As African Americans crest the threshold of 400 years on the mainland of North America, we continually encounter new “never” moments along that journey. Even in a day and age where diversity and inclusion is our mantra, we still unfortunately find cases in which there has never been a Black man––and even more often, never a Black woman––to break the “glass ceiling.”
That particular discussion has recently come to the forefront in Brooklyn as the borough transitions into a new era of Democratic County leadership. While it may be hard to believe, no county committee in New York City has ever been led by a Black woman.
Indeed, the Brooklyn political sphere, which is now one of the most diverse in the nation, was not always so. The truth is, historically, the expectation was that Brooklyn’s leadership needed to be white and male. Decades ago, if someone had said that a Black woman would rise up to take that role, the response might have been “never.”
But Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte just changed all that by taking her place as Brooklyn’s new Democratic County chair. She turned “never” into “now”––and it should serve as a source of inspiration to communities of color all across our great city.
Furthermore, Bichotte’s election, which was nominated by the outgoing Frank Seddio and will likely go down as the hallmark visionary move of his tenure, represents a power shift the likes of which Brooklyn has “never” seen.
Brooklyn is a place so large that kids would refer to it as “the planet” ––a place where communities of differing cultures live a literal stone’s throw away, and the block where you grew up becomes your cultural identity. It was here that Assemblywoman Bichotte, a native Brooklynite of Haitian descent, rose with the fortitude of the borough as her backbone, leading her constituents to wins and not losses, mountains and not valleys, even when some might have foolishly questioned whether she was ready to take up the mantle.
Now she is here––the first queen to lead Kings County. Following the footsteps of many other “first queens” in New York State; C Virginia Fields, Letitia James, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, just to name a few. And, as she steps into this new role, it’s important to recognize what Assemblywoman Bichotte cares about and what she has actually done to deliver for historically underserved communities.
In 2019, one of the great legislative wins for minorities in the state of New York was the reauthorization and restructuring of Article 15a, which raised the bar for MWBE participation across our state. It was a victory that came in no small part due to the dedication and leadership of Assemblywoman Bichotte, who worked hand in hand with clergy, small businesses, community leaders and her Senate counterpart in MWBE development, Sen. Sanders. By streamlining the application process, increasing the personal network capacity, expanding the life of the policy and providing limit carve outs for increased participation, Assemblywoman Bichotte is truly opening the door for participation of minority- and women-owned businesses from the Falls to the Fork. And thanks to that leadership, New York’s MWBE policies now have the legs to run for another decade.
Looking at the Assemblywoman’s record more broadly, to say she is ready for the job of County Leader is an understatement.
With degrees in mathematics, secondary education and three degrees in electrical engineering as well as an MBA, it could even be said that “never” has anyone been so qualified for the job. By lending leadership the successful campaigns of her colleagues, chairing the Subcommittee on Oversight of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs), sitting on Gov. Cuomo’s Advisory Council on Domestic Violence and Mayor de Blasio’s Advisory MWBE Council, as well as numerous Assembly committees, “never” has there been one more politically experienced. And with a Black Belt in Taekwondo, dare we say that there “never” has there been anyone quite as physically prepared for the rigors of leadership.
Needless to say, this is an exciting step forward in that Brooklyn is taking us beyond “never” and into a brighter future. More so, as African American men, we take specific pride in lifting our African American sister and honoring her, and all women of color, who continue to achieve and excel beyond the race and gender barriers that attempt to contain them. And like so many great Black women before her, I am sure that one day we will testify: “There has never been a Brooklyn County leader quite like Rodneyse Bichotte.”
Rev. Dr. Kahli C. Mootoo is VP & co-founder of The 400 Foundation.