Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Md.-21) made history as one of the first Black and Latina women. She has been a delegate and active in serving the Prince George's, Md. and Anne Arundel, Md. communities since 2007. (Photo Courtesy by Facebook/ Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk)

By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,

Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-MD-21) is now the chairwoman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee during this 2023 Maryland General Assembly session. She has participated in the Health and Government Operations Committee as long as she has been a Delegate since 2007. 

She replaced former Del. Shane Pendergrass, who retired after 28 years in the state house  in Annapolis, Md.

Unlike most Maryland public servants, Peña-Melnyk’s success story starts in the Dominican Republic, where she was born on June 27, 1966. Raised by a single mother and  grandparents, she and her sister endured hunger frequently, she said. 

“I owe a lot of my drive to do service work to my upbringing,” Peña-Melnyk said.

“My mom was on welfare, my sister had a baby at age 16 and I didn’t want to be like that,” said Peña-Melnyk. “My mom had many jobs and struggled as I was growing up. When I lived with my grandparents in the Dominican Republic, we sometimes didn’t have food and would pretend to be eating while other families ate.”

Years later, she moved to New York City with her family, where she attended John F. Kennedy High School. In 1987 she graduated from Buffalo State College, obtaining her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

Before her election to the House of Delegates, she was a prosecutor in the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. 

Peña-Melnyk also served on the city council in College Park, Md. where she represented District 4, serving on the council’s Health and Government Committee as vice-president from 2019 until 2022. She was also a member of the College Park Recreation Board.

“It’s hard to choose what legislation I am most proud of,” said Peña-Melnyk. “We have done a great job in Maryland. We expanded Medicaid, reduced the number of uninsured, paid a lot in premiums, and we created the health equity commission bill.”

“She does her job and takes the time to be with her constituents,” said Glendora Hughes, general counsel for the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. “I’ve seen her go out of her way to go above and beyond at all times of the day and night to ensure that Marylanders are protected by the law.”

“I work seven days a week for my community because I know where I came from,” said Peña-Melnyk. “I am honored to be able to serve my community.” 

Tashi McQueen is a Report For America Corps Member.