BY TRONE DOWD
State Sen. Roxanne Persaud (D-Brooklyn) has spent her entire life dedicated to serving communities. From the moment she arrived in America at the age of 17, Persaud’s focus on community empowerment has been the motivation for the many successes she has had thus far.
But Persaud wasn’t always interested in a career helping the average New Yorker. Instead, this was something that she saw as a civic duty as a member of a community. Originally residing in Richmond Hill before moving to Canarsie 23 years later, Persaud sought ways to do her part.
“I’ve always been interested in being a part of the revitalization of my community,” Persaud told the Queens Tribune. “Since I was a little kid in Guyana, that was my thing. Coming here, I just kept doing that and it eventually evolved into me being a part of government.”
The move was a no-brainer transition for the former Southeast Queens native. Upon arriving in the United States in January 1984, she began to talk to her neighbors to get a feeling for her community. Later that year, she started working for Pace University part time, getting involved in community events at the college.
“I would go to all of the meetings, specifically anything with kids in the area,” Persaud said.
Through Pace, she found herself working with a nonprofit organization known as I Have a Dream. The group helps persuade inner-city youths to pursue higher education.
“They take kids and tell them, ‘If you remain in school and finish high school, we will assist you in going to college and pay for your tuition,’” she explained. “I worked volunteering in East New York and Brownsville, which was my first foray into the area.”
Twenty-three years after coming to America, Persaud moved to Canarsie, investing fully in the neighborhood where she had long worked. Determined not to lose her dedication to being involved, she immediately got to work in her Brooklyn community.
Anything that happened on her block, she became the person to lead the charge.
“Whether it was writing to the borough president, writing to the mayor, complaining about potholes, complaining about empty lots that needed cleaning—those were the kinds of things I was known for,” she said.
It wasn’t long before people began to notice. She quickly became the go-to person to organize a community initiative and vocalized what would otherwise go ignored. She became a member of the 69th Community Council and Community Board 18 in Brooklyn.
After years of serving the community, Persaud said that people would often ask when she planned to run for elected office, much to her indifference.
“I was okay being in the background,” she said.
But it wasn’t until she took part in the redistricting commission of 2012 that she gave such common queries a second thought.
With an open position in the state assembly during the 2014 election cycle, Persaud discussed with her family the possibility of running for office. Her family embraced the idea and gave her their blessing. In a landslide victory, Persaud earned 74 percent of the vote and became assemblywoman for the 59th District.
The following year, Persaud pulled off another landslide victory when she ran for state Senate, replacing disgraced senator John Sampson, who was removed from office. Persaud earned 91 percent of the vote in the district.
Because of her own accomplishments, Persaud—who is of Guyanese descent—said that she has high expectations for her people.
“I would like to see the Guyanese people come together as a unified body, so that we can move forward and [be] acknowledge[d] the same way people look at the Haitian or Jewish community,” she said. “We need to motivate the Guyanese community and move ahead. We have to come together and support each other.”