NYC first lady Chirlane McCray gives 1st solo speech on immigration

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Chirlane McCray, the new first lady of New York City, wants people to know that she’s a “G.”

In her first solo appearance since her husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, was sworn into office, McCray addressed a crowd of hundreds at the Christian Cultural Center (CCC) in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn to support a new immigration initiative.

“I bring warm greetings from my husband, who’s my heart, my partner, and our mayor, Bill de Blasio,” McCray began, after entering to a standing ovation.

She came to announce the launch of The G Project (“G” is short for “generation”), a groundbreaking venture by The Black Institute, a new “action tank” created by renowned activist Bertha Lewis.

From theGrio | Take The G Project Survey and share your ancestry

Lewis developed The G Project to ensure that black voices are included in the push for immigration reform.

McCray highlights Caribbean heritage

McCray shared her personal story as the descendant of immigrants after the crowd viewed a video featuring herself and her children explaining their heritage.

“Now those are some cute kids up there, right?” McCray joked about Chiara de Blasio, 18, and her brother, 16-year-old Dante. The video described how McCray is a “G-two” in the language of the project as a second generation immigrant, while her offspring are “G-threes.” The goal of The G Project is to raise awareness of the fact that Americans of African descent represent multifarious backgrounds, demonstrating that immigration is not solely a Latino issue.

“I am here today for my grandmother, Irene Quashie, my grandfather, Valdemar Edwards, and my great-grandmother, Luisa Paris Edwards, who all came from Barbados,” McCray further explained. “Is Barbados in the house?” she added to warm cheers.

After thanking Rev. A.R. Bernard, the CCC founder, pastor, and CEO, McCray went on to explain why The G Project is so important.

“Now, I am a G-two, a second generation immigrant,” McCray said. “But when people look at me, and hear me, they see that I don’t speak with an accent. They see me as African-American, but they don’t think about where my people came from. And I am not unique. When it comes to immigration, there are 60 million people like you and me, and our voices are too important. The stakes are too high for us to not be heard.”

Needs of black immigrants ignored

But, as the issue of reform escalates, the current nature of the immigration debate does not address the needs of those with African and Caribbean ancestry. The DREAM Act, for instance, only benefits immigrants who are 16 and under, while most black immigrants are already high school graduates.

“Black immigrants are ten percent of the foreign-born population, yet we are five times more likely to get caught up in detention and deportation proceedings,” McCray said. “This is not acceptable. Every day, every single day, children are torn away from their parents, and families are ripped apart, by severe and unforgiving immigration policies. This is not acceptable.”

McCray’s impassioned speech came days after Mayor de Blasio announced that the first lady has hired long-time Rev. Al Sharpton aide Rachel Noerdlinger to be her chief of staff. McCray’s role within the de Blasio administration is still being defined, but it has been reported that McCray will have her own “portfolio of issues.”

Immigration may not be one of those eventually outlined, but her talk that snowy evening demonstrated how close reform is to her heart.

Are you a “G”?

“Whether you have recently arrived in the United States, or you have been here for generations, you know the benefits of reforming our immigration laws cannot be denied,” McCray said. “And I can think of no better time than now for The Black Institute to launch The G Project. Whether we consider ourselves African, Caribbean, or African-American, everyone needs to know their heritage. Everyone needs to know their roots. After all, you cannot fulfill your future, unless you honor your past.”

The G Project is one way of diversifying the immigration fight. This effort has many components, including a bill that can be introduced to Congress addressing the specific challenges to immigrants of African descent. Yet, McCray stressed Wednesday night that the most important thing to do is get involved, even if it is not at the federal level.

“So, whoever you are here for, I hope you’ll join me in pledging to be a part of the push for immigration reform both locally and nationally. Our very existence depends on it.”

To participate in The G Project, please take this survey, share the story of your ancestry with The Black Institute, and learn more from the organization. is a media partner of The G Project.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb