Antonia Okafor transparent

Antonia Okafor

Age: 25
Carrollton, TX
Star Fellowship 2014

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Leadership Experience

After my time in DC with the Running Start Star Fellowship program, my eyes were opened to the many possibilities and opportunities that I could partake in. Upon my leave from the program, I was already hired to full time staff on the Greg Abbott gubernatorial campaign. I served as a field representative for the counties nearest my hometown. Through this experience I was able to learn the ins and outs of campaign life, local politics, and a tricky phenomenon known as human behavior. To the few but very large counties of Denton, Dallas and Collin County, I was the face of the Abbott campaign. For two of the three counties, which lean very much to the right, my face was very much welcomed. For one pretty famous and large county, that recently now steadies to the left of the political spectrum, my face was seen as a traitor. My being black did not help much in that regard as well. Dallas County has a large minority population and my race and this being a race against Wendy Davis, gender, made me the “traitor” of the local community.

Through my time as a field representative, I was able to really learn about my community. I met with local candidates and other precinct chairs and had long dinners and phone conversations with ordinary citizens who had an opinion, or 50, on how they really felt about my candidate, or the other one as well. But most importantly, I got to make lasting relationships with people I still keep in contact with today. And I know that will only help me as I embark on my next political journey.

In February 2015, I will be appointed Denton County precinct chairwoman of my neighborhood. It is a small step, but one that I know will place me in the right direction. I want to run for U.S. Senate one day, and that is my 10 year plan. I thought law school was going to be a part of that plan, but through months of searching my heart, I have chosen a different path and now work full time for a well known nonprofit, Girl Scouts of America. My 5 year plan now includes finishing up my Public Affairs masters degree and pursuing higher office after precinct chair. Education has always been an incredibly important value for me, so Board of Education seems to be a strong possibility for my next political venture. By far, my proudest moment has been taking the initiative, seeing where there was a need in my community, in this case no one had stepped up to precinct chair, and being persistent to fill that need. My area is not known to be very diverse, Republicans or Democrats alike, and I hope to be a part of that change and bring diversity of thought, decision-making, and action to my local community, one neighborhood at a time.

Running Start’s Impact

Running Start’s impact on my life is best described in one word: empowerment. As a young African American woman with African immigrant parents, my father in prison doing hard time, and living in a predominately white, middle class neighborhood, my self-confidence and worth never stood much of a chance. Most of my life has been about beating the odds and overcoming statistics and stereotypes. Finding a place I belonged, grew, and was nurtured in was a hard community to find. I found that community at Running Start in DC.

The first impact was feeling encouraged and worthy once I was selected as a Star Fellow. I never had an organization fully embrace me and confirm they believed that I could run for office and invest thousands in me to verify that confirmation once again. I had given up on ever interning in DC because I knew that I could never afford it. It seemed to be something rich boys and girls could do and succeed. I will never forget opening up my email to learn that I was selected to be a Star Fellow. It meant more than any words of affirmation could ever mean, it meant tangible support of a life pursing my dreams. Once that opportunity was opened to me, my life forever changed. I gave myself permission to seek so much more than I could ever imagine. The people I met, the work I participated in, the places I have gone, still feel like a dream to me. I will always remember when I finally believed that I wanted to and would run for office one day. Part A was my all day shadow day with Senator Ayotte, I remember trying to catch up to her and thinking, “This is what I want to be, I want to be a Senator of the United States.” Part B, validation, was when Senator Ayotte expressed to all at the Women to Watch Awards, that I am and will be a great leader.

By the time Part B took place, I was already confirmed to work in Greg Abbott’s campaign back in Texas. And after that campaign experience, I got the courage to apply for the Texas Tribune Ambassadorship at the Politics Tribune Fest in Austin, Texas. I was one of seven in the state to be chosen to cover the policies and politics of Texas and be Texan students’ eyes and ears. Now I am here today, confident in my ability to be next precinct chairwoman of my neighborhood and to be a political leader, a confidence that Running Start instilled in me. Simply by being able to see other women (young women) just like me doing bigger and better things, I know I can do bigger and better things as well. Running Start is my political family. My own family is staunchly Democrat and unfortunately does not understand or support my political career. Whenever I am around Running Start, past, present, and future Star Fellows, I am reminded of what I can accomplish. The inspiration is addicting, infectious and ever present, it spurs me on and keeps me on track. There is nothing in this world that can take the place of that. It is what will give me the courage to turn a dream to reality in the next 10 years. It is what will help me hold on to my passion and belief in empowering girls and women in whatever journey I take.

Connect with Antonia!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nene.okafor.3 I Twitter: @antonia_okafor I LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/antonia-okafor/43/a47/896

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