A Q&A with Tanzie Youngblood, who is running for Congress in NJ-02. After spending a career in education, she’s getting #OffTheSidelines to fight for women and people of color in her community. Click here to learn more about Tanzie and get involved in her campaign.
What made you decide to run for office?
I have a passion for people, particularly those who are underserved, who have no voice or who lack access to resources. I spent a career in public education — over 33 years, to be exact — so I worked with children and their families, and many of them lived in poverty. Poverty impacts not just the children and their families, but all of us. And it’s our obligation to help.
Another defining moment in my life was when my husband, in his early 60s, passed away, and of course I was devastated by the whole thing. However, I had resources. I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to pay my mortgage or afford health insurance.
But it made me realize, there are so many people who, on top of this grief and suffering, have that extra burden of, “How can I go on financially?” And it made me wonder, who’s doing anything to help those people? I realized I had to do so myself.
What made you decide to run for office now?
With the stroke of a pen, people in Washington can make huge changes that affect millions of people’s lives — average, everyday people, many of whom don’t have anyone representing their voice in this decision-making. I want to be that voice for them.
I also think the Democratic Party needs my voice to bring people together, to unify the party and show different perspectives. To be more inclusive, to have more diversity — that’s what the Democratic Party is all about. And I saw this current time as an opportunity for someone like me to step up to the plate and make a difference.
I often think about the moment I became a Democrat. I was little, about four or five years old. I was at a neighbor’s house with my parents, and all of the adults were watching the Nixon-Kennedy debate on TV. I distinctly remember every time Kennedy would speak, the whole room would light up. He was this handsome, well-spoken man, and, of course, Nixon is over there sweating. But what I really took away from that moment, as a young girl having her first political experience, was not just that I wanted to be a Democrat — it’s that I thought politicians could only be white men.
And here we are in 2017, and I turn on the TV and see the same group of people dominating this field. We don’t have enough women in politics, and we don’t have enough minorities in politics. It’s that same group of white men that are continuing to make decisions that impact our lives every day.
But what we need is women of color. We need more inclusion. We need more perspectives. We are the people, but who are our leaders? Our Congress should be representative of who we are. Yes, I’m just an average, ordinary person. But average people like me, that’s what the House of Representatives was founded for, based on the belief that this House would represent the people.
Whose support helped you believe you could do this?
Everyone who knows me! I’ve been so grateful for all the support I’ve received from everyone in my life. My oldest son, too — he really pushed and pushed and pushed me to do this. He always says, “Once they meet you they’ll know you’re the right person.”
That’s what the difficult thing for me has been, just reaching as many people as I can and getting people to know me. If I were on TV it would be different, but I don’t have that advantage. I just have me being me. But I know that once people get to know me like my family and friends know me, they will see that I am sincere, I want to do the right thing, and that’s why I’m going into this — because I want to do the right thing by people like me.
What advice would you give to a woman who thinks she’s not qualified to run for office?
This is my advice: When you start to doubt yourself, do it anyway. When you think you can’t do it, do it anyway. Have confidence in yourself and your ability, and don’t let other people tell you what you can or cannot do.
As a schoolteacher, I always told children to take a risk. You have to propel yourself forward in spite of what other people might say or think about you. Imagine all the groundbreaking women who came before us — we wouldn’t be where we are today if they hadn’t taken that risk.
Did anything surprise you about running?
The amount of money, time, and resilience required to run for political office surprised me. Having to call and ask people for money, extremely long hours, and having the ability to bounce back from no. And the importance of an understanding supportive family.
That’s why it’s so important for me to do this — to be able to stand in for all those people who can’t run right now but deserve to have their experiences and perspectives and voices represented in the people they elect.
Other than running for office, what would you recommend all women do to get more involved politically?
Do all you can to support other people who are running. That’s important. Whatever your values are, find people who are running to protect and advance those values, too. And then, whether it’s financial support or door knocking or volunteering in your area to get out the vote, support the people running for your causes in whatever way you can.