When state Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown won election to the General Assembly in 2018, she knew right away that she wanted to be in leadership.
The Democrat from New Castle got her wish this November when the House Democratic Caucus elected her majority whip, making her the first person of color in Delaware history elected to a leadership position in the General Assembly.
“I set my eyes on it,” Minor-Brown told Delaware LIVE News, before stopping herself mid-sentence.
“I shouldn’t say that. How should I say this,” she asked herself.
“I knew that I eventually wanted to be in the leadership space. It’s all about being able to create relationships and really listen to people and understand their perspectives.”
Minor-Brown’s rise to power didn’t follow the standard course.
She graduated cum laude in the practical nursing and registered nurse programs at Delaware Technical Community College and launched her nursing career at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Elsmere.
“I literally used to run away from political conversations,” Minor-Brown said. “But as I worked through the healthcare field and continued to elevate in that space, I was always seeing room for opportunities to change things and I felt like my voice was not being heard.”
When one of her patients passed away — unnecessarily, she thought — she decided to stop wishing for change and start making it happen.
The patient was a man experiencing homelessness, Minor-Brown said. He couldn’t afford his prescription and was made to try different medications rather than take the one that could have saved his life.
Ensuring that patients can access the medications they’re prescribed was her first order of business after being elected, she said.
Minor-Brown still works in the medical field today as the clinical coordinator for graduate services at the University of Delaware’s School of Nursing.
She cites the passage of the 2022 Momnibus as her proudest accomplishment since taking office. The package of six bills focuses on issues impacting pregnant and postpartum mothers with the goal of decreasing infant mortality.
Without the political inclinations harbored by many aspiring elected officials, Minor-Brown said her foray into politics has come with its share of surprises and disappointments.
“The vision that I had prior to actually working legislation is completely different now,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to change this and I’m gonna do that.’
“I had a ton of work that I wanted to get done — and I did get it done, but I also learned that there was a process and it takes a lot of compromise and relationship-building and working with stakeholders.”
With four years of experience under her belt, the most important thing now is finding balance, Minor-Brown said.
It’s about uplifting people and empowering communities while being careful not to burden other communities, including the business community.
House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst told Delaware LIVE News that Minor-Brown brings a wealth of talent and experience to the table, “so I’m incredibly excited to welcome her to our leadership team as the new House majority whip.”
“Especially now as our caucus is majority women and historically diverse, it’s important that our leadership reflects our caucus as well as the residents of this state who we represent,” Longhurst said. “I’m looking forward to working with Mimi to continue our important work of promoting progress and prosperity here in Delaware.”
Her journey to leadership
The majority whip position wasn’t just handed to Minor-Brown.
“I absolutely campaigned for it,” she said. “I ran for whip in 2020 against Rep. Larry Mitchell and although I knew that I was not going to win, I still wanted to run because I wanted to get that experience and also let it be known that that was a seat that I was seeking.”
This year, Mitchell lost his primary election to Rep. DeShanna Neal, D-Elsmere.
“When it came back around again, some knew that I was going to run again, but I still had to campaign for it and talk to every single one of my colleagues and let them know I was running for whip and ask them to support me,” she said.
To become whip, Minor-Brown had to garner support from both the mainstream Democrats and the progressive wing of her caucus, which, as Bay to Bay News explained, grows larger after each election.
Minor-Brown doesn’t claim to belong to either group.
“I look at the word progressive, and I see it as just being in a space where you want to move towards positive change,” she said. “So when I think of progressive, I would like to say that our entire caucus — our entire legislature — is progressive.”
Being elected to House leadership would be an accomplishment for anyone.
Minor-Brown sees it less as a personal achievement and more as an achievement for Black women.
“My seat at the table is definitely earned, but it’s earned on the backs of the people who came before me,” she said. “I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Minor-Brown wants to be for the next generation of young Black girls what Chisholm and Blunt Rochester are for her.
More than that, “I want to be the person who puts others in a position to possibly become the first Black-something-history-making in Delaware.”
While it’s a moment for her community to celebrate, the milestone begs an important and troubling question: Why did it take so long — more than 300 years — for a person of color to be elected to leadership in Delaware’s legislature?
“Look how long it took to even have as many African Americans as we do in our caucus,” she said. “Look at criminal justice reform and health care reform and Black maternal mortality. To address the work that we need to do in Black and brown communities, we have to have a seat at the table.”
This year, their seat at the table is the biggest it’s been in history.
The number of women in the House Democratic Caucus has reached a record-setting 15 of 26 members — the first time a majority of the caucus are women. The caucus also has 13 persons of color, also a record. Ten of them are women.
The House Republican Caucus, conversely, has had difficulty with diversity. They have zero members of color and just one woman within their ranks.
Still, Minor-Brown said she stands ready to work alongside her colleagues on the other side of the aisle.
She was pleased to see that the Republican Caucus elected new leadership, who on day one pledged to listen to minority voices and create a party less focused on divisive social issues and more focused on economic issues.
The leadership change was an “absolutely positive shift” for her Republican colleagues, Minor-Brown said.
“I’m looking forward to working with Rep. Ramone and Rep. Yearick, along with my leadership, to bring a different perspective and to help lead our General Assembly into another productive session,” she said.
“It’s not that we weren’t united before, but I do think these changes will create more unity — and what that does is it trickles down to the Delawareans that we represent.”
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