News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Dec. 13, 2013: Come January 1, 2014, New York City will have its very first, First Lady, with roots that stretch to the Caribbean, specifically the island of Barbados, or BIM, as it’s commonly called.
Chirlane McCray, the wife of incoming NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, will undoubtedly be the city’s first Caribbean-American and Barbadian-American First Lady, and the news definitely has Barbadians in the city and on the rock, extremely buffed with pride.
Chirlane McCray is poised to be far more than any past First Lady of New York City. Her husband Bill de Blasio, the soon to be Mayor, has repeatedly referred to Chirlane as his most important advisor and his partner for the next four years.
That immediately separates her from every other past Fist Lady in the largest and most important city in the United States. It is not surprising since their marriage in 1994, and even before in 1991, Chirlane has been at the center of Bill de Blasio’s political career.
It remains to be seen how her Caribbean and Barbados roots will impact decision making in the city, but now is a time for hope that a usually invisible Caribbean American bloc can become more visible.
“I’m very proud that the new first lady of NYC is of Barbadian heritage,” Attorney Davida P. Holmes, the NY Asst. Treasurer of the Council of Barbadian Organizations, Inc., told News Americas. “Barbadians are making a name for themselves throughout the United States and the world. We have Bajan born or Bajan heritage in various positions in the US such as Eric Holder as the US attorney general, the new mayor of Plainfield NJ, Adrian Mapp, Dennis Walcott, NYC Dept of Education chancellor and of course our very own Rihanna.
McCray traces her Bajan roots as far back to her maternal great grandmother, Louisa Parris and her maternal grandmother Irene Quashie Edwards, who was born St. Lucia but grew up in Barbados before moving to the United States in or around 1908. There is no record of her arrival at Ellis Island.
But reports indicate she stayed in Brooklyn, New York before settling in Claremont, New Hampshire, where she married Valdemar Edwards, who also born in Barbados.
McCray’s mother, Katharine McCray, was one of eight children born on May 28, 1925 to the late Valdemar and Irene Quashie Edwards. She was a step-daughter to the late Kathryn Edwards and sister to sister to Mae Sanford, Lena Lowe, Sylvia Johnson and the late Edna Edwards, Vivian Edwards, Millicent Wake, Elinor Leithand Clarence Edwards.
In Claremont, New Hampshire, Katharine grew up and graduated from Stevens High School before moving to Springfield, Massachusetts. In Springfield, she married Leo Jackson and had a son, Reginald Jackson. After their divorce, she married the late Robert McCray with whom she had three children, Cynthia Davis, Cheryl McCray and Chirlane McCray, the NYC’s incoming first lady.
Holmes says with such roots “you never know … the aromatic smell of cou-cou and flying fish and rhythms of Alison Hinds, Mikey Blood and Edwin Yearwood might be heard wafting from Gracie Mansion and City Hall.”
While Sherry Grimes-Jenkins, another Bajan New Yorker, is hopeful McCray “will implement some of our Barbadian and Caribbean training into New York City; allowing more room for more improvement, diversification and support of the cultures that help to make New York what it is today.”
Walter Edey, the former president of the Council of Barbadian Organizations, is also full of pride.
“To know that New York’s First Lady has Bajan roots is something for Barbadians to celebrate and tell every young person with Bajan roots,” said Edey.
Jeremy Stephen, President of the Barbados Economics Society, called it “very pleasing to have a Bajan in such a position” while Philip Harrison, took expressed delight.
“As a proud, born and bred Bajan, I am very elated to have a First Lady of NY who will fly the Barbados Flag high,” said Harrison.
Michael A W Callender, CEO of SMAC Productions, is also bursting with pride.
“As a Bajan-New Yorker, I am personally very proud that NYC city has gained its first black first lady, and more so that she has Bajan family roots,” said Callender, noting that even though McCray was born in the U.S. and grew up in Massachusetts, he was happy to note that she showed interest in Barbados and visited the island.
Incoming Mayor De Blasio went to Barbados with his wife and their two children, Chiara 17, and Dante, 14, in 2009 to find McCray’s family there and managed to connect with relatives there from perusing the phone directory after recognizing the name of a cousin, Stella Mayers.
On Labor Day, at the West Indian Carnival in Brooklyn, McCray said the experience was now richer knowing she still has family in Barbados.
“Now when people ask if we have family there we can say what parish and who they are,” she said in September. “We have Barbados in our hearts.”
“The First Lady with her deep-set eyes, disarming smile and strong opinions on the issues that matter to millions of New Yorkers, will surely be an asset to her husband, family and Barbados,” added Callender.
Annette Alleyne-Merritt insists it will be “a happy day” when de Blasio takes the oath of office.
“She is a strong lady,” said Alleyne-Merritt. “And we all wish the family, good health, peace and happiness.
Her advice: “It’s not going to be easy but always put God first.”
New Jersey resident and Barbadian migrant, Marjorie Maloney, can’t wait to meet McCray and hopes the new mayor and his wife hosts the return of the West Indian American Day carnival reception at Gracie Mansion next summer so she can get to take a picture with the new First Lady.
“I hope I can meet her one day,” said Maloney.
The de Blasio transition team declined an interview with McCray for this article, saying she was doing no interviews at this time, so we’re not sure how she feels about all the attention. Hopefully, they will be true to their word and let us know in the near future, as promised.