Brooklyn Boro

At court-hosted Women’s history event, Brooklyn ‘Sheroes’ share journeys

March 30, 2015 By Charisma L. Troiano, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Front from left: Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna and District Leader Dilia Schack. Back row from left to right: Renee Williams, Hon. Carolyn E. Wade, Hon. Sylvia G. Ash, Hon. Pamela Fisher, Hon. Ingrid Joseph, Lena Ferrera, Hon. Genine D. Edwards, Turquoise Haskin, Hon. Yvonne Lewis and Hon. Carol Feinman. Photos by Rob Abruzzese.
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To close out a month-long celebration of women’s history, four Brooklyn legislators and representatives, last Friday, shared the story of their journey and battle with gender and ethnic discrimination.  

The event, titled “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives,” was held Fri., March 27 in the third-floor jury room at 141 Livingston St. The Gender Fairness Committees of Kings County Civil and Supreme Courts joined the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association to host the lunchtime program.

Introducing the afternoon’s speakers, acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Genine D. Edwards announced she was “exposing everyone to our sheroes.”

Assemblywomen Annette Robinson (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant-Bushwick-Crown Heights) and Jo Anne Simon (D- Downtown-Brooklyn Heights-Cobble Hill) shared, respectively,   their “diverse careers” and the “fruitful” journeys.

Simon came into the Assembly after serving in several occupations, including a stint on Wall Street and working as an interpreter for Broadway and off-Broadway productions. Graduating from Fordham University School of Law’s night program in 1990, Simon focused her legal practice on disability rights in higher education and employment discrimination.

In private practice, Simon took on the issue of disability discrimination in high stakes standardized testing, and as an Assemblywoman, she has made a campaign of fighting against the current implementation of Common Core standards and related testing on New York students with disabilities. The Common Core State Standards—also known as Common Core—are a set of college and career ready standards for grades K-12 created with the input of 48 other states.  New York’s Education Department and Board of Regents adopted the standards in July 2010.

“We are looking at the validity of these [Common Core assessments]…and giving that much power to tests, Simon said Friday. “It’s like coming home and full circle,” she remarked, noting that the Americans with Disabilities Act—which provides for disability accommodations in high-stakes testing situations—was passed when Simon graduated law school.  

Assemblywoman Annette Robinson started out as “Susie homemaker,” she noted at the well-attended event. Raising six children with her now-deceased husband of 52 years, Robinson attributed her leadership experience to her involvement in her children’s schools. Getting involved in school politics and various projects in the schools, it was important to Robinson to “make sure [my children] had a presence in the school.”

First elected in 2002 and currently in her 13th consecutive year in office, Robinson expressed a humility and honor to serve her Brooklyn constituents. “It’s a privilege to represent the community you were raised in…I’ve raised my family here [in Bedford-Stuyvesant],” Robinson concluded with a charge to the audience: “We have to be proactive in our communities because our communities need us.”

Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna became the first boroughwide Latina official when Borough President Eric Adams named her as his deputy in 2013.  Instead of talking directly about her path to office, Reyna discussed her mother’s journey, as a single woman, from the Dominican Republic to Brooklyn and the burdens all too often placed on the shoulders of minority legislators, who are sometimes seen as the representative of their respective race, gender or sexual orientation.  There’s a burden, Reyna noted, for city leaders with diverse backgrounds “to be able to represent and not embarrass…to be present.”

Reyna’s ethnicity was not the only burden of discrimination she has encountered in her years as a Brooklyn politician. “I became a councilmember at age 27 and won [in a race dominated] by men,” Reyna informed the audience.  In 2001, Reyna faced off against Ed Norman, Juan Martinez and Anthony Miranda to win a City Council seat representing portions of Bushwick and Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Ridgewood in Queens.

“Diversity is not just amongst race. Ask yourself how many times you were the only woman in the room,” Reyna rhetorically asked the female members of the audience. “It’s our job to change that,” she said.

Brooklyn District Leader for the 46th Assembly District (including Bay Ridge, Coney Island) Dilia Schack also recalled her family’s journeys and shared the example of her mother, who, despite a tyrannical father, went to night school on her own to get a college degree.

Schack, too, faced roadblocks as she pursed her education. When Schack graduated from a Brooklyn high school, she was told she had no “ability to go to college.” Many years later, Schack did attend and graduate college with an astounding “3.8 GPA,” she noted.  

“No one can tell you you can’t go any further…it’s not so. It may take you a little longer, but you can do,” Schack said as parting advice.

Closing out the afternoon’s program was Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Sylvia Ash, who thanked the “distinguished and dynamic women” speakers for sharing their stories, lessons and words of wisdom.

“A woman is like a teabag,” Ash said, quoting Eleanor Roosevelt. “You never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.”

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