Lt. Gov. Benjamin, Congressman Bowman aim to make difference for New York’s vulnerable and underserved

EXCLUSIVE: As the Big Apple and the rest of the nation grapples with an ongoing pandemic and slowed shipment of goods, political leaders turn to solutions

Brian Benjamin is New York’s 78th Lieutenant Governor and the first person of Caribbean descent and only the second Black person to hold the office. In an exclusive interview with theGrio, Benjamin detailed how his unique background will advance the state’s pursuit of an equitable government that takes into account all walks of life. 

New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin
New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin are seen at a press conference in Harlem in New York City on August 26, 2021. (Photo by Chris Ware/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

As 44-year-old politician assists Governor Kathy Hochul in making a case to New Yorkers to elect their slate in next year’s election, he stands firm on his educational experience and early career in business to guide him. 

Benjamin told theGrio that the governor has added economic inclusion, affordable housing, vaccine distribution and workforce development to his policy portfolio.

“We have a lieutenant governor who actually has the lived experience of a culture of people who have historically been not included,” Benjamin highlighted. “I’m going to be focusing on diversity [and] equity inclusion across the board on every front. And when we talk about equity, making sure that people who have been left out, are treated fairly and are part of the process.” 

Since Benjamin has a keen insight into a large portion of the state’s Black community — Caribbean Americans — theGrio inquired about which industries he would be able to ensure they get fair consideration for state government contract bids. He thinks there will be great opportunities in infrastructure development as the city transitions communities to clean energy usage, catering for state government events, and importing goods from the Caribbean. 

“I want to make sure that people who represent the entire diaspora are included in that process,” Benjamin affirmed. “Caribbean food and beverage is appealing and people know about it. We could take that to [another] level.”

(Photo by Viviane Moos/Corbis via Getty Images)

Opportunity is ripe for Caribbean Americans, but in the midst of another holiday season during a pandemic, challenges are also in abundance. Benjamin told theGrio one national issue in particular that has strained traditional gift-giving back to the region is the continued backlog at ports across the United States. 

In many Caribbean American households, it is customary to send barrels of goods back to relatives who still live in their home countries. But inflation and an inability to ship barrels abroad in a timely fashion stands to jeopardize the holiday practice. 

“When we drill down to it, what [are] the implications for our Caribbean islands?” Benjamin asked. “Should there be more cooperation with CARICOM (Caribbean Community)?”

Dwayne Moore, owner and CEO of Moore National Facility Service, has been theGrio’s eyes and ears on the port docks. His company specializes in importing and exporting goods, and has also been impacted by the supply chain challenges. Moore told theGrio that in a five-week period he has observed five of his shipments continue to sit at ports without a change in shipping status. 

“I’m being told that things are getting better every day. But I guess it might be getting better for the big major multibillion dollar companies, but [for] smaller companies like [mine] I don’t see any change,” Moore said.

In addition to taking on the national issue of the supply chain bottleneck at the state level, Benjamin has his eye on reimagining New York’s educational opportunities for students who are considering careers in trade industries. 

Black student doing school work in classroom,
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

He contends New York’s schools need to provide a greater investment in preparing students who are opting out of college for trade professions. Benjamin told theGrio that schools need more funding and more communication power to share resource information with students. 

Benjamin’s belief that changes must be made to modernize the state’s school system is shared by Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman. The 16th district U.S. representative and educator told theGrio, “there is emotional and social harm that our kids go through in our schools as well because the curriculum is not often aligned to who they are as people and in their individual development.”   

He also is putting forth efforts to address the social and emotional needs of students as part of a larger scale initiative to foster healing across the country. 

Bowman held a national and local week of healing last week to help end violence of all forms with an event featuring Governor Hochul. At the event, Bowman announced that he secured millions for his district to tackle violence through trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy, violence intervention and prevention programs, hospital-based violence and more. To raise the alarm on a national level, Bowman introduced a resolution in Congress to create a National Day of Healing.

NY Congressman Jamaal Bowman
NY Congressman Jamaal Bowman (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

For students, in particular, the resources Bowman is securing funding for appear to be in higher demand as students return to in-person learning. TheGrio reported in August that New York City’s current first lady, Chirlane McCray, launched a program to provide mental health screenings to every student in the city’s public schools. But Bowman thinks more work needs to be done, especially as he sees violence on the rise in schools in his district. 

“A 13-year-old boy was shot in the neck in my district, and thankfully, he [was] in stable condition to call the hospital. But last week, a high school student was shot. The first couple of weeks of school, two kids were stabbed,” said Bowman. “We’re still dealing with the impact of COVID, living in a new COVID reality and the 700,000 plus deaths related to that. Anyone who follows politics can see that the tension and the trauma is spilling into how we legislate.” 

“So I just think it’s important for us, individually and collectively in our district and across the country, to really be intentional about focusing on healing and care, both self care and care for others,” he added.  

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