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NAACP names state senator as one of the 'most influential Blacks' in CT

FILE: State Senator Herron Keyon Gaston (center) celebrates with Mary A. McBride-Lee (right), and Sarah Lewis (left) at Gather Tap and Tavern in downtown Bridgeport, moments before incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim declared victory against his challenger John Gomes early in the night before the official vote counts were announced during a re-do of the city’s Democratic primary.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
FILE: State Senator Herron Keyon Gaston (center) celebrates with Mary A. McBride-Lee (right), and Sarah Lewis (left) at Gather Tap and Tavern in downtown Bridgeport, moments before incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim declared victory against his challenger John Gomes early in the night before the official vote counts were announced during a re-do of the city’s Democratic primary, January 23, 2024.

Connecticut State Sen. Herron Gaston says community activism runs in his blood.

“Even as a young kid, my grandparents were very much involved in the National Association of Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP down in Florida,” Gaston said.

Gaston (D-Bridgeport, Stratford) is being recognized by the state’s NACCP for his own contributions as part of the organization’s 100 most influential Blacks in Connecticut list.

The civil rights organization recently held a ceremony at Foxwoods Resort and Casino to celebrate, and Gaston said his efforts at combating gun violence and police misconduct reflect the NAACP’s mission in advancing civil rights.

Gaston, who won his first election for state senator in 2022, said the award reflects his accomplishments.

“I've also helped to pass significant pieces of legislation to address issues of reducing gun violence in our communities,” Gaston said.

Gaston first ran after previous work ministering to Bridgeport residents and working as a city employee. He said he recognized the issues many residents faced, from putting food on their tables, to getting a second chance out of prison. Those experiences, he said, inspired him to run for office.

“Let me raise my hand to help my community further, and I got involved, and I ran for state senate, and this is my first elected office that I've run for,” Gaston said.

He’s now running for his second term, facing off against another popular local politician, Ernie Newton, a city councilman.

Gaston was raised in Florida, and attended Florida A&M University around the time Martin Lee Anderson, a Black teen, died after being beaten by sheriffs inside a Bay County run juvenile detention center.

He said he continued to protest against controversial killings of Black teens including Trayvon Martin in 2012, which also happened in Florida, but he was then a student at Yale Divinity School.

But the distance wasn't a factor, he said.

“I put on a protest demonstration at Yale to highlight the injustice of what was happening there in Florida, and took down two busloads of students from Yale University to do a sit-in protest in the governor's office at the time,” Gaston said.

Gaston was praised for his community advocacy and racial justice efforts back in Florida and as a student at Yale Divinity School.

His friends and colleagues said he would have a bright future in Florida politics, but he ended up becoming a minister in Bridgeport at Summerfield United Methodist Church.

There, he said he saw the challenges many Bridgeport residents faced with poverty, the criminal justice system and youth outreach.

He stayed.

“I said, ‘Hey, well, why not contribute some of my knowledge, skills and abilities to the upliftment of this community,’" Gaston said. “And I joined the civil service.”

He became a police chaplain, then later became the assistant chief administrative officer under Mayor Joe Ganim.

When he accepted the award, he said he was floored.

But what he said matters most about the award is that the people on the list reflect the mission of the organization.

“It speaks to the ethos of that organization, that the NAACP is all about, looking to challenge systems of oppression and domination and to ensure that people are treated fairly,” he said.

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