Since 1995, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has proudly served the 18th District of Texas. In honor of Black History Month, Khambrel Marshall sat with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee about her work in Washington, our community and the legacy she hopes to leave behind.
How does a New York Girl get to Houston Texas representing this great community?
We always love the colorfulness of where you came from. But I can’t deny that my true destination and my true destiny had to be a Southwestern girl in Houston, Texas. I take great credit in having been wise enough to come with w my esteemed spouse who had the privilege of being everything Houston, and so I am everything Houston. I’m everything the 18th congressional district means, which is the history of so many people, great leadership that are African Americans. I make note of the fact that they are descendants of enslaved Africans.
My district is the richness of the history of African Americans from Fifth Ward called the Nickle and people coming from Louisiana and settling there with people who had Western tendencies. To the richness of Independence Heights and Southeast and Sunnyside, Third Ward, First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Six Ward all showing historic churches and schools that the African American community spent a lot of time there.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
You know how excited I am about the emancipation trail that we have established, that connotes all of that history. As well to recognize the first purchase of a state park was done by free slaves, that is now Emancipation Park. That was the first one purchase in the state by anyone. I think it was about 8 people that gathered their dollars.
Black history for me is living and breathing history. It is never to be forgotten. It is always to be lived. It is not only to be commemorative in one month. It is to know about Christy A Dears and the Moses LeRoy and some of the iconic pastors, E. Stanley Branch all who these people have passed on. Ovide Duncantell, to know about some of the great civic leaders who have gone on.
It is to be respectful and honor that the time they were in this community, they were deep valley sand high mountains. It is also to be proud of the history of African Americans throughout the nation. It is to know your roots from Africa, to the Carribean to the United States and beyond. It is for me to have the courage and energy to introduce HR 40.
As you progress through life, along the way, did you face racism and how did you deal with it?
I did. As a little girl traveling in the railroads, we sat in the colored cars. Packing a brown bag lunch to be able to eat, while others were going to cars or being served. I am certainly a product of affirmative action. I always tell people that affirmative action may get you in the door, but it does not get you out of the door successfully. I welcome the fact that at Yale I was affirmative action as it relates to being a woman and an African American. Very few African Americans were admitted to Yale at that time.
I take a great sense of appreciation for my parents who did not finish college, or did not go to college with no benefits of college and were working families. They made ends meet, they instilled into me and my brother the idea of doing the best of what you have and giving your best. That’s why I love this public service.
I experienced in jobs that were offered and that were taken away. I experienced it in going into high-risers. You were perfectly well and had an appointment, but the front desk person was shocked and wanted to know if you were lost. These are subtle things that happened. Fortunately, I’ve had to be in a position to help fight for people that have experienced discrimination and racism.
When the “Sheila Jackson Lee Book” is written, what’s going to be the main theme?
I think the main theme is going to be that on this earth if there was a ditch that someone was in, the level of success did I have in pulling them out. Over my political career, over my moment of service as a society council member dealing with homeless, bringing that to the attention of the community. Bringing the attention of the community people living with AIDS, who happen to be of all different races and backgrounds who in the early years were not welcome. I took on the challenge of making sure that’s not the case.
I want my story to be that I tried to help you. In many instances, I was successful in helping you, in giving back and using the power that I have been so fortunate to obtain because of this office and offices I have held. My message is, the power I have is really for the people.
Watch the full interview above.