The New York State of Black, Puerto Rican and Asian Legislators 48th Annual Conference took place in Albany this past weekend. Lawmakers, business owners and community leaders statewide converged onto Albany to discuss the various issues that affect us both as individual towns and districts, and as a collective statewide body. Downtown Albany was abuzz with inspiration, with the hotels and the streets alike teeming with an intergenerational mass of doers, movers and shakers all looking to make their mark, connect to the right person or just to enhance their professional portfolio while having a good time.
This was my first time at the Caucus. I attended for a few reasons; I was extended an invitation to speak on a panel about generational wealth, I’ve been wanting to get upstate to Albany and to neighboring Troy in order to get a feel of the area and its real estate opportunities, and most importantly I went to the Caucus looking for the stories. As a writer, that’s always the most important part of traveling anywhere. You want the story, the thread that binds people to a place, or to an event, or to one another. Find the story and you find the meaning.
The Caucus is an amazing event to attend. It is a place for community guys and business guys to connect with policy makers and legislators; spending mornings coming to common ground on the issues, and spending evenings celebrating life. It reminded me of an HBCU homecoming, it had that kind of feel walking through Empire State Plaza, running into old acquaintances and people from the community, shopping with the dozens of vendors in the corridor that connects the Egg to the Legislative Office Building, seeing the representation of the Black Greek organizations. The access that you have to the political leaders in your area alone makes the trip worth it, you can’t put a dollar value on the ability to pitch an idea to the right person just because you happened to be sharing an elevator, or eating at the same counter, or meeting at the bar while you both wait for drinks. That paradigm is why attending the Caucus makes sense, and this particular Caucus had even another layer of energy attached to it because of the record amount of new lawmakers elected to various seats. So, while there were panels dedicated to climate change and how to build and sustain non-profits, the bigger discussion in the halls, in the hotels and in the streets was about the possibilities rooted in a renewed spirit of hope, built upon the new opportunities to affect change.
I wasn’t in Caucus mode for the whole time though. I spent the bulk of my time as I like to do, amongst the locals, doing local things and hearing local perspective. I’m a regular guy, put me in a castle to rub shoulders with the high-born, and I’ll find my way into the kitchen to have a beer with the staff. It’s just my nature to find a regular pace to veer into from the fast lane. So, I paid attention to Troy. I stayed in an apartment nestled in a beautiful Victorian building, a stone’s throw away from the Hudson River. The apartment is a writer’s paradise; snuggled into a quiet block, with a rustic decor and a window with a storytelling view of the city outside. There are a bunch of breathtaking homes in Troy, their beauty worn down from time but still noticeable to those who pay attention. At the turn of the 20th Century, Troy, New York was sitting at the center of the American Industrial Revolution. It’s output of iron and steel was matched only by Pittsburgh. At one point, Troy was the fourth wealthiest city in the country. That was around the time that much of the Victorian architecture and the massive private homes were built. When the river was the bloodline for industry, the city of Troy flourished. However, as industrial business declined, so too did the city’s economy. Nowadays, the quiet city’s biggest private employer is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, or RPI, pivoting the emphasis of the city from steel and iron and into more hi-tech and creative business models.
I visited Tech Valley Game Space on 3rd Street. It’s a non-profit organization that provides a tech space for game developers and computer folk to mentor, educate and introduce new tech to the community-at-large. I had lunch at Little Pecks on Broadway, and learned that the owner of the place is a guy from Brooklyn that still travels back to Brooklyn every Sunday just to have Sunday dinner with his grandmother. I met a guy who takes the wood from out of the Hudson River and repurposes it into furniture, and a Lyft driver that wanted to find a good girl to have kids with because he was 28 and didn’t want to wait until after 35 to start a family. What I found in Troy were men and women working hard to live the American dream. I’m not talking liberty and justice, I’m talking the belief that your passion and your attitude are more than enough to sustain your life. Good people, doing good things to live a good life.
That was the story.
I met with a State Senator, and I met with a guy in dirty overalls with paint on his hands, and my weekend in the Capital District showed me that both of those men have the power to change a community.