As we celebrate Black History month this February, I am reminded of the many struggles people of color have had to face in this country, as well as the hardships they have endured. As an African-American man, this struggle is personal to me. Growing up, I learned of the struggles my ancestors faced, witnessed the hardships my parents had to endure and experienced firsthand the ugliness of bigotry, prejudice and racism. Despite these many challenges, I am encouraged that so many of us, people just like yourselves, have had the courage to stand up for what is right and reject the ignorance, intolerance and hate.
As the first African-American ever elected to represent District 1 in the Westchester County Legislature, I feel a great sense of pride in that accomplishment and am humbled by the confidence that has been placed in me.That feeling is necessarily tempered, however, with a deep sense of gratitude and respect for the sacrifices of those who came before me and paved the way for my success. People like my grandfather, Archie Smith, who was born into a family of poor Black Texas sharecroppers at the turn of the 20th century and became an Instructor Pilot for the Tuskegee Airmen during WWII and established what was likely the first Black-owned flight school right here in Westchester County in the 1950s.
And although I never got to meet him, my grandfather leaves behind a legacy of perseverance and overcoming in the face of great adversity, as well as hope for a future where success can be had by all, regardless of one’s skin color, religion or creed.
As I look to the months ahead, there is still much work to be done in ensuring equity and equal access to things like healthcare, housing, jobs and the like. Policies matter. Ideology matters. I believe in fair and equitable treatment for all. In helping and supporting those most in need. In addressing systemic and institutional inequities that have for too long been a barrier to progress to those least able to overcome.