DOVER, Del. — Darius Brown feels the pressure of being one of Delaware’s first Black state senators every day.

Prior to 2018, only two Black Delawareans had held a Senate seat: Herman Holloway from 1964-1994, and his successor, Margaret Rose Henry, from 1994-2018. Both were from the 2nd Senatorial District.

In the most recent election, Delawareans not only elected a Black man to follow Sen. Henry, they also picked Elizabeth Lockman in the 3rd Senatorial District, meaning the state Senate in 2019 and 2020 had as much Black representation as in the prior quarter millennium.

Sens. Holloway, Henry, Brown and Lockman all are or were from Wilmington, a majority Black city, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, representation in Delaware’s largest city has lagged behind.

Indeed, Black representation for the entire state in many ways remains a shortcoming.

Delaware did not elect its first Black statewide official — state Treasurer Chip Flowers — until 2010 and its first (and currently only) Black member of Congress — U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del. — until 2016.

Although the state was almost a quarter Black in 2017-18, only four of the General Assembly’s 62 members were Black. After 2018, there were eight Black lawmakers (about 13%) — an improvement, but still not entirely reflective of the state’s demographics.

Those facts illustrate why Sen. Brown says it’s both a blessing and a curse to be a Black politician.

“It’s the weight of being an African American elected official and the weight of not just delivering for your district, but delivering for an entire race of people in our state,” the former Wilmington city councilman said.

He’s proud of the fact the state set an unofficial record for most Black legislators in 2018. To Black Delawareans both young and old, Sen. Brown said, simply having someone in office who looks like them sends a powerful message.

“They see themselves when they see us and our work,” Sen. Brown said, relaying encounters with residents who feel empowered by more diverse representation.

The Wilmington native dreams of a day when every Black boy and girl can go beyond their neighborhoods and find success in the world, like he has in roles as a community activist, staffer for Sen. Joe Biden, aide to Sen. Henry and now state senator.

To further that dream of progress that’s shared by so many, in 2019, eight lawmakers formed a body of their own. At the urging of Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, D-Wilmington, who is now the group’s treasurer, the Black senators and representatives created the Legislative Black Caucus, joining several other unofficial bodies like the Sportsmen’s, Kids and Small Business caucuses.

The group, which Sen. Brown chairs, has a wide agenda, although its areas of focus have a common theme: liberty and justice for all.

The lawmakers were staunch supporters of a package of criminal justice bills, many of which became law, last year. This year, in the wake of George Floyd’s May death and the subsequent protests across the nation, they announced eight priorities.

Five of them, such as banning police chokeholds and creating task forces to look at police accountability and treatment of minorities, were already successful. Not bad, in Sen. Brown’s eyes.

The caucus was hoping to push bills to alter court fines and fees and seal criminal records this year, but coronavirus got in the way.

Sen. Brown is hopeful 2021 will be different in that regard, noting that past reform measures have been backed by Gov. John Carney and Attorney General Kathy Jennings.

Asked his top priority next year, he pointed to bringing greater economic success to traditionally marginalized communities.

Racism and other built-in prejudices are pervasive, and tackling them goes beyond just acknowledging bias and forbidding outright discrimination, Sen. Brown said. According to him, it’s only by giving minorities more opportunities that the stain of racism can be hidden, and the best way to do that is with the government using its muscle to provide a more even playing field.

“Those are notions that are learned from family behavior, from education, from social environments, and it takes having the hard conversations, the brave conversations around race for us to heal and for us to also move forward and share prosperity in our state,” he said.

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