I was recently inspired by the film “Unbought and Unbossed” about Brooklyn’s own treasure, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and how she said that people want to feel like they haven’t been sold out by a politician they elect. I have been disappointed to feel this way about my own state Sen. Jesse Hamilton, who was elected as a Democrat but joined a coalition to hand the control of the state Senate leadership over to Trump Republicans. Hamilton sells this as bipartisanship, but it’s really just selling out. As a result our communities, especially black and brown communities, are left with crumbs when we need the whole loaf.
As a mother of eight, for the past 20 years I have fought hard to improve our schools and guarantee that all our children, but especially black and brown children, get the quality education that is their right. Through this work, first as a mom, then as a community organizer and for the past nine years as the advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education, I have discovered the power of my voice as a parent leader. And I have been disappointed by politicians like Jesse Hamilton.
Last year Hamilton and his colleagues in the Republican-aligned Independent Democratic Conference raised my hopes when they committed to fully fund the $4.2 billion that is owed to schools statewide as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity – money that is needed to address educational racism in school funding. This includes $36 million owed to schools in Hamilton’s district. It was a great press release and AQE praised them for this commitment. But it was an empty promise. Instead of delivering the funding, Hamilton followed the lead of the Senate Republicans he helped put in power and voted for changes to the school funding formula that were designed to actually further shortchange New York City students.
Hamilton’s whole sales pitch is that he can get more done because he is in a coalition with the Trump Republicans. But as we saw on school funding, his Republican allies make sure that he cannot deliver for black and brown communities.
As part of AQE and the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, I have been outspoken in calling for culturally responsive education that includes the teaching of black history in all our schools. Hamilton has proposed a half-stepping bill to create a commission on teaching black history. We have had commissions in the past on this subject and nothing ever changes from these commissions. What we need is action, not another study. Hamilton brags that he can get his commission bill to pass the Senate because of his strong relationship with the Republicans, but what this really means is that he cannot get his Republican allies to support a plan to actually require black history be taught to our children.
When Jesse Hamilton ran for office, I voted for him and I convinced my family and friends to do the same. As a black Muslim woman in Trump’s America, I expect my senator to fight for our children, not to settle for crumbs and half-steps and then brag about it. He ran as a Democrat and said nothing about voting to hand over the reins of power to Republicans in the Senate – a vote for which he was rewarded with extra pay and perks like a committee chairmanship and more staff. But what is in it for his constituents?
As a voter in the 20th Senate District, Sen. Hamilton works for me, not the other way around. I want him to put our school children and our families first, not his political ambitions. I want action that makes a real difference, not spin and broken promises. I want my senator to be unbought and unbossed.