CSSW connection: Mathylde Frontus earned her BSW and MSW from New York University; her MA from the Clinical Psychology program at Teachers College, Columbia University; her MTS from Harvard Divinity School; and her PhD from the Columbia School of Social Work (in 2015). Her Ph.D. thesis was titled “Clergy’s Perceptions of their Role in Mental Health Service Delivery: a Qualitative Examination.” She has taught at CSSW as an adjunct professor.
Path to political involvement: The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Mathylde Frontus was elected to serve Brooklyn’s 46th district (Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Bay Ridge, and Dyker Heights) in the New York State Assembly, assuming office on November 15, 2018. She based her campaign on her long record of community service and leadership in the 46th District. She had made her mark on the district by founding Urban Neighborhood Services in 2004, a small local agency that offers services in housing, employment, legal referral, financial literacy, counseling, and youth leadership—one journalist called it “the definition of local and grassroots.” A few years later, in 2010, she started up the Coney Island Anti-Violence Coalition to address the violence that has plagued the community for decades. And, since earning her doctorate, she has been running her own consultancy offering mental health services to underserved communities across New York City.
On November 3, 2020, Frontus won a second term in a contentious race; in fact, she was not declared the victor until the absentee ballots were counted. As her campaign manager put it in an interview with Brooklyn Paper: “Mathylde won by a slim margin in 2018, we’ve been here before. She has always been a people-powered candidate, and prevails because she takes her orders directly from the people of the 46th district.”
I’ve always understood politics to be about helping others and being of service to one’s community. I can’t think of a more compatible field of study than social work, which provided me with a crash course in understanding human beings and how to meet people where they are, along with learning how to be a good listener, how to help people with their problems, and how to lead. In essence, social work informs the lens with which I view the world and informs the way I view myself, which is as an agent of change and a social justice advocate.
From that same interview:
Whether one has a background in mental health, social policy, community organizing, or social enterprise administration, a social worker will understand the importance of self-awareness and emotional intelligence, which lead to political acumen and a commitment to fairness, equality, and social justice.
From Radio Free Bayridge’s podcast interview with her in 2018:
For years, we have been led to believe that only certain kinds of people can run for office… I want to do a series of trainings to teach people how to run for public office… I know of one organization that’s doing this, the Latino Leadership Institute [run by CSSW Adjunct Professor Jaime Estades]. I took one of their courses and said, wow, this is the revolution we need; we need more people to know about this, and to put this information in people’s hands.
From that same interview:
Through my training in social work and psychology, I know about the need for mental health services. There’s still a stigma, but things have changed. We can talk about it now. But there’s still a big disconnect in our schools…Our kids are experiencing trauma, and we need to have more than one person available at schools with hundreds of students.