Kai Belton being sworn in as the new state representative for the 100th District. Connecticut Democrats

We shouldn’t even be here.

In January, a wrong-way driver took away a bright light the Middletown community will never replace. But with the election of Kai Belton, we’re as close as we can get.

The Honorable Quentin Williams, Middletown’s first Black state representative, was killed just minutes from his home in Middletown. It brings us no comfort that he died in the city he loved and championed most. No comfort, just a bitter and ruthless dropped pin we have to pass, reminding us of memories we can’t make with Q. Reminding us of milestones we don’t get to witness him reach.

2023 Community Editorial Board CEB Thumbnail

Last month, folks in the 100th District voted in a special election to fill Q’s seat. With full support of the Williams Family and the Democratic town committee, newly elected Representative Belton is moving on to represent the people of the 100th District.

A mother and clinician at Middlesex Health, Belton says “State Representative Quentin Williams was a bright light for so many, a true champion who fought tirelessly for equity and justice.” She is the first Black woman in Middletown history to become a state representative. She’s also a 2021 Emerge CT graduate and serves as Third Vice President and Education Chair of the Middlesex NAACP. As a community leader she has been a fierce advocate for our children and families in Middlesex county.

Our community is grappling with an uneasy truth: We didn’t just lose a friend, we lost Black leadership in a community deeply in need of it. In a state deeply lacking in it.

Sacha Armstrong-Crocket Yehyun Kim

Q’s light was so bright that he had to share his flame so he ignited us every chance he got. Whether he was offering us resources, a kind word, a deep laugh or a precisely petty observation most conversations ended with him wanting you to show up in the political process.

Belton ran against former Councilwoman and Republican nominee, Deborah Klechlowski. While reflecting about the importance of this seat, Mayor Ben Florsheim said “Kai Belton is clearly the right person to lead that work forward, as Middletown voters overwhelmingly demonstrated last week. I did not know Kai well when she stepped forward as a candidate, but I learned what I needed to know when the people who reached out to me in excitement about her candidacy weren’t just other politicians– they were caretakers, nonprofit executives, educators, and others who were filled with hope and excitement to know that, just like her predecessor, she will be a voice for them.”

Belton stressed that “No one could ever fill Q’s shoes, but if elected I will continue his legacy fighting for the most vulnerable, bringing resources into our community and creating change for a more equitable future.”

In many hearts, Quentin Williams was still on the ballot for Middletown’s February special election. His legacy and historic win as the city’s first Black state representative remains on the ballot. Q once said “Middletown has always been a focal point for progressive leadership” in Connecticut. For hundreds of years the city had been without Black representation at the legislative level before Q won his seat.

The late Rep. Quentin “Q” Williams at the State Capitol. House Democrats

This meant an entire population of folks lived here for generations without a leader with a shared lived experience. This isn’t something you just walk back. We could breathe a little easier knowing we were wholly represented alongside our white brothers and sisters. We had someone who could speak first hand about racial wage gaps, housing segregation, police brutality and all the potpourri of trauma systemic racism leaves in the body.

He also represented the light, power and brilliance that the Black experience gifts us. Quentin dreamed of something that didn’t exist and then became it. His death is a profound loss for our community. So we harness our collective grief and transition into collective responsibility. We have to think about the underrepresented and underserved communities Q fought for. He understood those struggles because he lived them and witnessed them. He was us.

It’s deeply complex that Kai’s very significant win is coated in so much loss. We can’t let that truth lessen the importance of this historic moment. Kai Belton is Middletown’s first Black woman state representative. We remain thankful for her service and courage to enter spaces that have been intentional in keeping bodies like her out. With Belton representing the 100th, I and many others will breathe a little easier.

Sacha Armstrong-Crocket is a member of the Connecticut Mirror Community Editorial Board.