This past weekend was the 52nd Annual New York State Association Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, Asian Legislative Caucus (NYSABPRHAL) in Albany. It’s a joyous and impactful occasion in which legislators and entrepreneurs from all over the state gather to celebrate culture while highlighting important issues in communities of color.
Early Friday morning legislators and caucus-goers descended on the Hilton Hotel in downtown Albany, just blocks from the grand chateau Capitol building that’s been operating in government since the 1880s. The town was already lit with excitement for the caucus to formally begin.
“What’s important about this conference is that our members use their power to empower people across the state of New York. It serves as a major network and incubator for issues that’s affecting people from Brooklyn to Buffalo,” said Executive Director of NYSABPRHAL Charlene Gayle, who has been organizing the caucus event for the last four years. “We are so happy to celebrate our 52nd annual legislative conference, themed ‘Fight the Power.’”
The weekend presents a unique opportunity for minority legislators to hear directly from their constituents and vice versa.
This year’s festivities focused on the expansion of minority and/or women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs), criminal justice reform legislation, fair wages for healthcare workers, housing affordability and homeownership, education disparities, the new marijuana industry, and fostering economic growth among other things. Tens of thousands of people attended the workshops and conference booths that were amazingly underneath the cavernous Empire State Plaza in a subterranean 98-acre convention center between government buildings built in the 1960s.
Criminal Justice Reforms
Plenty of legislators, like New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Assemblymember Brian Cunningham, held workshops and forums centered around open discussions with residents on criminal justice reforms. Panelists spoke about hard topics like how best to prevent foster care youths from ending up in the prison system, destigmatizing incarceration, and the challenges of reentry into society after imprisonment. A few shared heartbreaking stories of their experiences in and out of the criminal justice system. There was a wholehearted support of finally passing the Clean Slate Act, which would automatically seal
people’s old conviction records, the Solutions Not Suspensions bill, and more violence prevention.
“I think obviously Clean Slate is a big thing for us and making sure we pass that this session as well, making sure that young people never enter a state where they have to use Clean Slate,” said Cunningham at a workshop he facilitated with Assemblymember Goerge Alvarez. “So putting resources into communities to make sure we don’t have this issue.”
On the issue of fair wages, a huge gathering of healthcare workers and 1199SEIU members showed up to advocate against Governor Kathy Hochul’s budget. They are demanding a minimum wage of at least $22 an hour and to be treated fairly as Black and brown essential workers. The legislation they are resolute about includes Raise the Wage and Fair Pay for Home Care.
“These are the people who are on the front lines that are taking care of our loved ones and the people who are most vulnerable, yet they are unable to take care of their own families,” said Senator Cordell Cleare at her workshop. “It’s a shame that people who are going to work everyday have to be on public assistance and food stamps. It is imperative that we pass Fair Pay for home care workers this year. It has to happen. We cannot go backwards. We cannot have people living in poverty that are doing such critical work for us.”
One of the crowning achievements celebrated at caucus was the strengthening of MWBE programs with Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn at the helm to host a reception. MWBEs under law have development and lending programs to refinance existing debts and allow New York City to award contracts up to $1 million dollars without a formal competitive process.
“We look at how we create full-time jobs with living wages and benefits. It’s going to come from Black and Latino entrepreneurs. Amazon’s not coming to save the day, so we’re going to have to save ourselves,” said Senator Kevin Parker at the reception.
Of course the weekend wasn’t all work. It’s a chance to mingle, network, and see colleagues and friends.
The weekend’s ridiculously high energy parties captured the essence of good times with the kind of fun that can only be had at a semi-illegal basement party mashup that the neighbors definitely called the fire department to break up. For the first time, organizers introduced Caribbean Night to honor the numerous assembly members and senators of Caribbean descent in New York with music, dancing, and carnival performers. And Sunday capped with a gala homage to Brooklyn natives like none other with a guest performance from famed rapper Busta Rhymes.
“People from all across the state are here to be empowered, to be inspired, to empower one another, and to encourage us to move forward as a people. I am having a great time. I am loving seeing so much Black and brown and everyone else that’s coming together. It’s a powerful scene and I’m happy to be a part of it,” said Assmeblymember Latrice Walker, who stepped away momentarily from her MCing duties on stage.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1