Colleagues, fans, sorority alumnae and a bevy of those she has inspired commemorated trailblazing daughter of Brooklyn, Shirley Chisholm on April 7. The full auditorium at Medgar Evers College crossed generations.
The evening’s program also paid tribute to Annette Robinson, who is retiring from the New York Assembly, a District 56 — parts of Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy — seat she has held since 2002. Prior to the Assembly, Robinson was councilwoman for District 36 beginning in 1991.
Chisholm is the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. She ran for president in 1972 during her second congressional term, being the first woman to run for president. In 1969, she became one of the founding members of what would become the Congressional Black Caucus and she retired from Congress in 1982 having served for 14 years.
Members of the service sorority Delta Sigma Theta, from which both Chisholm and Robinson are alumnae, wearing their signature red attire, were scattered throughout the audience.
Delta alumnae Shawna N. Myles, an assistant principal in Brownsville, grew up in Brooklyn in the aura of the Chisholm legacy; Chisholm influenced her family. “My mother was civically, socially and educationally-minded,” she said. “Shirley Chisholm had the courage to act. It was historic that she was the first African-American woman to run for president. She was a catalyst for change. I want to be a catalyst for change.”
Myles emphasized how Chisholm offers an example of not being afraid to be the first to do anything. She added, “I’ve built upon the foundation of courageous women of color to push me forward.”
Reiterated during the evening was one of Chisholm’s most famous quotes: “I am and always will be a catalyst for change.” This was this legacy that she wanted.
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, daughter of immigrant Caribbean parents, was sent at the age of five to live for four and a half years with her maternal grandmother in Barbados. There she received a strict British education, which she later recognized as very important to her vigorous and disciplined approach to education.
All though her career she continued to promote the value of education carrying forward her early professional background, which was in early childhood education.
One of the speakers during the evening’s tribute, Denisha McPherson gave an impassioned presentation on the value of women becoming engineers. Advocating for women to pursue this career path, she spoke of great opportunities in this field.
McPherson, a product of New York City public schools–Brooklyn Technical H.S., recognized during her presentation the importance of her mentors in a field not known for women. From high school on, “Mentors bolstered me in times of strife,” she gratefully acknowledged. “They encouraged me to continue and gave me advice that has taken me far.”
McPherson attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which has enabled her to get a job as a Sourcing Manager/ Engineer at NBC Sports & Olympics. Serving as the program chair for the National Society of Black Engineers, NYC Professionals Chapter, McPherson clearly wants to bring more Blacks in general, and women in particular into the profession.
The evening was anchored by the NBC 1969 short news special “the Irrepressible Shirley Chisholm.”
A panel then followed the film. Educator Dr. Marcella Maxwell, West Indian Day Parade Co-Chair William Howard and CB 3 Chair Tremaine Wright offered more about the ripples of influence of Shirley Chisholm. Wright is running for Robinson’s Assembly seat.
Chisholm excelled in debate at Brooklyn College, which led to her career in politics. Representing youth in the audience were members of the Solomon Debate Team, students from Bedford Academy, Boys and Girls High School, Medgar Evers Prep and Christ the King H.S.
The evening commemoration was held in conjunction with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, NYS Assembly Women of Color, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority – Brooklyn Alumnae Chapter, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority – Delta Alpha Zeta Chapter, National Association of University Women – Brooklyn Chapter, Church Women United, Eleanor Roosevelt Conference Committee and NYS Coalition of Labor Union Women.