Importance of serving community drives sisters to Albany Co. Legislature

Elaine Houston & WNYT Staff
Created: December 19, 2019 06:22 PM

When sisters Carolyn McLaughlin and Wanda Faye Willingham were growing up in Albany's South End, the importance of community was instilled at a young age.

Extending credit and compassion at the family's grocery store wasn't the only lesson Vidie and Joe McLaughlin taught their girls. They also demonstrated the importance of activism - opening their doors to those heading to the March on Washington, putting out a nice spread.


Like most kids at that age, they had different interests. Carolyn became a chemist. Wanda Faye worked in the New York State Retirement System.

However, those seeds of community responsibility would surface and issues in their community meant they couldn't remain neutral.

For Carolyn, she first ran for Albany Common Council in 1997 over the need to make sure people had a voice.

It would be gun violence pushing Willingham - and it would be personal. Her son was shot and killed.

So in 1997, she too ran for Albany's Common Council. She lost, but came back in 1999 winning a seat on the Albany County Legislature, pushing for gun legislation – which she says people from all over pushed to kill.

It wasn't Carolyn's first win that taught her she was courageous - diving into politics, it was two losses. The first was for state Assembly. A run for mayor was the second. A win would have made her Albany's first black mayor. She says it would have also spoken volumes to the black community, but they refused to get on board.

Persistence was another tool their parents gave them and two years after those losses, Carolyn now joins her sister, who's serving her fifth term on the County Legislature following the November election.

Hear more about the sisters' journey by watching the video of Elaine Houston's story.

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