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Another Political First For Connecticut: Sending Its First African-American Woman To Congress

Jahana Hayes
Jahana Hayes Photo Credit: Provided

There are so many new freshman members of the next U.S. House of Representatives -- more than 90 -- that some news gets lost in the transition.

Connecticut scored another historic first on Election Day.

Jahana Hayes will is the first African-American elected to Congress from the Nutmeg State.

The former National Teacher of the Year scored an easy victory over Republican Manny Santos, former mayor of Meriden, in the open 5th Congressional District.

Hayes' identity as a black woman was central to her campaign.

“I know the system does not reflect us,’’ Hayes said in a video that went viral. “But I believe that all of us have power, all of us belong, because I’ve seen it in my own life.”

Hayes is a lifelong Connecticut resident.

The former social studies teacher at John F. Kennedy High School currently serves as the Talent and Professional Development Supervisor for the public schools in the city of Waterbury, where she was born.

Hayes grew up in the Berkeley Heights housing project in Waterbury. Her family struggled with addiction, relied on public assistance, and at one point lost their apartment.

Hayes got pregnant as a teenager and all hopes for any upward mobility seemed beyond her grasp. The people in her community and her strong desire for an education propelled her forward. She enrolled in Naugatuck Valley Community College, went on to get her four year degree at Southern Connecticut State University and her masters and advanced degrees from the University of Saint Joseph and University of Bridgeport, all while working to support her young family.

“It is these experiences that compel me to invest so deeply in my community, because I have been the beneficiary of so much undeserved grace. We can do whatever it is we set our minds to, as long as we work hard and work together” Hayes said on her campaign web site.

Hayes was one of two candidates in New England who became the first African-American women from their states to be elected to Congress on Nov 6. The other is Ayanna Pressley, a Boston city councilwoman who defeated a 10-term Democratic incumbent in the September primary and was unopposed on Election Day.

Another East Coast first was the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- a Puerto RIcan from the Bronx, NY, who is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the age of 29.

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