In celebration of Women’s History Month, our Pennsylvania team interviewed State Representative Donna Bullock to learn more about her work in the Pennsylvania state legislature. A powerful voice in Harrisburg, Representative Bullock has been representing the Strawberry Mansion area of Philadelphia since 2015 and is now the Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. We asked her about her experience as a Black woman in a white, male-dominated legislative body and what drives her to put equity, climate action and justice at the forefront of her work.
Women account for only about 30% of the General Assembly here in Pennsylvania. How do you navigate that landscape? What recommendations do you have for other women who are thinking of running for office?
When I was first elected in 2015, women accounted for less than 20% of the General Assembly and Pennsylvania ranked second to last when it came to electing women to office. We didn’t have any women in the Pennsylvania Delegation in Congress or elected to any statewide offices.
In the General Assembly, we found strength in our small, but growing numbers. We forged alliances across the aisle to raise awareness about issues that mattered to us. We stood by each other when chairmen cut us off in debate. We chatted in the bathrooms. We complimented each other. We asked about our families. We endearingly called each other Sister Reps. But more importantly, we worked together to become effective at passing laws.
As a Black woman in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, however, my experiences differed from my white counterparts. You can read about my experience as a Black woman working in a white male dominated space here.
With years of experience and an increasing number of women in the legislature, I became stronger, more determined, and more vocal. I’ve built alliances with both men and women, and across the aisle. But more importantly, I fully embraced my identity – as a Black woman, a working mom, a wife, and a daughter.
To women seeking public office, I say: You are the right person. This is the right time. Your voice is needed at the table. The rest of us have already set the table. Just pull up a seat, Sis!
You do a lot of work supporting policies and legislation that aims to tackle the climate crisis and protect our children from air pollution. What inspires you to do this work?
First and foremost, my two sons inspire me to advocate for environmental and climate justice, to fight for families and communities that look like ours. But also, when I hear my neighbors plan a community cleanup, a mother raise her concerns about lead exposure or rising asthma rates, or an elder talking about past generations who were spiritually connected to the land, I want to lift up their voices. Black and Brown communities deserve schools, housing, workspaces, and neighborhoods that aren’t making them sick. They deserve investments in clean and efficient energy projects and climate resilient infrastructure. I will fight for those things.
Is there anything you’d like to highlight here for our 94,000 members throughout Pennsylvania? A proud achievement as a lawmaker or something you’re really hoping to accomplish in your role?
When we work together, we get it done.
Moms and dads fought for safer schools in Philadelphia, free of lead, asbestos and other toxins. Governor Wolf’s proposed budget includes a grant for school districts to use for these health and safety improvements.
I worked with members of Moms Clean Air Force to advocate for Pennsylvania’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s revenues to be distributed to address equity and environmental justice communities. Recently, Gov. Wolf announced the equity principles that will guide RGGI investments.
Rep. Bullock is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives representing the 195th Legislative District in North and West Philadelphia. She won the seat in a special election held Aug. 11, 2015. She currently serves as the Chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and Vice Chair of the Joint Legislative Air & Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee.
A lawyer and Temple alumna (2004), she previously worked for Philadelphia City Council President. Before her work for the city, Bullock worked at a private law firm and for Community Legal Services, where she formed and advised nonprofit organizations, small businesses and community groups.
She and her husband, Otis Bullock, a lawyer and Temple alum as well, live a life of service in Strawberry Mansion, a community they are proud to call home.