By Sumaiya Nasir | October 25, 2021
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins was featured as the Student Association’s first guest of Leading Questions, a segment where students learn the essentials of leadership from some of New York’s most influential people.
Stewart-Cousins, deemed a “trailblazer” in her profession, is the first woman, and first African American woman, to lead a New York State legislative conference. In 2019, she was elected as temporary president and Majority Leader and continues to hold this position. Under her leadership, the Senate Majority has passed legislation regarding voting reform, gun control laws, women’s health care, immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, and climate change, making this the most progressive legislative session in state history.
Stewart-Cousins ran for Senate for the first time in 2004 against a 20-year incumbent who came from a family of politicians and lost. She had been told by many that she was no match for this veteran politician. She determined that she had nothing to lose – regardless of the outcome, she would learn valuable lessons by overcoming her fears and building character. Stewart-Cousins was later told that she had only lost by 18 votes, a feat considering the man’s status. She was later elected to the State Senate in 2006.
Stewart-Cousins wasn’t always in this position – she was told by many that she “wasn’t college material.” As a Black woman growing up, she encountered many societal and self-made hurdles on her journey to becoming an accomplished leader.
Stewart-Cousins avoided drawing attention to herself in school. “My voice scared me,” she said, recalling her time as a student. “It was so strong, and loud, it scared me… I realized [with] the way my voice boomed, people would turn around to look at me and expect me to say something profound. I felt intimidated by it.”
Stewart-Cousins worked in customer service after graduating high school, working her way up to a marketing and sales position. She was only able to complete one year of university before she gave birth to her son, and she later returned to Pace University, completing a degree in Journalism and Marketing, simultaneously juggling a full-time job and child.
“As far as anyone was concerned, there was really not a place in any sort of hierarchy for people like me, or women,” said Stewart-Cousins.
She considered remaining at her job, explaining that women were expected to only hold jobs in retail or as operators. “There was something inside of me that required more of myself than what I could have settled for. I kept pushing myself, and things just sort of started happening.”
Stewart-Cousins advises students to strengthen their relationships with themselves and a community of people that will help them achieve their aspirations – “There’s always going to be somebody, sometimes a whole society, that will tell you that you are not worthy.”