Brooklyn Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte has paid tribute to those who persevered through racial oppression, intolerance and injustice to pave the way for civil rights in the United States.
Bichotte, who represents the 42nd Assembly District also recognized “those who have taken up the helm in today’s challenging times.
“While we celebrate the contributions Black Americans have made in shaping our country for the better each and every day, National African American History Month serves as an opportunity to formally recognize their achievements,” said the daughter of Haitian immigrants, the first Haitian American from New York City to be elected to the State Assembly.
“It also serves as a call to action to build on the legacies of those who came before by fighting for recognition and justice,” she added. “From the pivotal role our state played as a stop on the Underground Railroad, to becoming the first state in the nation to implement President Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative, New York has always been at the center of the fight for justice and equality.”
Bichotte said Weeksville, Brooklyn, was home to one of the first free black communities in the United States.
“We’re also home to the African Burial Ground, the first national monument dedicated to Africans and African-Americans of New York’s earliest days, which can still be visited today.”
She said New Yorkers like the late Shirley Chisholm — a native Brooklynite, of Barbadian and Guyanese parentage, who served in the State Assembly, became the first African-American woman to serve in Congress and later became the first female and first African-American major-party candidate for president — “showed that greatness could be achieved despite the barriers that exist.”
The Assembly Member said Langston Hughes, a celebrated poet and key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, “helped usher in a new age of Black excellence and artistic expression, channeling struggle into verse and inspiring countless others.”
James Baldwin, a literary legend and tireless champion for civil rights, who hailed from Harlem, “brought attention to the issues that pervaded our society and culture, exploring subjects that included interracial and LGBTQ relationships in an era when such subjects were swept under the rug,” Bichotte said.
She also said Neil deGrasse Tyson, the world-renowned astrophysicist hailing from the Bronx, “is inspiring a whole new generation of scientists and space enthusiasts.”
Tyson is currently the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, where he founded the Department of Astrophysics, and was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2004.
“Whether born and raised here or having made our state an adopted home, these and many other New Yorkers challenged prejudice to pursue their passions and create a platform for those who followed,” Bichotte said.
“Still, for all the progress we’ve made, we need only to look at the White House or turn on the news to see how much further we have to go,” she added. “In the Assembly, we’re continuing to fight for progressive ideals — those same ideals Shirley Chisholm championed in the Assembly chamber over 50 years ago.
“We’ve invested in our schools, brought a college degree within reach for many more families and raised the age of criminal responsibility to begin reforming our criminal justice system, and give kids a second chance,” Bichotte continued.
“Everyone deserves a level playing field, but the truth is that for many people of color, the playing field is tilted against them,” she said. “That’s why we’ll keep fighting to create economic opportunities and address inequities whenever and wherever we can.”
Bichotte said National African American History Month is not only a time to reflect on past wounds and injustices “but also a chance for each and every American to seek inspiration from leaders who came before and commit to the fight for a better future.
“Where would we be had Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. not shared his dream, had Rosa Parks given up her seat, had Shirley Chisholm never pursued the presidency or had Harriet Tubman not led thousands of slaves to freedom?” she asked. “This month, we salute past pioneers within the African-American community, as well as the innovators and game-changers of today who continue to be a beacon of hope in the face of bigotry and divisiveness.
“Let us remember the sacrifices and achievements of the brave black men and women who refused to be silenced. Together, we can preserve their legacies and continue their work. As Baldwin so aptly told us, ‘Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go,’” she said.