Rep. Barbara Lee returns to her alma mater, celebrates release of 'Shirley' film

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) took a walk down memory lane this week, at the place where her political roots were first planted. 

Inside the library at her alma mater, Mills College in Oakland, she reminisced over her yearbook photo and a newsletter she wrote as the president of the Black Student Union. 

"I was able to receive an unbelievably good education at the same time, as I was raising two small little boys on public assistance and food stamps," said Lee.

Also set on the table of memories, are photos of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress. Lee invited Chisholm to speak on campus, as Chisholm began her historic presidential campaign in 1972. It was the start of a life-changing friendship and mentorship for Lee. 

"There was a class here at Mills I was about to flunk because it required me to work on a political campaign," said Lee. "I didn’t know Shirley Chisholm was running, so I passed my class, because I got involved in her campaign and I registered to vote."

Chisholm’s trailblazing presidential run and life are the subject of a new biopic, titled "Shirley," recently released on Netflix. 

Chisholm is played by Regina King and Christina Jackson depicts a young Barbara Lee. 

"It’s been the role of a lifetime in the sense of being able to play someone who has made so much change in the past 50 years," said Jackson.

Lee met Jackson during filming and this week, brought the actress to the place where it all began. 

They walked together, Lee showing Jackson where Chisholm spoke more than 50 years ago; the echoes of her message reverberating through Lee’s political career—the progressive icon breaking her own barriers and opening doors for the next generation in her nearly 30 years in Congress. 

"There is no way, I would have been able to fight the fights I’ve had to fight every day for peace and justice and equity and equality, had it not been for Shirley Chisholm and, of course, my mother," said Lee.

Chisholm passed in 2005. Lee and Jackson said they’re grateful the film honors her legacy and are hopeful the story inspires young people. 

"When Black women fight for issues that are important in low-income communities in the Black community, we fight for everyone," said Lee. "Because we make this country stronger and more equitable."