Editor’s note: For Women’s History Month, The Root is celebrating women from a wide range of professional industries in our video series Women at Work.
“People expect women to be a certain way. They expect black women to be a certain way,” says Chirlane McCray, the wife of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “You could be sitting at the table with the decision-makers, and they’ll look at the white males at the table, right? That’s just what happens.” Then McCray lets out a laugh. But as a 62-year-old black woman who grew up during the civil rights movement, McCray is well aware that being overlooked at “the table” is all too common.
McCray is a decadeslong activist, writer and poet. She went into politics in the early 1990s as a speechwriter for the administration of New York City Mayor David Dinkins, went on to work with various campaigns and eventually moved to the private sector. But since January 2014, she’s taken on a new role: first lady of the city.
“Well, I don’t think that there’s ever been a real role for the first lady. What I’ve done is bring who I am, what my interests are, my passions, to the work that I do every day,” McCray says.
A black woman married to a white man of Italian descent, McCray has faced an obstacle or two. “Of course there are obstacles; of course people on the outside, the external opposition and resistance to seeing me as a partner, is there,” she says. Yet the first family of New York City continues to live publicly and proudly, winning the hearts of New Yorkers.
McCray’s work goes beyond shaking hands and kissing babies.
It is no surprise that in her role as first lady, McCray, a black feminist at heart, is an advocate for women and underserved communities. McCray has led a national leadership coalition on mental health, Cities Thrive, based on the city’s own Thrive NYC, a program focusing on mental health and substance abuse. McCray has also used her platform to challenge President Donald Trump’s policies, particularly his efforts to repeal President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
“I’ve carved out my own path. And I think that’s what all first ladies have to do. They have to define themselves,” McCray says.
Watch the full video above, recorded at Gracie Mansion in New York City.