THE BLOG
02/25/2015 05:56 pm ET Updated Apr 27, 2015

Senator Brooke's Legacy

It is all too true that you cannot be what you cannot see. Celebrating Black history provides us with an opportunity to remember countless leaders who changed the course of our nation's history and exemplify the greatness we all can achieve. Among those leaders, pioneers like former Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke paint a vivid picture of what we accomplish when we shatter ceilings and fight for a better future. As our nation's first popularly elected African American Senator, Senator Brooke claimed his seat at the table of government and paved the way for the election of African Americans across the country, including President Barack Obama and me. Senator Brooke's legacy inspires us to strive to make America a place where anyone can look around and see that they can be anything they dream of.

During his two terms, Senator Brooke fought for the rights of all people to pursue the American Dream, regardless of gender or background. He vehemently defended the extension of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 1975, ensuring that voters in districts with long histories of voter suppression were free to vote without discrimination. His fight for the underrepresented extended to women when he led bipartisan forces in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment, advocated for the preservation of Title IX, and led the enactment of the Equal Credit Act, each of which made it possible for women to lead independent lives.

As the representative of a Congressional District that includes Upper Manhattan and parts of the Bronx, where housing prices continue to skyrocket, I am no stranger to the need to create affordable housing in the United States. I admire Senator Brooke's fierce dedication to ensuring that families of all incomes have access to this basic necessity. His efforts led to the establishment of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, which continues to defend people from housing discrimination to this very day. By introducing an amendment to cap public housing costs at 25% of a family's income, he fought to give working families the ability to put a roof over their heads and food on the table without having to choose between the two.

Though we stood on different sides of the aisle, I am proud to have worked alongside Senator Brooke in Congress. He understood that our country moves forward when it provides everyone with a solid foundation for success -- affordable housing, education and freedom to participate in government without discrimination. As we continue our struggle to protect civil rights, and in wake of the Supreme Court's rulings on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Senator Brooke's achievements motivate a new generation to continue the fight for equality.

Today, African Americans have many role models. Since Senator Brooke's time in Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus, of which I am a founder, has grown from thirteen to forty-six Members. Many broke barriers at the highest levels of government, including former Secretaries Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and also Attorney General Eric Holder, to name a few. I am grateful that my grandchildren can not only aspire to become President of the United States, but also look in the Oval Office and see someone who looks like them sitting there. Now we must continue Senator Brooke's legacy by working to ensure that they have the resources that make those dreams a reality.