As the new legislative session gets underway, the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus plans to install a new chairperson as Rep. Carlos Gonzalez transitions out of the leadership position.
Rep. Chynah Tyler, a Roxbury Democrat, will take over as chair of the caucus in February after a session that saw the caucus push through a major policing reform initiative and gain higher visibility among Democratic leadership. As she looks ahead to her tenure, Tyler said she wants to focus on the impact of COVID-19 on people of color, conditions within the Department of Correction, and economic development.
"I really, really do take pride in teamwork. I played sports my whole life so teamwork is something that I'm very, very familiar with. And so as the incoming chair of the caucus, everything was done in unison," Tyler told the News Service. "I'm really, really huge on that. I really, really, really want to make sure that folks feel included."
The caucus was created in 1973 to serve as a collective voice for politicians of color and last session there were 14 members. The caucus represents members in both the House and Senate, pushing forward members' priorities and advocating on their behalf.
Gonzalez, the outgoing chair, said the caucus has established a strong footprint over the past two years and offered one piece of advice to his successor.
"The caucus needs to have a strategic concentration when dealing with issues, not necessarily an emotional one," the Springfield Democrat told the News Service. "Sometimes in the capacity of caucus chair, you have to make sure you can build consensus, not only within the caucus but with members outside of the caucus, as well as the leadership in both chambers."
Tyler served as House vice-chair of the Committee on Public Health last session and was first elected to represent the 7th Suffolk District in 2016 after a tight primary race, succeeding former Rep. Gloria Fox. Tyler served as caucus treasurer for the 2019-2020 session and is also the chair of the Boston delegation.
Tyler was born and raised in Roxbury and earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Northeastern University. She started her career as a case manager for federal inmates where she assisted people nearing release with housing, community support, and employment.
Rep. Russell Holmes, who was chair of the caucus during the 2015-2016 session, said one of the challenges a chairperson faces is making sure that "he or she is driving the agenda that we're hearing from the community, not from the activists or lobbyists or so-called folks who think they're advocating for our communities."
"I think the biggest challenge is the fact that we are disproportionately still underrepresented for the population that we have of Black and Latinos in the commonwealth," the Boston Democrat said. "I find that many Black, Latinos, and even Asians still are not comfortable making the phone call to representatives who are white, even though they may be the person that represents and has been elected from these majority of seats of color."
As the 192nd General Court starts to consider committee assignments and debate procedural rules, Tyler said she wants to make sure people of color are included equitably when it comes to leadership positions.
"That's how a lot of these things kind of get out of control is that there's no Black and Latino people in leadership across the government, just period," she said "And when you don't have that, then it creates less of a space for fruitful legislation to be able to be created or fruitful policies to be created and also for regulations."
And regardless of what challenges the new chair of the caucus might face during the 2021-2022 session, Tyler said she is confident that she can meet the moment.
"I feel very confident in taking up any hardship at any given time, that's just who I am. But more importantly, I would say that we have a dynamic team in the State House," she said. "I'm very, very proud that we have a new speaker, Speaker Mariano, that has so much experience when it comes to just the professional life."