Turning Pain into Purpose

portrait photo of Rodneyse Bichotte.

New York State Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, BS '96. Photo credit: City & State NY.

By Megan Tomaszewski

Published July 15, 2020

Brooklyn Democratic Party Leader Rodneyse Bichotte is a Lifelong Trailblazer

As Brooklyn’s Democratic Party Leader, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, BS ’96, is the “party boss,” a commitment she fully embraces. The 47-year-old is not only the first woman leader of the 42nd District, but also the first Black woman to lead a county committee in New York City and the first Haitian-American from New York City elected to the state assembly.

The road to triumph, though, has been filled with numerous tribulations. The Brooklyn native was raised alongside her three siblings by her single, working mother, who came to the United States from Haiti in the 1970s “with nothing.” Bichotte recalls being treated as “outcasts” in the Black community because of her family’s cultural differences, and, after being hit by a car at age 10, she was left with permanent injuries to her lower body. That same year, she was sexually abused by a local pastor.

Bichotte has taken the pain of these early traumas and turned it into purpose as a legislator, bringing empathy and a fierce determination to serve marginalized individuals both in Brooklyn and throughout the state.

“There’s so many things that I’ve personally dealt with, and I want to help those [in similar circumstances] by passing laws for a better quality of life in all areas,” she says. She notes getting a traffic light installed at the intersection where she was struck as a child and helping pass the Child Victims Act as especially meaningful examples.

Education for All

"I want to stand and fight for causes that are very difficult, not only through legislation, but through big civil suits and class-actions.”
Rodneyse Bichotte, BS '96 Electrical Engineering
Assembly Member for the 42nd District of the New York State Assembly

Despite her early hardships, Bichotte says the value of education—a key trait in traditional Haitian culture—was instilled in her at an early age and a driving factor in her success. “It really pushed me.”

After graduating from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, Bichotte attended SUNY Buffalo State, where her sister was studying speech pathology. She studied electrical engineering and mathematics in high school before earning a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from UB. She deeply enjoyed her time at UB because of its emphasis on collaborative, group-oriented learning—something she’s carried with her while serving her many constituents.

“I just love working with people,” Bichotte says. “My strengths were the people around me, who I could help and also learn from. UB allowed me to do more group work than any other institution, and the projects were great.” She also built relationships and developed networking skills as a member of UB’s Haitian Student Association and the National Society of Black Engineers.

Two more degrees followed—a master’s in electrical engineering from Illinois Tech and an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management—and she is on her way to a law degree from Brooklyn Law School. “I want to stand and fight for causes that are very difficult, not only through legislation, but through big civil suits and class-actions.”

As someone who has benefited greatly from multiple higher education institutions, Bichotte is passionate about closing the divide that inhibits many students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, including many of her constituents, from getting to college.

“If we’re going to make this a better society and we want our communities to thrive, we can’t leave a child behind,” she says. “We can’t ignore issues preventing generations of students from going to college.”

Finding her Strength

Throughout her life, Bichotte has overcome issues of race and sexism, and she is dedicated to helping other girls and women facing similar circumstances.

“The obstacles came more from being a woman than being Haitian or Black,” she says. “I did find white, male mentors who wanted to give me a chance, which did help me, but it’s been a struggle. I want to be that inspiring person for any woman—they can do whatever they want to do, whatever career.”

Bichotte’s strength—literally and figuratively—stems from her study of mixed martial arts as a teenager, and is another way she has inspired women to embrace their own strength. In 2016, the junior black belt in taekwondo helped push New York State to legalize MMA, and firmly believes the benefits of the sport extend far beyond the physical.

“It’s positively impacted me with self-control, perseverance, integrity and always being prepared,” she says. “This builds confidence in women—if you’re in a dangerous situation, you know the things to do to protect yourself and stay away … I love seeing young women playing the sports they want to, whether it’s MMA or football or whatever.”

Whether fighting for her constituents or in her taekwondo practice, Bichotte believes in inspiring others through the power of example.

“When you do well, you show people,” she says. “‘Look what I did. You can do it, too.’”

Reprinted from At Buffalo.