan for a successful future.

Dharmena Downey, Executive Director of Fenway Community Development Corporation sums up Sheneal’s talents: “Ms. Parker exemplifies the skilled leadership that understands the policymaking and political systems, the role of advocacy and the critical need to find a voice in the decision making process that impacts the health and sustainability of our neighborhoods. In the Fenway, there is not an issue that we’ve faced where Sheneal has not made a significant contribution consistent with the need of residents of the Fenway.”

In 2011, Sheneal ran for a seat in the Boston City Council to represent District 7. As a fellow, Sheneal wanted to gain an "understanding of the challenges that I have and will face and how to overcome them, while still fulfilling my goal of running for political office as an African American woman." Sheneal's research question was: "What are the challenges for civically engaged mothers of color to enter and sustain an effective political career?" Explore Sheneal's findings and fellowship experience at the Pathways to Political Leadership for Women of Color website.


Martina Cruz

Martina Cruz grew up in the Dominican Republic where she began volunteering for social and economic justice efforts as a teen. Her work in the community and church revealed to her the change that can happen when populations are empowered. Since she moved to the US at the age of twenty-two, she has been a trusted community organizer and leader who supports labor struggles, progressive candidates, and Latino/immigrant empowerment issues across the Commonwealth. A mother of three children with learning disabilities, she is especially committed to helping families become self-sufficient and advocate for their own needs with schools and agencies.

Martina was a member of the Lawrence School Committee from 2005 to 2011. Martina shines as a female leader of color because of her passion for helping women become leaders for their families and communities.

Emily Hardt, former Director of the Women’s Institute for Leadership Development, describes Martina as “a dependable force carrying out our mission of supporting working women’s leadership. She has a keen eye for inequality and injustice, and seeks to remedy it in her everyday interactions as well as through long-term collective action.”

As a fellow, Martina strived to develop research that will prepare women of color to challenge barriers and advocate for change. She emphasizes “the empowerment of others for the needs of the community is an important part of my commitment for social change.” Her research project answered the following question: "Why do minority women leaders decide not to run for office?" Explore Matina's findings and fellowship experience at the Pathways to Political Leadership for Women of Color website.


Lisa Wong

Lisa Wong grew up with a cultural awareness that shaped her appreciation for community development and civic engagement. As a student she recognized the power of advocacy and carries that value with her to this day as Mayor of Fitchburg elected for four terms. With a vision for a thriving community, Lisa stands up to the challenges of improving the economic and political position of Fitchburg. She is especially motivated by the opportunity to set up women of color for success and leadership in their neighborhoods. Lisa is an outstanding female leader of color for her commitment to forming a more inclusive community dialogue with decision makers.

Jennifer L. Flanagan, State Senator for Worcester & Middlesex Counties, describes Lisa’s fortitude as a woman leader: “Beyond all of that, by standing her ground in the most difficult of times Lisa has engaged our community and its citizens to participate in the life of their city. She seems to be everywhere; visiting our schools, encouraging youth, assisting at the senior centers, serving on countless commissions and boards. Lisa’s intelligence, integrity and commitment are already legendary in our community and other corners of the Commonwealth.”

As a fellow, Lisa wanted her research to improve her knowledge as a woman politician and open the doors for other women of color to commit to public service. ”My hope is that this research will inform other potential candidates, and generate debate and action that will encourage more women of color to run. I look forward to developing a new body of work that will be used to promote a pipeline for future women candidates.” Lisa's research question was: "What are effective strategies to support Asian American women running for office in Massachusetts?" Explore Lisa's findings and fellowship experience at the Pathways to Political Leadership for Women of Color website.


Elizabeth Cardona

Springfield is one of the poorest communities in the Commonwealth, and the place that Elizabeth Cardona calls home. Elizabeth is a passionate Puerto Rican woman building grassroots power in her community while raising two son and fulfilling career goals. She is someone who recognizes the barriers and impacts that women and people of color experience throughout the political process. Her educational and professional experience and growth have been shaped by her vision for renewed access to healthcare, housing, education and economic opportunity.

From rallying against cuts to food stamps at the age of ten, to being a board member for a Latino political organization and serving as Director for the Governor’s Office, Western Massachusetts Region, she has been a champion of equality and social justice. Elizabeth Cardona is a stand out female leader of color for her initiative, creativity and compassion driven by her values for humanity.

Denise Tetrault, a colleague at the Governor’s Office, admires Elizabeth as a woman leader: “Elizabeth has an unwavering vision of a government that treats its constituents as individuals, each one unique and important. She never loses sight of that. She cares deeply and fights hard for each person that contacts our office for help. Elizabeth believes that government works for the people and she brings the two together through civic engagement.”

Elizabeth hopes that her research "can ensure that communities have adequate representation and that we support and retain good leaders." Her research project will explore "Latinas in Political Roles and their Pathways to Leadership." Explore Elizabeth's findings and fellowship experience at the Pathways to Political Leadership for Women of Color website.