Courtesy of Ella's Fund

A new political action committee, Ella’s Fund, is serving to uplift Black communities both in New Haven and Hamden.

Ella’s Fund — named after civil rights activist Ella Baker — seeks to endorse and raise money for political candidates, support anti-racism movements and equitable policy efforts and encourage community members to participate in local and state elections. The PAC focuses on communities of color in Hamden and New Haven, and many of its members are residents of the cities. The committee consists of five Black women deeply involved in these communities who want to build “collective power” and center the voices of Black residents “in any dialogue around matters that impact us,” according to the Ella’s Fund website.

“When you’re up close and you deal with [government officials] everyday, you realize that they’re everyday people just like you who somebody encouraged at some point along the way and somebody supported and somebody raised the money for that got them into office,” said Karen DuBois-Walton ’89 — president of Elm City Communities, the Housing Authority of New Haven. “So we just want to broaden that pool of people who think, ‘Maybe that could be me’ and help build that pathway.”

DuBois-Walton said that her work as an Elm City official brings her to the forefront of the marginalized communities Ella’s Fund hopes to support. She pointed to issues such as gentrification, economic disparities and disinvestment in urban areas as some of the reasons to empower Black community members to vote and run for government positions.

DuBois-Walton said the policies of those elected into national office led such issues to be so prevalent in the communities she is working to support. By working with Ella’s Fund, DuBois-Walton hopes to build political power at the local and state levels to combat similar problems and increase those communities’ representation in government.

The fund will also work with community members to ensure they know their government representatives, as well as encouraging members to run for office themselves. While Ella’s Fund is a non-federal PAC, DuBois-Walton said that the committee will serve New Haven and Hamden by advocating for community involvement in local politics –– such as participation in board and commission meetings.

DuBois-Walton also mentioned the low voter turnout of previous years in the Elm City and said she hopes that Ella’s Fund could help increase it. According to data released last year from the Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, voter turnout in last year’s New Haven mayoral race was only 29 percent –– a rate slightly lower than the state average of 33.5 percent.

Ella’s Fund is also in the process of reviewing applications to endorse candidates that share the PAC’s views, according to Keisha Redd-Hannans, assistant superintendent for instructional leadership at New Haven Public Schools.

Redd-Hannans said that the PAC’s platform includes quality education, homeownership and affordable housing, criminal justice reform and health care access. After the committee decides who they will endorse, Redd-Hannans said, they will put their full advocacy — including door knocking and coordinating party efforts — behind the selected candidates. But Redd-Hannans added that Ella’s Fund will continue offering support even after the elections are over, because advocacy is needed “each and every day” in these communities.

“Really, the intent of this is to make sure that we are engaging our communities and making sure they are involved in the whole voting process and understanding civics, and [that] we’re including people to advocate for policy change,” Ella’s Fund Chairperson Karimah Mickens-Webber said.

Mickens-Webber is a Hamden business owner and community leader. She said that the committee has an opportunity to help diversify elected government officials and the policies impacting Black communities in New Haven and Hamden.

While Ella’s Fund emphasizes local and state political engagement, the committee also has a commitment to grassroots organizing. As she is involved in social justice work herself, Mickens-Webber said that she sees “so many talented people” who have also added to the community in a variety of ways without holding a political title.

Ella’s Fund was founded in July 2020.

Zaporah Price | zaporah.price@yale.edu