THE POWER OF PLACE
Settings that tell a story
Place of special meaning: The Greater Allen A.M.E Church is the beacon for Southeast Queens. For me in particular, it is where I found my voice. I’ve always been told I’m a good speaker, but I never truly knew how to use my voice. So under the leadership of my pastors (the Reverend Floyd and Elaine Flake), I was able to find my voice. Not just as a singer, but also as an advocate and an activist for my community.
On role modeling: We have to pay it forward because we never know who is coming behind us, we stood on some very powerful shoulders to get here and now it’s up to us to be the shoulders going forward.
I just prayed to God if He gave me strength ‘I will become a cycle-breaker’, and every degree that I took—even though my mother didn’t live to see it and my grandmother actually died four months after my mother so it was just a harsh time for me in 1992—but I channeled that energy to say that I am gonna do something for my mother’s memory I wanna make her proud and so I graduated from Cuyahoga Community College, I took that degree in my mother’s name, and when I matriculated to Cleveland State University earning my Bachelor’s and my Master’s, I took both of those degrees in my mother’s name. So, although she’s not here, I know she’s in heaven saying, “You go, girl” and my grandmother too saying, “You’re doing us proud.”
I am also carrying that mantle for the generations of African Americans who have had to endure somebody calling them ‘girl’ or ‘boy,’ or having to walk in the street when a white person passed, or having to put their head down they couldn’t look a white person, particularly a white man, in their eyes. That sticks with me, and it is that spirit that makes me want to continue to fight for liberty and justice for all.
You know, I read this one book called Reviving Native Womanhood and I think that there’s some gender roles that were brought upon us by Western civilization that weren’t necessarily there before and I think that we’re now realizing that there aren’t those particular roles that are specifically for men or for women. And I do go out and fish with the net in the river and I do go out in the bay and collect salmon with a net or halibut with a longline…and its just an enjoyable thing to do. Its enjoyable just to be able to bring in your own food.
I don’t personally make a big effort to recruit other women [in Tribal leadership positions]. I make an effort to recruit people who are involved in the community and interested in making a difference and thankfully there’s more women who are willing to do that.
There’s groups of people with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that are running corporations that want to be recognized as tribes and thats downright scary to me. I think that if you have corporations being recognized as tribes, that they’ll erode the sovereignty of a tribe where we have a home we have land and we have a place that has always been and now we have a corporation somewhere in a city saying, “oh we want recognition as a tribe.” Thats an erosion of our recognition of sovereign people.
My sister Bonnie and I were photographed in front of the Oklahoma County Courthouse. Bonnie is 18 months older than me. She's my only sibling, so we are very close. She is a public defender, and I’m a County Commissioner. So we work in the same system and are fighting for the same issues. We both care greatly about our criminal justice system. The courthouse and standing on its steps is a fitting representation of the two of us working within the system and trying to improve it.
It's fun to work in the same building as her. We look a lot alike, and people say hi to me, and they think I'm her, and vice versa. So we just go along with it. We joke that one day I'm going to show up in court, and she's going to show up at a board of county commissioner meeting and not say anything.
As a passionate supporter of criminal justice reform, Commissioner Carrie Blumert named the creative writing program, Poetic Justice at Oklahoma’s Mabel Bassett Women’s Detention Center as an inspiration for her advocacy. Given that the incarcerated rate for women in Oklahoma is double the national average, there is a real need to provide female inmates with the emotional tools to flourish post-internment. To learn more on the writing workshop, watch the documentary Gray Matter and purchase a collection of original poems by the female inmates.
My first political act occurred in my twenties when I advocated for the passage of a law to protect our sacred Spanish-Mexican land grant communities before the New Mexico Legislature. It took two legislative sessions to pass the law. During the process, I learned valuable lessons that would assist me later in my career and we were able to accomplish something meaningful for these communities, which inspired me to continue my efforts to protect our state and make it even better for generations to come. This strong desire eventually led me to run for my current elected office.
For an in-depth understanding of the Japanese-American community and their World War II experiences, Rep Sharon Tomiko Santos recommends Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project and please read my blog piece exploring the constitutionality of incarcerating American ethnic groups during wartime using Rep Santos’s family history, as a case study.
LONG BEACH, KAKE, ALASKA
The deep breathing of yoga is amazing, not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. Combining it with the beach is a powerful healing and de-stressing routine for me. Yoga has helped me tremendously in these past couple years. Because of it, I’m able to handle the pressures of being on City Council, our Public Safety Board, our EMS Response Team, and Kake’s Fire Department’s Search and Rescue division.
Learn more about Kake Alaska's challenge to bring proper state law and order enforcement to their rural town- HERE
THE GUSTAVUS, FORELANDS
THE BIG SISTER ASSOCIATION OF GREATER BOSTON
In the narrative there is such an emphasis on our black and brown boys and how they are at a proven risk, but girls are growing up in the same conditions. Girls are often ignored because of how we process and express our trauma, and our dysfunction is very different. I am speaking very generally, but boys tend to act out and girls tend to shut down. And I knew it wasn’t hyperbole and abstract; I had lived it. I was a child who experienced great trauma in my life, despite my mother’s herculean, heroic effort to protect me. And there by the Grace of God, go I.
I remember reading Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings.” It just spoke to me so deeply because it proved to me that I was not alone. That’s what I am trying to be to these girls––honest about my own journey, my own trials and triumphs, and to continue to push the envelope when it comes to gender-specific and responsive programing. When it comes to violence, I want it acknowledged that our girls are growing up in the same conditions as our black and brown boys; they are at proven risk in the same way. I want to do everything I can to support them in their wellness, in their wellbeing, in their safety, in their advancement, in their mobility. I am unapologetic about that. My advocacy for girls and for women––it’s not at the exclusion of boys and men, it’s an acknowledgement that our destinies are linked.
THE CHARLESTOWN BOYS AND GIRLS CLUB
I’m a basketball player, sports and basketball were a big part of my life. I learned a lot about leadership and discipline and hard work and teamwork through sports. I was lucky enough to play in college and then I played pro for a few years. Even when I was running for office and now that I lead the office, I am constantly drawing upon the lessons and the things that I learned through sports, so that’s one reason that I’m here. The other reason is that I was the oldest of five kids growing up, and I did a lot of coaching, of different sports, over that time. I believe it’s so important for young people to be involved; it doesn’t have to be in sports, it can be in art or music, but in something they’re passionate about. So for me to have a chance to connect with young people in this way is really meaningful. It was great to be around some of the young women too. I look at them and I think about how important it is that girls and young women have opportunities to build esteem, to build confidence. It’s so important, and it’s so important too that boys and young men are able to see someone like me, a five foot four basketball player and former pro player and hopefully understand more about gender parity and gender equity and that girls can do anything.
"I guess it was in my genes to be a leader. My dad and mother taught me the importance of leadership at a young age. My mother was on the school board and my dad was tribal council president for years, until they passed. In high school, my class was very competitive. Gosh, I wasn’t president but secretary/treasurer. Then in the 70s, I was president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. My children skipped a generation on leadership, so that’s why I am turning it over to my grandchild, Jade. I pray that she’ll be able to step up and be a leader in our community."
To learn more about indigenous Southeast Alaskans reliance upon traditional methods of subsistence hunting and gathering, please CLICK HERE
TOWNSEND HARRIS HIGH SCHOOL, FLUSHING, NEW YORK
I went to Townsend Harris High School, and this is really where public service started for me. At Townsend Harris we take an oath every year… and the ending of the oath is to leave the city greater than how we found it. That pledge has stayed with me throughout my personal and professional career; it's something in which I've found great meaning and continue to use in my public service. So that’s why I picked my high school, my alma matter––where it all began.
THE SUSAN N. McLANE AUDUBON CENTER, CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE
(On running for office for the first time) …I knew it was hard, so that’s why I waited when my kids were young. I knew it was difficult on the family and both for my husband’s sake and my kids’ sake I wanted to wait, until they were grown. And I did lose the first time, I lost by 3000 votes (laughs) that’s the irony. The wonderful part of the story is that my older son, Zack, came and worked on the campaign and he was my driver for nine months. And we had a really, really special time together, and he had the opportunity to see the courage and the energy that it took me to run but I also had the opportunity to rely on him. He was very helpful, he had studied government in undergrad and so I can remember we had conversations about trade and public foreign policy. It was wonderful, it was great.
The New Hampshire Audubon has a special meaning to me because my mother, Susan McLean, who was in the New Hampshire State Legislature, was the president of the New Hampshire Audubon. And she was very focused on kids and birds and the education of children through nature and the natural world. And this center is named for her.
THE NEPPERHAN COMMUNITY CENTER
I think we already know the differences are stark; most of my male counterparts don’t have to be asked to run for office. Many times they come to the conclusion themselves, that it would be good for them to represent people and I don’t know anyone who had to be asked more than one time. I know that most of the women who do give it a thought always think of themselves as having a deficit, saying, “oh I can’t do it because of this and that, and this and that.” I think for most men it comes to them that they want to run for office and are already thinking of the positives that they can bring to the role. So not only are we in a place where we aren’t even thinking about representing people most of the time, but we have to be asked and we have to be asked several times. And then we are fighting our own conversation within ourselves, explaining why we’re really not worthy.
The reality is that there is so much work to be done. If you have the skills, if you’ve got the interest in helping people, if you’ve got a support system, if you’ve got a will to be able to get things done and if you’re not afraid to put yourself out there, then stop having the negative conversation and have the positive conversation. Go forward with the focus of doing the very best that you can for the people you represent.
STATEN ISLAND FERRY (A RIDE THAT PASSES THE STATUE OF LIBERTY)
I think my personal background, having my parents both be immigrants, my father from the birth place of democracy (Greece), my mother from a communist regime (Cuba), just always made me very much appreciate the democracy that we are afforded here in the United States. It really motivated me to want to be in government, take part in the democratic system by running for office and doing what I can to preserve the American dream, here in the United States.
At her kitchen table, melrose, MA
We are in my kitchen in Melrose, Massachusetts--the center of my family life. This is also where I get my energy and inspiration for the work I do. As a congresswoman, I strive to help other families achieve what we have been so fortunate to enjoy in our own home. Family issues are at the forefront of my efforts in Congress.
Our kitchen has been the scene of every major family event and this is where my son recently opened his college acceptance letters. We've had this table for about 18 years and it has been the hub around which so much has happened--art projects, homework, reading newspapers, the learning of life's joys and sorrows, the deaths or weddings of family and friends. The table used to be shiny and beautiful, but like families, it has acquired its own beauty and character over time. Perhaps one of the most momentous decisions made at this table was whether I should run for Congress or not. This was decided over a big family meeting with my parents, my in-laws, my three sons, and my husband all voting on the issue. This was the last unanimous vote I received (my youngest son wanted to change his mind as the campaign wore on). This was a good lesson on democracy--make sure you know what you’re voting for because you only get to do it once. The kitchen table has been an important symbol for me, a place where we start and end the day together.
JUMBO'S RESTAURANT, MIAMI, FL
I used to spend hours in front of this restaurant, selling clothes with my father. It was the last place I went to work with him before he was killed and it reminds me of a time when life was good and my family was whole. I learned so many life lessons during that time. While selling clothes with my father, I learned kindness and compassion for those who are less fortunate. I also learned how to make a profit while being fair to every customer. And my father taught me to never let a person go hungry. He would also give out food to the needy people in the area. I visit this place because it gives me a warm feeling of comfort as I visualize my father standing there and selling clothes. "Whenever you get to the point in your life where you can give something back, you should,” he told me. This is the reason I am in politics, so it is only fitting that I honor my father’s memory with this portrait outside the restaurant where we worked together.
EBENEZER BAPTIST CHURCH, ATLANTA, GA
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. truly shaped my character. When I was a child, he was a friend of my mother’s. We lived in the same neighborhood and one day I ran into him, literally, while I was playing in his church. He stopped me and I cried because he recognized me and I knew he’d tell my mother. He said, "I want you to promise me that you won’t run around this church like this again.” I was afraid of being disciplined by him. Instead, he took me upstairs where a crowd of people were waiting for him. There, in front of everyone, he spoke to me about how anyone could be great because anyone could serve. I listened intensely to every word. It made a strong impression on me because this great man, who was clearly the object of so much admiration, took the time to talk to me. From that point on, Reverend King always knew me, and I say that he anointed me, because he tapped me right on top of my head and yanked my ponytail.
WILLIAMSBURG HOUSES, PADDLEBALL COURT, BROOKLYN, NY
I always wanted to learn tennis, ever since I saw Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs. But there weren't any tennis courts around here when I was growing up. Paddleball seemed like the perfect alternative. The thing about sports in general is that they teach you the importance of having a competitive edge. But I try not to go overboard either. The point is to work hard but have fun while you're doing it. Paddleball is actually a good lesson in strategy––where to place the ball, how to make your opponents run so that they get tired. You want to dominate the middle of the court, if you can. And if your opponent gets the center, you try to lure him to the margins. These are helpful lessons, especially in politics.
Riverside National Cemetery, Riverside, CA
When I think about what defines me and why I want to serve, this is it. Military service is how I got my start. I served 10 years in the military; it’s where I met my husband, and we have many, many years of service between us. It was the first thing that came to mind. It’s what taught me about being part of a team and about giving back. It sounds cliché, but it feels natural to be part of a group that is giving back instead of taking.
Wooster Square, New Haven, CT
For me, the 'table' is a symbol of community. Growing up, I was influenced by the civic-mindedness of my parents; they were staunch advocates for people in the community. People felt free to come to our home and gather around the kitchen table. The discussion might revolve around immigration issues, social security, joblessness, or just about somebody needing assistance in some way. Whatever it was, my folks were always there to help. My parents didn’t write omnibus legislation, but they really made a difference and created opportunities for the people that relied on them. My mother’s admonishment to women was “come on girls, let’s make ourselves heard.” She believed that women need to express their views and thoughts; they need to claim their place in politics and speak up. So that’s the atmosphere in which I grew up and that’s how I approach my own politics and my own tenure.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. TRANSIT CENTER, COMPTON, CA
I approach my community with a lot of love. Like anything that has been neglected, you have to really love it to revive a certain level of human dignity. And I think Compton is a community that has been neglected and suffered abuse. I love my city, I love my constituents, and Compton is a city where a little love can go a long way.
DORIS POND, MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE
We’re at Doris Pond, in the north end of Manchester, running with some of my best girlfriends, with whom I’ve been running for ten or eleven years. I joined the group when one of the runners said, “you should start running with us!” I didn’t feel I was at their level, so I was a little hesitant at first but joined the group, and it was the best thing I ever did. It’s just a wonderful group of women who encourage you to do better. When I first started, doubting my running ability, the group got me to where I needed to be.
AT HER DINING TABLE, DECATUR, GA
My dining table serves as the family conference table. It's where all my important decisions get made, including the one to run for Mayor. I came to politics through activism. As a young mother in the 60s, I walked into a public library in Decatur and applied for a library card for my children. This one act desegregated the library system for all DeKalb County. The family joke about the conference table is that a family vote is always requested but only one of the votes really counts.
AT HER FAMILY FARM IN NJ
I learned a lasting lesson from growing up on the farm and that was respect for nature and her power. While you gain an understanding of the impact of humans on nature, you also quickly learn that the power of nature has the ability to humble humans very fast!
SALEM STATE UNIVERSITY BASKETBALL COURT
I spent many years not only representing Salem State playing on their team, but also enjoying college life. I think team sports really help you to learn how to pick each other up, how to be unselfish, and how to recognize that when you can’t get along with people you can still achieve a shared goal. Certainly the euphoria that comes with success, from a team, is so much better than individual success. Being able to share it with others is especially something that I look back on fondly. And it’s definitely an approach I bring to management as a team concept in City Hall and Senior Staff and working toward a shared goal.
MANDEL PUBLIC LIBRARY, WEST PALM BEACH, FL
As Mayor of West Palm Beach, I oversaw the redevelopment of the Downtown area. It had been a sore spot in the city and it needed some love and attention. The results have been instrumental in bringing the community together, and the neighborhood is now a place for people to play and learn. The library is a key part of this project; kids can get help with their homework, anyone can take a yoga class, or attend a film screening, which is one of my favorite activities there.
LONE ROCK POINT, VT
The location is Lone Rock Point, taken from Lake Champlain in the winter. I grew up on Rock Point. My father was the headmaster of the Rock Point School, a small boarding school for high school students who need a second chance, owned and operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont. I chose this location because of its incredible beauty, and also because the lake tells a story about global warming. When I was growing up the lake used to freeze over 9 out of 10 winters; these days it freezes over 1 out of 10 winters. In my political life, I am trying to advance policies that address global warming––policies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and policies that will help Vermonters adapt to a changing climate, increased flooding, and more uncertainty. The Abenaki say that, after God created the world, he turned himself into a rock in Burlington Bay. Growing up, I understood why God would want to live here for eternity; it is so peaceful and beautiful. I hope this natural beauty will endure for many generations to come.
CATALINA MOUNTAINS, TUCSON, AZ
The exquisitely beautiful Santa Catalina Mountains overlooking Tucson have always been a source of inspiration and power to me. When I need to balance the strong and steady nurturing power of Mother Earth with the hectic pace of being a Legislator, I escape to these mountains with my little power puppy Moki. From the Catalina Mountains I can see my entire legislative district—my heart fills with love and I can return to this work that I am so honored to do.
ARTHUR MURRAY DANCE STUDIO, SURPRISE, AZ
What I love most about dancing is that I can totally “unplug” from my day-to-day mayoral duties and focus on the dance floor. When I’m whirling around with my partner and concentrating on our footwork, I really can’t think about answering emails or preparing for my next important meeting. And, just as important, I’ve found ballroom dancing to be a huge stress reliever and a great way to “reset” myself.
ASTORIA PARK, QUEENS NY
Astoria Park is the place where I, as a city kid, learned to love nature. I recognized early on that this precious green space is bookended by polluting power plants and the dangers these plants pose to the surrounding neighborhood I love so much. I studied environmental issues in law school and worked with local elected officials on cleaning up Astoria. I saw that as a public servant I could have a positive impact by advocating for repowering these old plants and shutting down the worst of them. As I watch my daughter enjoy this special place I can only hope that I am making it better for her.
CENTRAL LIBRARY IN DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO, CA
I grew up in a very low income household before I eventually ended up in foster care. During my childhood I spent hours at my local public library reading everything I could, because a free public library was one of the only places I could afford to go. So now, as a Councilmember, I fight for great quality public services, like our libraries and arts programs, so that kids today who are growing up like I grew up have a place to go.
PACIFIC BEACH BOARDWALK, SAN DIEGO, CA
I am honored and privileged to be Chief of Police of the San Diego Police Department. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio where the winters were brutal. I fell in love with San Diego during a visit while in college at Ohio State University. I love running at the beach just before sunrise when the moonlight can still be seen illuminating the waves. This is my quiet time to reflect on the beauty of my city, which I proudly serve. A few miles into my run, I often stop at this location and look out at the ocean, at the pier and boardwalk. I don’t take any day for granted and I try to make a positive difference for our community and the millions of sun-seekers who visit San Diego every year.