Sad News From Emerge Washington

  • May 5, 2021
  • A'shanti F. Gholar

It’s with a heavy heart that I’m sharing this news today. Our Emerge Washington Executive Director Karen Besserman passed away late Tuesday, peacefully, surrounded by family and friends. We are all heartbroken by this loss to our network and to our Emerge family.

I remember the early days of Emerge Washington and driving around the state with Karen meeting with potential stakeholders and donors. One of the things Karen and I loved most about each other was our ability to sit in comfortable silence in the car. Karen used to say to me that she loved when I came to visit, because we didn’t have to talk to each other the entire time. I will miss her tenacity and straightforwardness. She had an uncanny ability to read a situation and know exactly what forces were at play, which is a skill I am sure she honed from her many years of work in politics.

Karen paved the way for the work we do today at Emerge. For decades, she strived to uplift women in politics–before moving to Washington, she managed the campaign for Sharon Sayles Belton, who was the first Black woman mayor of Minneapolis, then later she worked on Maria Cantwell’s campaign for Senate. Finally, ending her lifetime of work here with us at Emerge where she trained more than 150 women to run with 36 alums currently serving in elected office across the state and in Congress.

Karen’s mark on Washington politics and on everyone who knew her will be an enduring one. Her life was a tribute to the ideals she held close to her heart–that this country can achieve its full potential if we elect leaders that believe in equity and justice and representation in politics for women is an essential part of that vision.

We are so sad to lose Karen, but immensely grateful for all she leaves behind.

In the days to come, we know this news will impact us all in different ways.

Everyone has different ways of coping through grief. This could mean calling a friend or family member, reaching out to a mental health provider, leaning on your faith community, or spending time doing something that brings you comfort. Take good care of yourself as you process this loss.

We are sending love and our heartfelt condolences to everyone who knew and loved Karen.

With Emerge Love,


Ashanti F. Gholar
President of Emerge