The magnitude of becoming Manitoba's first Black cabinet minister didn't sink in until the eve of Audrey Gordon's swearing-in.
"It struck me that we were going to, as a community, achieve such an amazing milestone and goal," the Southdale MLA said Tuesday during her first scrum as the minister for mental health, wellness and recovery.
In 2019, the Progressive Conservative was one of three Blacks elected to the Manitoba legislature, including New Democrats Uzoma Asagwara and Jamie Moses.
She made history Tuesday when Premier Brian Pallister appointed her to the newly created mental health portfolio.
"It's an historic day, frankly, for her and her family and for Manitoba," Pallister said. He stressed that her appointment was based on merit, and not race, describing her as "dynamic" and "inspirational."
"She's demonstrated her abilities during her 20 years in the civil service (and after) coming to Manitoba with nothing as a young girl and working her way through school and getting an education," the premier said. "It's a really positive story of accomplishment... Her personal interests lie in health care and addictions and I know that she'll tackle her challenges with enthusiasm and aplomb."
Gordon, who has a master's degree in business administration and co-owns a transportation company with her husband, said job No. 1 is getting her new department up and running.
"It is very important that the mental health and well-being of Manitobans is protected." The novice cabinet minister said she's ready for the challenge she faces in the midst of a simultaneous public health, economic and opioid crisis.
"What's prepared me is that I'm a human being. I've spent a lot of time at the grassroots working with many different populations," she said. Before being elected, Gordon was a director with Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's home care program.
She's worked with 250 ethnocultural groups and organizations and spent 10 years working with "cradle to grave" health-care programs -- from child health to long term care, in mental health and with First Nations and northern communities.
"I'm incredibly honoured and humbled to represent the Black community — not just here in Manitoba but across our country and the globe," said the Jamaican-born Winnipegger.
"I know that Andrew Holness, the prime minister of Jamaica, must be very, very very pleased," she said. Gordon credits her achievement to members of the Black community who came before her and built a strong foundation for success. She wants to help those who come after her, she said.
"I feel very honoured to be a role model for the community and for young people from the Black and African community who aspire to a role in politics," Gordon told reporters "It can be done."
The mother of two said she can handle the pressure of being a role model and being the target of a new level of public and media scrutiny that comes with being a cabinet minister.
"The way I deal with pressure, generally, is to focus on why I'm there," she said. "Why I'm there is to help the people or Manitoba," Gordon said. "My focus will be on them and what we can do to improve their mental health and well-being... The media may put the spotlight on me but my spotlight will be on the people of Manitoba and ensuring we have the services and programs to keep them healthy today and in the years to come."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.