Opening Doors

Cherie Buckner-Webb talks legacy, political career, and how Idaho can be more ‘humanity-centric’

Article by Jordan Gray

Photography by City of Boise + Provided

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

Cherie Buckner-Webb didn’t start out with the intention to leave a legacy.

But a shortlist of her titles shows her legacy is already established. There’s senator, community activist, consultancy founder and principal, international speaker, award winner, member of multiple community boards, museum founder, singer, wife, mother, and grandmother.

That list will keep growing because Buckner-Webb doesn’t plan to slow down.

“I retired from the Legislature,” she said. “But I really don’t plan to fully retire until I can’t move. I’m not ready to be idle.”

When Buckner-Webb was a child, she saw public service, rather than politics, in her future. The fifth-generation Idahoan watched the state’s first civil rights march be planned in her parents’ living room.

“There is a legacy throughout my family of service,” she said. “Also, my mother’s credo was ‘Disturb the peace.’ And where the peace needs to be disturbed for the better, let’s do it.”

Political aspirations still weren’t front of mind when balancing a full-time job and single motherhood to two sons. 

Buckner-Webb’s breakthrough moment came after she was asked to suggest potential candidates for District 19. Around that time, she gave an invocation preceding a speech by Native American activist Amy Trice. Bucker-Webb struck up a conversation during a break. Trice’s inspirational speech extended into their exchange, where she told Buckner-Webb, “You have work to do. You need to make a decision today.”

While she hadn’t mentioned the political office, Buckner-Webb said the message was clear.

“It felt like an immediate calling, and it was what I was supposed to do,” Buckner-Webb said. “It was on the heels of hearing another woman who was maybe not looking for the work, but the work was for her to do. I turned to Nicole LeFavour (an Idaho Representative and Senator) and said, ‘I’m going to run for that office.’”

Buckner-Webb was elected to the Idaho Legislature, where she served in the State House of Representatives (2010-2012). She then succeeded LeFavour in the Idaho State Senate, where she’d serve four terms, ending her tenure in 2020 when she decided not to run for reelection.

Reflecting on her accomplishments, Buckner-Webb said, “It would not be a piece of legislation. Nobody gets any legislation through without a majority, so I could never say, ‘This my hallmark piece.’ It would be having the support of many, and the encouragement to stand up for perspectives that were not necessarily common or appreciated. I feel I opened doors for and supported others.”

Buckner-Webb was the first Black person elected to the Idaho Legislature. And while she said that wasn’t the main point of her political career, she wasn’t afraid to point out.

“I was giving testimony in support of an 'Idaho’s Too Great For Hate' license plate,” she said. “I had a great presentation and I got it to the floor. I stated, ‘I am Black, and I’m proud of Black!’ I assured that body that ‘Black’ is not a derogatory term. I’m proud of the wholeness of who I am. And yet people were calling me on the phone, as soon as I got off the floor, saying, ‘I don’t think of you as Black.’ And I said, ‘Work on that.’

“The desire to highlight that is for the young people that still walk through the door and fear, ‘Oh gosh, I’m going to be the other.’ It’s okay to be the other, you will often be the other, and yet you must be the wholeness of who you are.”

Buckner-Webb said she’s been glad to be the catalyst for people standing up for change and for running for office.

“The Legislature needs to be representative of all the people of Idaho and their voices should be heard. Not that those of mainstream dominant cultures don’t, or can’t, represent others to some degree. But clearly, representatives of a given population best articulate their goals, objectives, and experience. Their voices are invaluable to the decision-making process.”

Buckner-Webb’s impact can be found not just in Boise’s cultural landscape, but in its physical one.

If you visit Julia Davis Park, you’ll find St. Paul Baptist Church, founded and built by Buckner-Webb’s great-grandfather with assistance from her great-great-grandfather. The historic building is now home to the museum Buckner-Webb helped found: the Idaho Black History Museum.

Cherie Buckner-Webb Park (1100 W. Bannock Street) was dedicated in 2021. The name, unanimously approved by the Boise City Council, was chosen from more than 1,200 citizen submissions.

“It’s so unique,” she said. “And I’m honored and humbled. Growing up here, who would have thought it? That it has meaning for others is important to me. And it was established while I yet live!”

As for the future, Buckner-Webb sees more work to do.

“When you look in the community and the world, there’s so many important things to devote our time to or get engaged with,” she said. “We are now, as a state, where we have a level of education for most of the folks that make the rules, pass the laws, and enforce them, that we could be more humanity-centric, instead of operating as adversaries; ‘them’ versus ‘us.’ I’d like us to focus more on addressing the needs of all Idahoans. Shelter, food, clothing, and access to education: I still believe those are the rights of all people. I invite folks to step up and purposefully work on eliminating those barriers.” 

Pull Quotes

“Ask for what you want. If you don’t ask, the answer is ‘no.’ I think that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned anywhere.”

“We are fighting constantly against labels and not understanding those labels represent real, live, breathing people who should have opportunities. We need to remember what’s behind the politics: the people impacted and what that impact will be.”

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