- - Monday, October 25, 2021

As the female leader of one of the largest conservative policy organizations in the nation, reporters routinely ask me about perceived or actual sexism within the conservative movement.  To the left-leaning media’s disappointment, I have chosen not to engage in the public discussion of personal slights or disagreements over the years.  Frankly, conservative women don’t need their rescuing.  We take care of business for ourselves and sometimes for each other.  So, take care how you treat us. 

I find it disappointing that these same reporters, so concerned about racism and sexism, have chosen to ignore the deafening crash of an enormous glass ceiling within our movement.  As the historic term of Kay Coles James, the first woman and the first African American to become President of the blue-chip Heritage Foundation, winds down, it is essential to recognize the enduring contribution she has made to conservative women. Kay’s tenure at Heritage means that the most coveted jobs at the very top of legacy conservatism are no longer out of our reach.  The ripple effects are already abundant.  

Breaking barriers isn’t new to Kay James. She is a civil rights hero, and her personal story is replete with courageous leadership even when it requires sacrifice. In 1961 at age 12, she was one of the first African-American students to integrate the all-white Richmond, Virginia, school system.

Unlike the woke left, Kay has actually suffered for civil rights. As a very young woman, she chose to break racial barriers by entering junior high school while white parents and their children yelled at her. With blood running down her legs from the pinpricks of other students, she walked the halls with her head held high. She knew even then that a good education was the key to a promising future and would not let anyone intimidate her out of that opportunity.

Her inspiring grace and dignity come from her core values and a secure knowledge that, like every human being—white, brown, yellow, and red—she is made in God’s image and is a daughter of the King of Kings. She continues to exhibit that same courage, grace, and dignity at every turn.



Kay James served four presidents and was a Cabinet secretary to the Governor of Virginia. However, aside from her remarkable and very successful family, her next chapter may be her most enduring legacy.  She plans to return to the organization’s leadership she and her husband Charles founded, the Gloucester Institute, which trains emerging leaders in minority communities, cultivating a society of “solutionists” to discover the best solutions to the social, economic, and political problems facing African Americans. 

A woman of noble character is worth far more than rubies. Thank you, Kay, for your friendship and leadership. I have been honored to call her friend for many years.  And I am not alone.  

• Penny Young Nance is CEO and President of Concerned Women for America (CWA) and is a recognized national authority on cultural, children’s, and women’s issues.

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