by Tyronda James
A group of Rochester women of color, recently gathered in solidarity to publicly voice their belief in, and support for, Lakaya Sinclair, who lodged a sexual harassment complaint against Monroe County Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell.
The community of women, who call themselves “Team Lakaya,” are demanding a public apology from Flagler-Mitchell and call for his immediate resignation.
The women of “Team Lakaya” all echoed, “Lakaya, we support you. We stand beside you. We support you and we admire your courage.”
“We will continue to hold the full legislative body accountable. We cannot allow for sexual misconduct and harassment to become a cultural norm in this community, especially for our children and our youth. We must hold our political leaders accountable,” said Nadia Padilla-Rodriguez, Founder/Artistic Director Borinquen Dance Theatre, Inc. and retired RCSD Director Community Partnerships. “We come together today as women of color and sisters to say, ‘Enough is enough.'”
Sinclair’s complaint was found to be “credible” by the investigating agency, the Rothenberg Law Firm, which also found Flagler-Mitchell’s account of events to be “lacking in credibility.”
Lakaya’s supporters stood taking personal and collective stands and said they “cannot and will not allow this type of trauma and behavior to continue, unchecked” in the community.
“We move in solidarity and make public our intention to stand with Sisters who have been so assaulted. We commit our collective resolve for this purpose, and are committed to meeting this challenge,” according to a press statement.
“We need our young Sisters to know that the community stands in support of their growth and development into the women they want to be, and that we need them to be. We cannot and will not allow this type of trauma and behavior to continue unchecked in our community.”
The broad spectrum of women and organizations supporters included Diane Sheffield, Community Activist, Jackie Campbell, Co-Founder Black Women’s Leadership Forum, former director of Community Engagement for the Mental Health Association, Melanie Funchess, currently CEO/Principal of Ubuntu Village Works, LLC, community advocate Jackie Dozier and many, many more.
They say will work to change the Monroe County Code of Ethics to strengthen its policy related to sexual harassment and the interface between elected legislators and members of the public.
Shirley Stephens Thompson, former Rochester City School District Board of Education member said the collective is extremely proud that Ms. Sinclair was brave enough to share her story and for “not allowing behavior like Flagler-Mitchell’s to go unchecked and unchallenged.”
“What we want Lakaya and other women and our community to know, is that a new day is dawning. We’ve grown tired of the old ways of doing business,” Thompson said.
She said that there is a culture shift needed across all the areas in the community and very often that shift begins at the election ballot box. “Let’s get some people in here who care about the community and who will honor us, especially women.”
Rev. Myra Brown, pastor of Spiritus Christi Church echoed the sentiment and said the community needs public officials and leaders who uphold integrity and public trust who choose principle over politics. “We need principled leaders and politicians in the community who will create space for women to be safe,” Brown said. “They should have the opportunity to simply come and ask for help.”
Educator, humanitarian and community activist Rev. Dr. Iris Banister said sexual harassment has become a common practice of men in power. “We see men freely and shamelessly committing sexual offenses against us,” she said.
Banister said it is most unfortunate that women are forced to be silent out of fear or threats of retaliation. “We, women of color, declare that rude, vulgar, uninvited sexual behavior towards women will not be tolerated. We will expose you as we’re doing today,” she said.
“No more silence. No more hiding places. We will find you where you are and we will call you out.”
To contact the women of “Team Lakaya” call the Sankofa Family Counseling Services at 585-491-6646.