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Leader Emilia Strong Sykes inspires colleagues to look past themselves, politics to work together for the people of Ohio

February 7, 2019
Democratic Newsroom

In a speech to the Ohio House of Representatives Wednesday, newly elected Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) inspired her colleagues to look past themselves, politics and the walls of the Statehouse to work together for the people of Ohio. Sykes commended the Republican majority for meeting Democratic calls for bipartisan cooperation and reaffirmed her caucus’ commitment to working people and families in Ohio.

Watch the speech and read Leader Sykes’ full remarks below.

Mr. Speaker, members of the general assembly, friends, family and guests. Good afternoon.

I have always found it to be a true honor to serve as the state representative for the birthplace of champions, Ohio’s 34th House district. But I count it as extra special to be elected among my colleagues to lead this group of wonderfully talented and dedicated leaders in the Democratic caucus.

I must begin by thanking my colleagues in this body for their confidence, and for this tremendous privilege to serve as the Ohio House Minority Leader for the 133rd General Assembly. 

We have a unique and historic opportunity to shape policy, bring issues that need addressed to the forefront of discussion, and to influence the legislative and policy making process. An opportunity that we have not seen in many years— an opportunity that I am confident we will take full advantage of.

I also want to thank State Representatives Kristen Boggs, Kent Smith, and Paula Hicks-Hudson for their dedication in joining a bold new leadership team that will work every day to improve the lives of Ohioans. I look forward to the great work that we will do together.

I want to thank the members of the minority caucus for coming together to work for the good of our communities. We understand there is strength in our united voices.

I also want to acknowledge two of my favorite people, my parents.

My father, state Sen. Vernon Sykes, and my mother Barbara Sykes, a former member of this esteemed body, and former president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, are with us today.

Thank you for your love and support and for making Politics 101 part of my early childhood and k-12 education supplemental curriculum.

I’d like to thank my extended family, the members of the United Baptist Church. Who traveled down with my pastor Kevin Rushing to support me today.

Last Sunday Pastor Rushing and the entire congregation, prayed for me. That is very meaningful because as a life long member of that church I literally grew up in the building and learned the lessons, that with God all things are possible — that we should be quick to listen — slow to speak — and even slower to become angry.

They’ve also taught me to not let anyone to look down on me because I am young, but to set an example in speech, in conduct, in love and faith.

They also remind that the Lord will fight for me, I only need to remain still.

I want to thank House Speaker Larry Householder for having the vision to recognize that the People's House should do the people's work, and for reaching out across the aisle to form a historic coalition, prepared to find common ground and commonsense solutions to the pressing problems facing our state. 

All 99 members of the Ohio House are sent here by voters, in essence hired at the ballot box, to do a job and to do that job right.

Ohioans want a government that works for them. No matter what corner of the state they may live in.

Still, all of our communities — urban, suburban and rural — are suffering.

We have real problems in Ohio. But we have real opportunities too, if we dare each other to look beyond, outside of these walls, outside of capital square and outside of our own ambitions and politics to deliver results for the people who sent us here.

That starts by having the courage to be better and do better.

We need to do a better job of working for working people and working families.

We need to get it right and do better for the people who don't have a voice loud enough to register in these hallowed halls of government.

We need to make the 11 and a half million people in the state of Ohio, our priority again here in the People’s House.

Of all the Ohioans depending on us, I'm going to talk about one today: Russ Brode.

Russ Brode is a firefighter from Akron seated in the gallery. Would you please stand and be recognized by the Ohio House? Thank you, Russ.

For over 2 decades, Russ has served as a firefighter for the Akron Fire Department, rising to the ranks of Lt. and president of the local 330.

Russ was recently diagnosed with cancer after a career of exposure to toxins and chemicals in the line of duty. I spoke with Russ by phone shortly after—he was determined and hopeful. He spoke about how grateful he was that we passed the Palumbo Act to help firefighters who get sick as a result of their service. That really stuck with me.

There are people all across our state just like Russ whose lives are impacted every day by the decisions we make here together in this chamber. Russ is the reason voters hired us to get it right and to do better.

Now, I recognized my parents earlier and I would be remiss not to acknowledge that both of them during their time in the legislature proposed bills to help firefighters who suffer from cancer, diseases, and other medical conditions as a result of performing their job for us.

It’s our job to carry the torch of those who came before us to make people the priority once again in the People's House.

When Joyce Beatty took her place in history as the first black woman to be elected Minority Leader in Ohio, she spoke about how change was coming. While Congresswoman Beatty now is in a Congress with more women than ever before, I am proud to lead the first majority woman leadership team and a caucus that reflects the population of Ohio and is 50% women.

When Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard, who is here today, became leader, she said that following in the footsteps of Joyce Beatty was “really cool.” And if I may add, following in the leadership of Congresswoman Beatty and Leader Heard is really, really cool. I thank you both— you may be the first, or one of the firsts, but you made sure that you were not the last. 

Your leadership, courage and grace showed our state that, no matter our race or gender, We Belong Here.

When we start treating one another with the respect each of us deserves, then I believe we will begin to work more cooperatively together on the job that we're here to do.

Speaker Householder has agreed to give Democrats more representation on committees and is also giving us a chance to have our voices heard and our good-faith efforts to improve laws debated rather than cast aside and tabled. The respect you show us, Mr. Speaker, will be reciprocated. I thank you for your leadership.

I look forward to working with all of you, to listening carefully to your ideas, measuring your input, and yes, sometimes disagreeing with you. That’s okay as long as we comport ourselves as colleagues who understand we were sent here by voters in our communities to work for the betterment of all Ohioans.

Thank you.