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Lisa Blunt Rochester made history earlier this year when she was sworn in as the Delaware state representative for the U.S. Congress in January. Ms. Rochester is the first woman and African-American to represent the state. But her call to the office was inspired by heartbreaking circumstances.

Rochester, 55, came to politics in 1989 as an intern for then-Congressman Tom Carper after graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University and the University of Delaware. The Philly born, Delaware-raised Wilmington native first made history as the state’s first female African-American Secretary of Labor and the first African-American Deputy Secretary of Health and Social Services and State Personnel Director.

After marrying her second husband, Charles Rochester, and living in China, the family returned to the states. Charles died after suffering an injury after playing basketball. That loss helped inspire Rochester to pursue a political career.

During Rochester’s swearing-in ceremony, she wore a scarf that featured the image of her great-great-grandfather’s voter registration form from the Reconstruction Era. Because her relative could not write, he marked the form with an “X” but still exercised his right to vote. Rochester says that the scarf and its image is a reminder that a descendant of slaves can rise above any challenge.

While on the campaign trail, Rochester’s chant was “When Lisa Goes To Washington, We All Go To Washington,” embracing her community approach to politics. She also had the chance to speak closely with former Vice President Joe Biden during a train ride back to Delaware after being sworn in, saying that Biden offered sound advice and details about his time in Washington.

Rochester is a mother of two.

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