Black History Month: Ritchie Torres seeks to represent those that Democracy has failed to represent

'It is important for people to see themselves'

February 25, 2021

“I never imagined myself becoming a member of the United States Congress.”

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Those were Rep. Ritchie Torres’ (D-NY) opening remarks in his conversation with RADIO.COM’s Femi Redwood during a special RADIO.COM LIVE Check In series celebrating Black History Month.

“I was born, bred, and battle tested in the Bronx,” Torres said. “I spent most of my life in poverty. I was raised by a single mother who had to raise three children in minimum wage, which in the 1990’s was a mere $4.25. And I grew up in public housing, in conditions of mold, mildew, leaks, and lead without consistent heat and hot water in the winter. I never imagined embarking on a journey that would take me from public housing in the Bronx to the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. So there’s a sense in which my story is a realization of the American Dream.”

Part of Torres’ mission is to ensure his constituents, many of whom belong to groups that have historically been unrepresented, feel that they're being represented. He also strives to make sure his constituents know that he’ll continually fight on their behalf and that they see a bit of themselves in him.

“It is important for people to see themselves,” Torres says. “To see their own identities and lived experiences in the people who represent them. For far too long Congress has been unrepresentative of most Americans. The average member of Congress has a net worth of a million dollars, has multiple degrees, is far more deep pocketed, far more politically connected than most Americans.

“I’m different from your typical member of Congress,” he added. Torres doesn’t shy away about his own battles with substance abuse, mental illness, food insecurity, and housing insecurity.

“The struggles confronting the South Bronx are struggles I’ve lived in my own life,” he says. “I can credibly go to my constituents and tell them ‘I’m one of you and I’m going to fight for you.’ That inspires people to see themselves in their elected officials and to be represented in a Democracy that has historically failed to represent them.”

One way that Torres fights to make sure his constituents see themselves in him is to be actively involved as a mentor. “I feel strongly that you’re only as strong as the support you have in life,” he says.

“I would not be where I am today were it not for the mentors who invested time in me. I feel a deep sense of obligation to pay it forward and to do my part in mentoring the next generation of public servants and political leaders. Give them guidance on how to pursue their dreams in public office.”

Torres also spoke on the 2021 Capitol Riots and how white supremacist extremism has long been a threat to the country “The federal government is almost willfully blind to white supremacist extremism as a domestic terrorism threat,” he says.

"Even though the stats are clear that white supremacist extremism has been the driver of domestic terrorism in the United States for several decades, the United States did not designate a white supremacist group as a terrorist group until 2020.”

He added: “For me there are two competing forces shaping our politics. First, there’s the reality of America becoming a multi-racial Democracy. There are people like me in elected office. 70% of the Democratic caucus in the House consist of women, members of the LGBTQ community, and people of color. But then, there’s the reality of White supremacy. A white supremacist siege on the Capitol, a reaction against the changing complexion of America. Those two forces are deeply dividing our country.”

Although there’s a lot of work still to be done, Torres is “hopeful our future belongs to multi-racial Democracy.”

He elaborated on that hope by discussing his experience attending the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

“It was deeply moving to see Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first African American, the first Asian American in the vice presidency, being sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the United States Supreme Court," Torres says.

"That moment to me is a powerful testament to how for we have come and it’s a powerful reminder that the future of our country does not belong to white supremacy, it belongs to multi-racial Democracy, it belongs to all of us.”

Join us all month long to celebrate Black History Month with a special RADIO.COM LIVE Check In series. Find a full schedule of our upcoming conversations here.

WATCH MORE: Black achievers who are making history in their fields

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