Benedita da Silva is the ultimate example of overcoming adversity in life to success. Having faced poverty and prejudice due to her race and her humble beginnings, da Silva is one of Brazil’s most well-known politicians and social activists, both in Brazil and around the world. She grew up in a favela in the city of Rio de Janeiro, was a victim of rape at the age of seven, was exploited by child labor, suffered several miscarriages and also had a baby that died after it was born.
Da Silva founded various organizations in the favela where she lived and eventually earned her high school diploma at the age of 40. She would begin college at the same time as her 20-year old daughter. During this time she became politically active and by 1982, was elected to the city council of Rio de Janeiro. She would go on to be elected to the National Congress (1986), the Senate (1994, becoming the first female senator in Brazil) and Vice-Governor of Rio de Janeiro state in 1998. In 2002, the governor, Anthony Garotinho with whom she was elected, resigned to run for president and she became governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro becoming the first black person and woman to occupy this position.
In 2003, she took the position of Social Action Secretary and in 2006, became the general coordination of the re-election campaign of then president Lula da Silva in the state of Rio. Over the period of her rise to prominence, she was widowed twice and has been married to prominent Afro-Brazilian actor Antonio Pitanga since 1993. She remains ever popular and active still today. For a more in-depth review of her life, read the book, Benedita da Silva: An Afro-Brazilian Woman’s Story of Politics and Love.