Haiti & the Dominican Republic | Attorney, CEO of Trinity Health Care Services, Inc. and Candidate for Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives
Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick is an attorney, CEO of Trinity Health Care Services, Inc. and the Democratic nominee in the 2022 Florida 20th congressional district special election. If elected to replace the late Alcee Hastings, she’ll be the first Haitian American Democrat in Congress. Although she’s never held elected office, she has spent more than a decade lobbying on Capitol Hill for healthcare reform. She’s running to ensure fair opportunities for federal contracts, increased employment and access to healthcare for her constituents.
What inspired you to get involved in politics?
My daughter has a learning disability and I was trying to get resources for her. I saw how a lot of other kids were increasingly being diagnosed with learning issues and we just didn’t have access to the same healthcare and behavioral therapies that wealthier people had. I felt like that wasn’t fair. We should all have access to address our needs and I felt like the policies that were being crafted really weren’t concerning our everyday lives. The people need to be prioritized.
What are some challenges you’ve faced so far?
Being an outsider, a lot of people really underestimated how we could pull together a diverse team and movie allies.
What would you like to see change in the current social or political atmosphere? How do you plan to be a part of that change?
There’s been a lot of emphasis on economic recovery, but I don’t feel like the people are really being prioritized the way they need to be. Cities and municipalities are being forced to adopt different programs to meet immediate needs such as housing, income and jobs and the rising costs of inflation and gas. So I’m running in, and God willing winning, the January election. I want to make sure that our district actually has fair opportunities to federal contracts, increasing employment and access to healthcare.
What do you think is your greatest career strength?
The most success I’ve had has been in stimulating the economy and creating jobs and also my understanding of healthcare and how to make it more accessible. The district needs someone who can go to Congress who’s actually done things like build generational wealth, who actually advocated on the Hill for healthcare measures that are inclusive and for access, especially when it comes to mental health. Those are the successes I’ve had in the past that have positioned me for this moment.
What was your upbringing like and how has that influenced who you are today?
When I was growing up, my mother’s siblings were all coming from Haiti. We all lived in a two-story house. Most of my friends were my cousins, because it could have been 20 of us out there together. They told us, “you can only choose to be a doctor or a lawyer, but you have to succeed.” So even now we function as a team when it comes to pursuing a dream. I always remember the importance of supporting each other.
What is one piece of advice you would pass on to the next generation?
Pursue your purpose unapologetically. Pursue it and anything you dream of because there is destiny hidden behind it. Despite what everybody says, “You don’t have training” “You’re not the right fit,” the fact that it continues to keep you up at night is evidence that you’re called and it might be time for change. That’s exactly what got me here.
What does the word family mean to you?
It’s your support team who and the team that believes in you, fights with you, wins with you. And it’s not just blood relatives. I’ve always worked with my family and extended family, but you have co-workers who become family members and friends. You know how Caribbean people are, everyone’s your family, everyone’s your cousin and we feel that connection. Especially when we campaigned, the victory that we had in the primary wasn’t just my victory, it was for our family and communities together.
What are you most grateful for in your life?
I would say my family and the community. When we were a skeleton crew knocking on doors, it was my family and my extended family who were always there with me and believed in me. We just have such diverse backgrounds that when it came to having someone who’s handling finances, we had an accountant. When it comes to someone who handles medical needs, we have a nurse. So, having a family that uses their talents to uplift everyone, that is a beautiful thing to have.
Who was the most influential or inspiring person in your life and why?
I think the most inspiring person in my life was my mother, and it’s because she’s a tough lady, she never takes no for an answer and she fights through everything. Anybody who knows her can never forget her.
What is your favorite traditional childhood meal from your home country?
It’s lambi ak nwa, which is — conch and cashews all cooked together.
What are your favorite extracurricular activities?
I love karaoke and I love spinning. But I swear I can sing and I can’t.
Are there any books you would recommend to people who are inspired by you?
My favorite books are “Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho and “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield.
What is your favorite Caribbean tradition?
I love Carnival. I gravitate towards it because Carnival is always a time where you can celebrate your Caribbean heritage. I was born in Brooklyn, NY and I remember going to Eastern Parkway and celebrating. Then as I got older, I looked forward to Carnival all over — South Florida, Trinidad and even in Canada. I think it gives an opportunity to celebrate our roots and our heritage, and in the most authentic manner.
What would people you know find surprising about you?
I can cook, I can really really cook.