43rd Annual New York State Black and Puerto Rican Caucus Held In Albany February 14th to 17th

-->By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Wow, can you believe it, it's already been a week since the 43rd Annual Legislative Black and Puerto Rican, and Hispanic and Asian Caucus ended. My how time flies when you're in the thick of things!! From the opening Friday evening gala reception the ending banquet, and fundraiser, it was non-stop, back to back activities.

In contrast to this week, last week the East Coast was blanketed with snow, and the threat of more to come. Of course, in Albany, snow is no big deal – they practically manufacture it up there, and we, the down staters, must have been a comical sight, all decked out with hawk-fighting regalia, prepared to hunker down and do what was necessary to make the week end a success while fighting Mother's Nature seemingly relentless onslaught of snow storms.

HINT to Downstaters and the rest of the non-snow savvy folks – you can learn a thing or two from Albany – when they clear the sidewalks, they don't just clear in front of their building, but the ENTIRE SIDE WALK – they realize that people don't just magically float over that ice you left there to get to the next clear spot; also they make OPENINGS or PATHWAYS from the side walk to the street so people can actually cross and not have to climb over a mountain of snow pushed up by the snow plows.

The Caucus is held annually to set the agenda for the year; however those plans are by no means carved in stone; and it does not mean that other issues and concerns can't be brought to the attention of the elected officials. Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, is the Association Chair, and coordinated this year's event.

The New York State Black & Puerto Rican Caucus is perhaps the oldest continuously existing Black and Puerto Rican joint event in the US. It traditionally takes place during Black History Month, on the week end before President's Day, and brings together – to the extent possible – all the requisite State, City, and Federal legislators from New York State to set the agenda for African Americans, Latino, Hispanic and Asian constituents. They focus on how best to work together to ensure that the things most important to us are implemented.

It's a rather hefty purpose for such a short span of time – one day – one week end – once a year. And this year it was further complicated by the fact that it came right on the heels of Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition Wall Street Project Economic Summit having just closed the day before at the Sheraton in Manhattan. So many of the same people participating in the Caucus had also participated in the three-day workshops – making for an extremely long week for many of us (especially yours truly).

New York City has so much to celebrate this year – a new Mayor in the personage of Bill deBlasio; a new Public Advocate, Letitia “Tish” James, first African American female in that role; first Black Brooklyn Borough President – Eric Adams; and the dynamic duo of Charles Barron and Inez Barron having now somewhat shifted, with him in the role of Assemblyman, and she now as the Council Woman; Laurie Cumbo and Robert Cornegy new City Council Representatives– Brooklyn had a lot to brag about, and in general it was a great time for patting ourselves on the back. For once things appear to be in synch. For the first time in about 20 years, everything was as it should be – Cuomo – Democrat, Governor, and a Democrat Mayor in the most important city in the world.

All the workshops are basically held in the Convention Center, which was designed by Nelson D. Rockefeller – a marvel of architecture and engineering that was absolutely needed to change the somewhat drab landscape of Albany back in the day.

However, getting around for the uninitiated required comfortable shoes, because the walk from the entry to the workshops is literally 2.5 city blocks in the concourse on hard marble. Sadly, most of the access to the Convention Center has been closed off for “security reasons” requiring participants to make a long trek through the facility – go through an equally long security check point, and an even longer trek to the workshops in the various hearing rooms.

Since most of the works shops were held concurrently, it required real skill to be able to attend the ones you had a particular interest in. The workshops gave an overview of issues of concern to Caucus members and their constituents. “The People's Priorities – 2014, compiled by Caucus Chair Karim Camara, gave an overview of what those concerns were.

The debate on how to attain Full Pre-K – via taxing the rich, or allocations from the state, was front and center. Both Mayor deBlasio and Governor Cuomo have made it one of their key focuses. They agree that it's needed, but don't agree on how best to fund it. Laws and policies ending stop and frisk was also a hot topic, while bringing back affordable homes to New York brought a lot of attention. MWBE increased contracts, and other nuances.

Governor Andrew Cuomo dropped a bomb shell in the middle of the entire week end when he announced at the Caucus Weekend church service at the Wilborn Temple an initiative to provide college classes in the state's prisons. Currently, New York's inmate population is 49.2 percent African-American, 24 percent Hispanic, 24.1 percent white and 2.7 percent identify as other. A measure of that magnitude would definitely change the rates of illiteracy, recidivism, and aggrivated assaults exponentially.

The reaction was stunned silence, followed by slow clapping, followed by a somewhat more enthusiastic response. The Governor's rationale, one that we have all bandied about for decades, is that providing education fulfills the responsibility of rehabilitation in the prisons. These college classes would be free and would cut down on recidivism. It takes over $60,000 a year to keep a person incarcerated. It's a fraction of that to provide them with a decent education and a job when they complete their sentence. However, the mixed responses in a variety of conversations seems to portend some rough waters ahead in getting everybody on board to get this concept passed.

I frankly thing it's a great idea. California Warden, Ruth Rushen (mother of vocalist Patrice Rushen) had a similar policy nearly 30 years ago – of course, Californians didn't like the idea – but to the extent she was able to implement it, it proved to be a great success for those participants who were fortunate enough to receive it (more on it in another article).

Equally interesting was the agenda in the People's Priorities for the restoration of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit LIHTC. Under the Pataki administration, this had been eviscerated, making it difficult to impossible to provide incentives for the development of low to moderate income based homes. The pledge is to seek for 100% restoration of the dollar -for-dollar tax cred in New York State.

Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, Chair of COBED (Coalition of Black Elected Democrats), held a reception at the Hilton Albany after the Gala Dinner/Fundraiser. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a Caucus Awardee, stopped by to give greetings and discuss the issues confronting New York from an optimistic standpoint. “With a new Mayor and Public Advocate things are going to be much better, but it won't happen over night. It may well take a little longer than we have envisioned in our minds eyes. But it will happen,” she stated enthusiastically.

Congresswoman Clarke commended Annette Robinson, for her  service to the community and being “a wind beneath my wings, and a mentor - we all owe a debt of gratitude to Annette Robinson.  She's been a trail blazer and one who has really been a pillar for the growth and development of our our community.  So I just wanted to come by and thank you.  This is where her work is done on behalf of all our communities," she concluded.

Per Assemblywoman Robinson: “We have our upstate downstate partnerships, and I've had the privilege of going to Syracuse and Rochester as well as other areas to learn about the issues there.  We look at our people wherever we are and see what the needs are and work together to resolve them.”

Of course the Assemblywoman's reception was also a perfect time for the gathering of Delta Sigma Theta Sorors who were also in attendance large and in charge - including yours truly:

Delta Sigma Theta Sorors at the 2014 Black & Puerto Rican Caucus - Hon. Yvette Clarke 3rd from Left; Hon. Annette Robinson Center; Gloria Dulan-Wilson, Right Front

 Andrea Stewart-Cousins Democratic Chair also stopped by to give greetings, stating, “I think  we had a really great week end. We've gone through these year after year, and so many times it's exhausting. This was exhausting, but it was all good. And I love the fact that the Governor and deBlasio are fighting about who's going to fund the Pre-K program. As long as it get's done right, I've no problem with it. It's an election year, and we have the potential to being in a very good place.”

Councilman Robert Cornegy, who is affectionately known as "Trees," spoke of new measures being considered in the City Council for saving Brooklyn Hospitals. Laurie Cumbo, likewise spoke of the urgency of making sure there was adequate continuum of care in the Borough of Brooklyn, and the focus on the part of the City Council was ensure adequate ongoing funding.

The Annual Awards Ceremony, which took place Sunday, February 16th,  honored 18 recipients who have served the New York communities well. The inscriptions on the plaques read: “To recognize and honor individuals who have made significant contributions in advancing the political, social and economic cause of African American, Hispanic and Asian Communities.”

I'm listing the awardees in their entirety because these are history in the making. We should all be aware of those who are out there among us making a difference:
>N. Nick Perry, 58th AD, Brooklyn, received the Chairman's Award for promoting greater community empowerment in the political arena;
>Lillian Roberts, Executive Director of DC 37 AFSCME representing 121,000 public workers, received the Lifetime Achievement Award for her consistent contributions on the behalf of Blacks and minorities in the labor movement;
>Assemblyman David Gantt of the 137th AD in Rochester – the first Black from Monroe County elected to state office - received the Percy Sutton Award for his stuanch commitment to politics and a passion for civil rights;
>David Cordero, Vice-Consul of the Dominican General Consulate in NY received the Immigrant Excellence Award for success in the fields of business and government;
>Maria Revelles organizer for SEIU 1199, received the Labor Award for success in representing over 1.5 million service workers;
>Shop Rite Stores received the Corporate Award for being integrally involved in the preservation of the Sherwood House, a historically Black farmhouse built in 1740 by Thomas Sherwood and the home of the Yonkers Historical Society;
>Cynthia Elliott, assistant to the Executive Director of the Baden Street Settlement in Rochester, received the Arthur Eve Award being a strong advocate in promoting the success of students in the State of New York;
>Henrietta Lyle (a great friend of mine – you go Henrietta!!) received the Leon Bogues Award for being a staunch advocae of tenants' rights, women's rights, civil rights and other social reforms;
>Zenaida Mendez New York State President of NOW (National Organization for Women received the Pauline Rhodd-Cummings Award – she is the founder of the National Dominican Women's Caucus;
>Dr. Roy H. Hastick Sr., President and CEO of the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CACCI) – another hero and personal friend of mine received the Thomas S. Boyland Award for for being deeply and pragmatically committed to the African American/Caribbean Community and skilled in the strategies to make state and local government work together for our betterment {And a brother who would not lie down for a stroke, but came through like the king that he is – Kudos to him and his lovely wife Eda;
>Frank Garcia, president & CEO of Millennium Remanufactured Toner, inc., and Chair of the NY State Coaliton of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, among many other things, received the Louis Nine Award for making state and local governments work for the people;
>Elizabeth Gill, President of the New York City Police Dept. 47th Precinct Community Council in the Bronx, received the Joseph L. Galiber Award for laboring vigorously for expanded opportunities for Hispanics;
>Leroy Gadsden, NY State Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Planning Administrator, received the Guy R. Brewer Award for commitment to an equal and fair criminal justice system;
>Michelle McClymont, Executive Director of the Flatbush Nostrand Junction Business Improvement District, received the Housing & Economic Development Award for dedication to improving the image of the African American Community;
>Hon. Yvette D. Clarke, U.S. Congresswoman, who represents the 9th Congressional District (Brooklyn), an effective leader, compassionate, creative, and an outspoken advocate on issues of importance to her constituents (and a Delta – I know, but I just had to say it) received the Distinguished Service Award for improving the quality of life and stimulating the economic vitality of the African American/Caribbean and minority comunities;
>Barnabas Uba Shakur, internationally recognized, multi-award winning social entrepreneur, community activist, poet, co-founder of Bed Stuy's Project Re-Generation received the Community Service Award for his time, energy, expertise, and resources towards the betterment of underserved communities;
>Rev. Cheryl Gwynn Anthony, an anointed woman of God and founder, CEO and Pastor of the JUDAH International Christian Center, Brooklyn, NY, (and a long time friend) received the Humanitarian Award for playing a “vital role in the betterment of underserved communities of color;”
>Boriken Neighborhood Health Center of East Harlem, now celebrating it's 40th year, received the Health Award for improving the quality of life for the community.

At the Gala Dinner, Ruth Thompson, who served as mistress of ceremonies for the closing night gala, dropped a bit of a bomb shell prior to introducing the key note speaker for the evening: “Someone said, why aren't you telling any jokes tonight? And I responded, I don't know any jokes. I've been up here on the hill too long.” She waited for a beat and then said, “Maybe that's the Joke!” The audience roared with laughter as she continued, “But I've got one more Caucus under my belt. Next year's going to be 44; I'm going to take a deep bow; but I'm certainly not going to leave public service. It's not about that. So the next place I go – get ready I'm coming.” I later asked her off stage whether she was considering a run for the gubernatorial seat – to which she gave me a slight wink but no comment.

Keynote speaker Michael Blake is a newcomer to the caucus, but left the room in an uptempo as he closed out the 43 Annual Caucus by exhorting that they go from there and do what they know how to do, not hesitate or procrastinate, to reclaim a child, or a community. To use their collective and individual power to make a difference in the life of the children of New York.

          Gloria Dulan-Wilson


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