A newly-formed coalition of Caribbean American leaders in Brooklyn, known as Caribbean Americans Globally United, Inc. (CAGU), on Friday honored Congressman Hakeem Jeffries on his election as Democratic Leader in the United States House of Representatives and Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke on her election as first vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) during an Award Ceremony and Reception at the Bethesda Healing Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
CAGU said Jeffries, who represents the 8th Congressional District that encompasses parts of Brooklyn and Queens, is the first person of color to be elected leader of a party in Congress.
Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents the adjacent 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn, is the first person of Caribbean American heritage elected to serve as first vice chair of the CBC.
The ceremony heard tributes from several legislators, such as Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, State Assemblywoman Jaime Williams, City Council representatives Mercedes Narcisse and Rita Joseph, as well as from Coalition member Ann Marie Adamson. Medgar Evers College President Dr. Patricia Ramsey was among attendees.
Grenadian saxophonist Jarel Bartholomew, Sesame Flyers Steel Pan, Jamaican Dessiann Yetman and Trinidadian Gerard Placide also provided musical tributes.
“It’s really awesome!” exclaimed Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants. “It’s always good to get together to celebrate Brooklyn and Caribbean Americans, and I’m so proud.
“It’s awesome, and I can’t thank you enough that there are more Blacks in leadership,” he added. “We can’t walk away (from leadership).”
Narcisse, the Haitian-born representative for the 46th Council District in Brooklyn, said she, too, was “very proud, very pleased to be here.”
“Thank you for the vision,” she told the organizers. “The bottom line is, we’re Black folks. When I think about Shirley Chisholm (the late congresswoman of Barbadian and Guyanese parentage), Dr. King (the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.); when I think about Malcolm X (whose mother hailed from Grenada), we, as Black folks, we always have to be together.
“My sister (Congresswoman Clarke), you serve with excellence,” Narcisse added. “So, I say congratulations; you deserve it.
“Hakeem Jeffries, the first Black person to lead the House (Democratic leader in the US House of Representatives), I thank you for building the dream,” she continued.
Joseph, another Haitian-born legislator, who represents the 40th Council District in Brooklyn, told the celebration that Jeffries and Clarke are “inspiration” to the youth.
Then, turning to Clarke, she said: “I love you, and I support you.”
Jaime Williams, the Trinidadian-born representative for the 59th Assembly District in Brooklyn, said she was “happy to be here to showcase the Caribbean American community, but also my brother Hakeem Jeffries and my sister Yvette Clarke.”
Guyanese Adamson said: “Brooklyn is proud today because of our leaders. The talent and values of Caribbean Americans strengthen the values of the United States.”
In receiving the award, Clarke said “there’s nothing more gratifying that honoring your own.”
“I was pushing to do something to honor my brother (Jeffries) – what he has managed to do to really all of the Democrats in Brooklyn,” she added. “I’m so enamored by my leader. He’s focused, he’s touched people on the breadth and depth of the United States.
“I’m so glad that this organization has come to the fore,” the congresswoman continued. “It’s important that all of the talent be acknowledged and utilized for the strengthening of our nation and our democracy.
“I’m overwhelmed by what you have done to honor us,” Clarke said. “You’re at the center of our work. You are the wind beneath our wings.”
Jeffries complimented Clarke for being “a voice of the voiceless,” predicting that she will be the next CBC chair and that the Democrats will take back the House of Representatives.
He thanked the artist, Compton Babb, for the “incredible” portrait of him, and that he and Clarke were “proud” to be from Brooklyn.
“Brooklyn has given us Shirley Chisholm,” Jeffries said. “We’re proud to be from Brooklyn to fight for affordable housing.
“We’re not going to let them (Republicans) take away your social security,” he added. “Black History is American History, and we’re not going to let them cancel it.”
Minna Lafortune, who, along with Rose Guerrier, co-chairs CAGU, said she was “very happy” that Clarke and Jeffries accepted the awards.
CAGU said in a statement that it is a coalition of Caribbean American leaders in Brooklyn who “advocates for the interests and empowerment of Caribbean Americans in New York and throughout the United States of America.”
“Our executive committee comprises community leaders who have for a long time represented our Caribbean American community here in New York,” Executive Committee Member Rickford Burke, the Guyanese-born president of the Brooklyn-based Caribbean-Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID), who served as Master of Ceremonies at Friday’s event, told Caribbean Life.
“Together, these Congress Members represent the largest number of Caribbean Americans in the United States,” he added. “They have and continue to provide incomparable leadership and effective, outstanding representation for our communities.
“Their representation has led to more empowerment and greater access to resources,” Burke continued. “They have taken the baton from stalwarts like Shirley Chisholm, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and others and have evolved into national leaders with gravitas who have accomplished numerous legislative and policy successes for our community and the American people.”
Burke said the award ceremony was part of our Black History month celebration.
“It is a demonstration of our gratitude for the incomparable service they provide to our community,” he said. “We are extremely proud of them. This ceremony is to say thank you to them for their extraordinary leadership and for being indefatigable guardians of our interests in Washington, D.C. They serve us with both devotion and distinction.”