I met this Trini queen over my years strolling the halls of the Children’s Services Council (CSC), the organization created by the voters to improve the lives of Broward’s children by addressing system-wide issues head-on. Being a Jamaican woman, I was immediately drawn to her familiar songbird accent, her unapologetically curly hair, and belly-filled laughs. But as we say in the Caribbean, “don’t let the pretty looks fool yuh.”
Sandra Bernard-Bastien is the Chief Communications Officer for the CSC since it was created in 2000. Together, Sandra and the leadership of the CSC, have changed the way our county speaks to and works on children’s issues. The no-frills-just-facts, unpretentious, smart and serious advocacy of the CSC for our children has proven to be the right stuff as they were resoundingly reauthorized in the 2014 elections.
Sandra gets it.
She knows how to build relationships, how to connect people and causes, and how to tell stories that matter. She likes to stand behind the scenes, but she is no backseat driver.
Who is Sandra Bernard-Bastien?
I am a sister, aunt, wife, child advocate, author, Caribbean woman… Simple.
So why did you choose this role after all your career options? Why this?
When I came to this country I fulfilled a hidden desire of becoming a teacher. I was a teacher for language arts for three and a half years. But I realized in order to do my job to help the children who came to me at 8th grade… many had already developed very bad habits. I wanted to be somewhere…someplace, that would correct those habits, or prevent those habits. God is good. He made sure that Cindy Arenberg Seltzer and I met. I keep telling her she’s a genius. She was able to look pass the differences in the way that I spoke, or perhaps the way that I dressed. I was and still am very, very Caribbean; you could hear it in my voice. And see the skills that I had developed over the years in different parts of the world, and determine she was going to hire me to do this for the CSC.
If money was no object in the work that you do, what would you do?
I would make sure that every young child in Broward County had proper quality childcare with teachers who are paid what they deserve to be paid. It sets the stage for the rest of a child’s life, eh? If you have a bad start, it is so hard to repair that.
What is your proudest moment in your career so far?
I’ve had several careers. But in my career in the United States with the CSC, my proudest moment is when we got reauthorized. It meant that the work that we do, and that we have done, is valued and appreciated by the community and they want to see more of it. And they are willing to tax themselves to make sure that the work continues! That is a HUGE testament to good work…good relationships.
I heard you wrote a book?
We (Sandra and her husband) have just finished a book and are waiting for a delivery of them. “Caribbean- American Heritage” is really sort of pinpointing all of the things and ways that Caribbean Americans have impacted and have contributed to the society that we now know in the US. From Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers and the first treasury secretary, who is now all the rage in the stage play Hamilton, was born in Nevis and grew up in St. Croix. So often when you meet folks who were born and raised in America, they say “you know you are born in the Caribbean and you are stepping into the shoes that African Americans have created without that toil”. I really wrote the book together with my husband to say, we have been there alongside you all these years. You just didn’t recognize us as being Caribbean.
And my favorite Bernard Pivot question… If heaven exists, what would like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
You have been a good human being Sandra Bernard-Bastien. You have done everything I have asked a Christian to do…. (Looking at me) Wouldn’t that be something else?