Closing The Gap

2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes could become Connecticut's first black Democrat in Congress

National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes (C) has a hard time controlling her excitement after taking the stage with U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd R), Education Secretary John King (R) and her fellow state teachers of the year during a White House ceremony on May 3, 2016. 
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

After winning Tuesday's Democratic primary for Connecticut's 5th Congressional District, 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes is on track to become the state's first black Democrat in Congress.

Hayes defeated politician Mary Glassman by winning 62 percent of the votes, reports The Washington Post. In November, she will face Republican nominee and former mayor of Meriden, Connecticut, Manny Santos. The winner of November's election will replace Rep. Elizabeth Etsy, who resigned earlier this year after accusations that she improperly handled an abuse claim made against one of her staff members.

If Hayes wins, she will not only be the state's first black Democrat in Congress, but she will also be the first black Congresswoman from any New England state.

"When we started this campaign a little more than 100 days ago, we had no organization and no network. People told us we had no chance and no business trying to upset the status quo," Time reports Hayes telling her supporters on Tuesday. "And tonight, we proved them wrong."

Jahana Hayes (L), a high school history teacher from Waterbury, CT, celebrates winning the 2016 National Teacher of the Year with US President Barack Obama (R) in Washington, DC on May 3, 2016.
JIM WATSON | AFP | Getty Images

In 2016, Hayes was named National Teacher of the Year by President Barack Obama. At the time, she was a social studies teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Connecticut. Her story of overcoming poverty, a drug-addicted mother and a teen pregnancy earned her praise from the White House.

"Our teacher of the year here stands as proof that you can't set expectations high enough for our kids," Obama said during his 2016 remarks about Hayes. "There's magic in those kids. We just have to find it."

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Hayes said that despite never having run for public office before, she feels she has a responsibility to do more for her community.

"We need someone who will speak to what's happening in public education, what's happening on our borders, what's happening to our organized labor unions — because all these people who work every day and contribute in our community and feel like they're left out of the conversation," she explained.

The 45-year-old, who lives in Wolcott, Connecticut with her husband and four children, emphasizes that although she sees herself as a representative of all people, it would be remiss for her not to acknowledge what her presence in Congress would mean for women and people of color.

"I hear from people every day. They're so inspired by what I'm doing," she says. "Young girls are saying, 'I see myself in you.' And if I were able to pull this off, and we can bring that narrative to Connecticut — that no matter who you are and where you come from, that you have a message and a voice that's important and you're welcome here."

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