By Rep. Karen Alzate
As a new legislative term begins, and my time as chairwoman comes to an end, I am reflecting on the work that the Rhode Island Black and Latino Caucus accomplished during this time. Becoming the chairperson of the caucus has been an honor of a lifetime and I am proud of our work over the last two years. The caucus has been around for a long time and our name has changed, as well as its members. This past term, with 21 members, we had the largest class in the caucus’s history. Compromised of many seasoned legislators and newcomers alike, the caucus brought fresh perspectives to the issues that have been important and integral to the mission of the caucus since its inception.
As I reflect on my leadership with this group, I’m proud of the work that we did, coming together to put forth an agenda that reflected the needs of our communities, from education, to healthcare to human dignity bills, like providing driving privilege permit cards to our undocumented community. These bills have been in the State House for many years, and because of the fresh perspectives from newcomers like Sen. Jonathon Acosta, and with the mentorship of seasoned legislators like Rep. Anastasia Williams, we were able to move these bills out of committee and onto the floor for votes.
We were able to pass the “source of income” bill that prohibits discrimination based on a lawful source of income for housing. Rep. Williams had been working on this bill for a while, and being part of our agenda, it was made a priority and it passed both chambers. Sen. Sandra Cano and Rep. David Morales worked with Governor McKee and legislative leaders to include “healthcare for all” in the state budget. Now in our state, all children, regardless of immigration status, will have health insurance.
The caucus also celebrated the history and culture of our state’s vast community of color. Rep. Ray Hull has always been a champion of the Black community and he continues the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Black History Month. For the first time, The Divine 9 was invited and recognized at the State House thanks to the efforts of Rep. Jose Batista. We also celebrated Juneteenth for the first time in State House history. Rep. Brianna Henries and Sen. Tiara Mack highlighted the importance of this event, and in the last two years, we have had poets, musicians, and delicious food from many Black-owned businesses.
I am proud of the work that the caucus has done in the last two years. Not only our legislative work, but also by highlighting our heritage. We celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month by recognizing the first elected Dominican woman, Rep. Grace Diaz, and the first Panamanian American, Rep. Williams, to the Rhode Island State House. These women paved the way for so many of us women of color to run for office and their contributions to the caucus should be celebrated.
As we begin the new legislative session, I am honored to hand over the caucus to Rep. Leonela Felix and Senator Acosta. With their vision and leadership, I know that we will continue to work with our community leaders, organizations, legislative and administration leaders and our colleagues in the General Assembly to pass legislation that will benefit our communities, continuing the work and legacy of the caucus knowing that we can only move forward from here.
Rep. Karen Alzate, a Democrat, represents District 60 in Pawtucket.