Closing The Gap

Former National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes becomes Connecticut's first black woman elected to Congress

2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes (2nd R) of John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, CT, has a hard time controlling her excitement after taking the stage with U.S. President Barack Obama (R) in the East Room of the White House May 3, 2016.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes (2nd R) of John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, CT, has a hard time controlling her excitement after taking the stage with U.S. President Barack Obama (R) in the East Room of the White House May 3, 2016.

History was made in Connecticut when Democrat Jahana Hayes defeated Republican Manny Santos in the state's 5th Congressional District. Hayes, who was named National Teacher of the Year in 2016, will become Connecticut's first black woman in Congress.

Following her victory Tuesday, Hayes took to Twitter to thank her supporters and emphasize the role they played in helping her win, writing: "When I started this campaign, I knew I couldn't do it alone but I asked you to trust me with your vote and to trust me with your voice. You joined me on this journey and I thank every person who also believed that we are much better together."

Hayes will succeed Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who resigned earlier this year amid accusations that she improperly handled an abuse claim made against one of her staff members.

Hayes, who lives in Wolcott with her husband and four children, was a social studies teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury when she was named National Teacher of the Year in 2016.

"Our Teacher of the Year here stands as proof that you can't set expectations high enough for our kids," then-President Barack Obama said during his remarks about Hayes. He praised her resilience in navigating poverty and the challenges of a drug-addicted parent and a teen pregnancy. "There's magic in those kids. We just have to find it," he said.

Hayes, who had never ran for public office, says that as a leader in her community she felt compelled to take on more responsibility.

"I feel like I'm at a point in my life where I have a responsibility to speak up for my community," she told The New York Times in August. "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."

Hayes' victory comes in the midst of a historic election, in which an unprecedented number of women, people of color and LGBTQ candidates ran for office. She acknowledged her auspicious win on Twitter, saying, "Thank you for choosing me to be your congresswoman and trusting me with your voice #WeMadeHistory."

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