Ja-born US senator retired but not tired
She may have announced her retirement recently, but 81-year-old Jamaica-born Maryland senator, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, has only slowed down. She is very much still at work. By year end, she hopes to release her latest project – a biography detailing her nursing career and work as a legislator.“I don’t want to give away too much, but it will look at some of the work that I have done as a legislator, my life in Jamaica, England and the US (United States), and my work as a nurse in Baltimore county and city,” she says.
Nathan-Pulliam has plans, too, for a possible Zoom-hosted tribute to the late Eric Leopold Edwards, whom she credits with inspiring her to get involved in advocacy and politics and is busy crafting the outline of a church service to mark the second annual Caribbean Heritage Month celebration at St Bartholomew Episcopal on August 30.“Along with Ambassador Curtis Ward, we’re looking at doing a tribute to the memory of E. Leopold Edwards on August 15. He may be Jamaican, but he was definitely a Caribbean man. He contributed a lot to the Caribbean and CARICOM, and we hope to honour him,” she says.Edwards, who died earlier this year at 95 , is recognised for his more than 70 years of advocacy in the Jamaican and Caribbean-American community in Washington, DC.
This includes service as an early president of the Caribbean Students Association at Howard University, from 1949 to 1955, and later in the Caribbean-American Intercultural Organization and the National Coalition on Caribbean Affairs.
A trailblazer herself, Nathan-Pulliam, a Trelawny native, is well recognised as a state lawmaker for Baltimore County, in Maryland, USA. She is the first Caribbean-born person elected to the Maryland General Assembly.Her list of accomplishments includes several bills which focused on reducing health disparities among vulnerable communities in the US, and emphasised equitable access to healthcare for persons, regardless of whether they had health insurance or not.Her December 2019 resignation letter to the Legislature, outlined her deep regret then. “I do this with a heavy heart,” she wrote. “ ... I hope I have made a difference in my years as a public official, which includes almost 25 years as a legislator.”
But after three spine surgeries, the last one on September 30, 2019, she said she knew it was time.
“As a matter of fact, I hadn’t planned to, because there were still some things that I wanted to do, but I had spinal surgery and was in so much pain. I said there was no way I could go back in that kind of pain.”
Speaking with The Gleaner from her home in Maryland earlier this week, Senator Nathan-Pulliam outlined her other ‘retirement’ activities.
“I had about 10 bills that I had pre-filed, some that were introduced for the 2020 session, to have been signed by April/May. There are some that I still have to follow through on.”She says, with persons and communities still facing issues of inequity, the work continues. “As long as there is something to be done, I am going to be working.”
Nathan-Pulliam remains involved in the work of task force committees, and follows the work of local groups/policymakers which address issues close to her heart – including the disproportionate ratio of COVID-19 deaths on Black communities, compared to other groups.
“I was so upset recently when I heard they were having a conference to collect data. We don’t need to collect any more data - we have all the data we need, it’s all there! What they need to do is put adequate money in place to fund the systems. If the people had jobs, money, they wouldn’t have as much co-morbidities, and even the crime and violence would be less. So that, even in Jamaica, what we have to look at is concentrated poverty and work to address that.”
Responding to recent news that Caribbean leaders had been commended for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Nathan-Pulliam also had high praises for Jamaica.“That is excellent. The reports have been very positive. There are persons who have been saying that they are impressed with the provisions the country has made to keep them safe. They don’t mind going through all the screening because it made them feel safe, and I’m proud as a Jamaican when I hear people talk like this about Jamaica.As long as in Jamaica we are doing the same things – social distancing, wearing our mask, trying not to get too stressed – then things will continue to get better.”