DURING her working years, Elenora Petra Bernard was regarded as a luminary within Brooklyn, New York’s socio-political circles.
Perhaps drawing from her own experiences in the borough when she migrated from TT to the US at 16, Bernard advocated fearlessly for minority groups, particularly within the construction sector, where many of them had found work.
In fact, at one time, she was reputed to be one of the first small, black female contractors in New York.
In so doing, Bernard was not only respected by those for whom she advocated but also among politicians, other top public officials, social activists and community leaders.
Today, more than a year after Bernard, 78, was found murdered in her New York apartment, a street has been named in her honour as an enduring testament to her contribution and legacy.
The ceremony, which was held on August 5, was hosted by New York City Council member Farah Louis in collaboration with the Bernard and Edwards families.
It was held at the corner of Church Avenue and East 45th Street, Flatbush, Brooklyn, following a service at the God Battalion Church, Linden Boulevard.
Among the attendees were prominent political figures, including Congresswoman Yvette Clarke and New York State Attorney General Leticia James, both of whom delivered remarks.
Former independent senator Dr Lennox Bernard, her brother, told Sunday Newsday his late sister was always drawn to politics and advocacy.
“My sister was a political animal from an early age,” he said.
Even after she had migrated, he recalled, “she had to be briefed about TT’s politics.
“She read the writings of Eric Williams (TT’s first Prime Minister), CLR James and kept abreast of the political development in what she called the homeland.”
In the US, he said, his sister thrived.
The mother of two seemed pre-occupied with promoting inclusivity and empowerment within the black communities but placed special emphasis on female business contractors.
Her mission, he believes, was to offer a lifeline to those who felt they were rejected by society.
For the most part she fulfilled that mission and the people whose lives she touched responded in kind, he said.
But he believes it was her love and trust in people that led to her death.
“She offered help to the weary but in the end it was abused.”
Bernard was attacked at her East 45th Street home on July 23, 2022 and died at hospital. Her attacker had called an ambulance. A former male worker has been charged with second degree murder by asphyxiation and is in prison.
New York Mayor Eric Adams, Attorney General Letitia Adams and politicians Kevin Parker, Nick Perry and Jamali Williams attended her memorial service.
Her brother, who retired as head of the University of the West Indies – Open Campus, said he was devastated by his sister’s tragic death.
“She did not deserve to die in that manner.”
He added his sister had rejected the idea of retirement and had continued earning contracts even in her mid-70s. He said she had worked alongside her son, Khari Edwards, who was seeking borough presidency.
But he said his sister, at the time of her passing, appeared to show signs of dementia.
“I felt guilty that I had not provided greater comfort and caring to her. We shared the usual jokes and picong but I could have done more.”
Born in San Juan on May 19, 1945, Bernard showed much promise academically as a young girl and was regarded as “bright and talented,” Khari had said in the eulogy.
She attended Nelson Street Girls' RC, Port of Spain and later Providence Girls' RC Secondary School.
Sponsored by a relative, Beresford Bernard, she migrated to New York at the age of 16 and later graduated from Brooklyn College in New York City.
There, Khari said, his mother began a career in public service, serving under former mayor John Lindsay.
He said her deep civic-mindedness and eloquence enabled her to engage in community-based activities in Brooklyn.
She began interacting with the political directorate on issues related to urban renewal and development.
It was said that Horace Morancie, who came from south Trinidad, recognised her talents and included her in an urban initiative called Model Cities.
Bernard later went into private industry becoming one of the first woman small business contractors in Brooklyn.
Khari said while she spent late nights earning her MBA at Fordham University, during the day she was developing leaders in Health & Hospitals Corporation’s Human Resources department.
However, it was while serving as executive vice-president of Episcopal Health Services that she would embark on her true passion – construction.
While overseeing the build out of Bedford Stuyvesant's Bishop Hucles Nursing Home, Khari said his mother saw her vision to help minority communities come to life.
Apart from building the state of the art facility for the community, Bernard also advocated for opportunities for those who had traditionally been left out of the construction industry.
Over the years, Khari said, construction took Bernard to various parts of the world, where she established an extensive network and reputation as a community leader and entrepreneur committed to empowering minority and women-owned businesses.
That passion guided her activism in numerous social and political organisations, and her home throughout the years served as a meeting place for some of our most influential leaders of the 1970s and 1980s, including Congressmen Ed Towns, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and council members Una Clarke, Priscilla Wooten and Al Vann.
Her brother said although his sister spent the majority of her life in the US, she remained a “Trini to the bone.”
He recalled she often brought scores of visitors to Carnival.
“We looked forward to her yearly excursion for Carnival with a large entourage of her friends and colleagues.”
Oddly, he said, Bernard not play mas but preferred to walk the streets “finding joy and laughter in meeting vendors, old school mates and friends in the politics.”
He said his sister was also well-respected by veteran calypsonian Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco) and helped many TT citizens “gain a footing” in the US.
He said up until her death, his sister had maintained her youthful appearance and ‘Trini’ accent.
“At age 70, she looked no older than 55 and loved to boast about it.”
Her Trini accent, he believes, was an attribute of her pride in her heritage.
“She loved our humour, our music and our food.”
He said Bernard also loved family.
“She loved family and reached out to them using some of her political influence to gain them entry to the US. She was also feisty as it related to disrespect and discrimination of any kind.”
Bernard is survived by her daughter, Sherry Clouden, son-in-law Garvin Clouden, son Khari, daughter-in-law Jahmila Edwards; and grandchildren Christopher Shepherd, Danielle Shepherd, Ethan Edwards, Niah Edwards, Jada Clouden, Myles Edwards.
Also mourning her loss are siblings Dr Lennox Bernard, Robert Hernandez, Martin Hernandez, Juliette Millen and their spouses and families.