I’m a progressive Democrat running for State Representative against Jeffrey Sánchez in the upcoming Democratic primary. I’ve met many of you at your homes and hope to meet all of you over the course of the summer. I’m reaching out today to introduce myself, to let you know what I stand for and why, and to begin a conversation about what’s at stake in this election and why I decided to run.

When I was a child, I was taken on drug deals from Columbus, Ohio, to Miami, Florida. (I’ll explain more about this.) Thinking about that time, it is hard to imagine that one day I’d be asking for your support to become our State Representative. But it’s my personal background that motivates me to be a champion for justice. I’m running because I value the brilliance, passion, and experience of our diverse communities. And I’m challenging this incumbent because I believe the “leadership team” he belongs to – that of House Speaker Bob DeLeo – is the greatest obstacle to bold progressive change in Massachusetts.

In the Democratic primary on September 4th, we have a choice: someone who has stood with Speaker DeLeo and been personally rewarded for it, or someone who will champion our shared progressive values even when it means standing up to the House leadership. I will fight for fully funded public education, affordable housing justly defined, equitable healthcare for all, climate readiness, and the rights of all to thrive, especially people of color, immigrants, elders, and the LGBTQ+ community. I will listen to community residents – with special outreach to the most marginalized – to get their insights and inform my advocacy.

During law school, I was a state tax and constitutional law intern in State Senator Sonia ChangDíaz’s office and then stayed on as the Senior Advisor for Policy and Planning and the Jamaica Plain liaison. Sonia hires high-integrity people who understand research-based policy and analysis. Her approach to justice is one of uncompromising commitment to execution and accountability to residents of all backgrounds. I represented her at meetings regarding the Casey Overpass project and spoke up about the need for infrastructure that is appropriate, safe, and accessible. The community was brought into a thoughtful process that considered the interests of bikers, pedestrians, and drivers of every socioeconomic background and ability status from the diverse parts of the district. To me, this project shows what accountable, progressive leadership can do when putting the district’s interests first and why Senator Chang-Díaz is the model of leadership we need more of in our State Legislature.

But to get to work with leaders such as Senator Chang-Díaz, I had to endure hardships caused by structural racism and poverty, which shaped my worldview today.

My Personal Story

I was born in Columbus, Ohio, the oldest of seven children in an African-American family living on poverty wages. My dad, granddad, and uncle were all construction workers and masons, and my dad learned welding in the Navy during the Vietnam War. I remember being four years old, padding down the stairs rubbing my eyes at 4:30 AM after hearing my dad getting ready for work. I used to sit on his lap while he put on his huge work boots, his alien-looking welder’s mask beside him. He had such a sense of satisfaction from the combination of creativity and hard physical labor. I inherited that from him. As much as he loved welding, my father was beside himself with joy and pride when he was admitted to a scholarship program for engineers. It was funded by a machine shop that hired men of color from high-risk backgrounds and communities. I remember my dad walking me through the shop area to his drafting office with pride. He and his bosses, both white men, said, “You should be an engineer one day!” Behind the huge cookie they’d given me (the size of my grinning face), I thought that idea
sounded good.

It was devastating to our family when Harper Industries could no longer provide fair wage work because of changing policies and ultimately had to shut down. My dad struggled to return to his previous profession due to increasing racism in the trades. He returned for some years to drug dealing and conning, which kept our family eating but was devastating in so many other ways. The next few years were full of love and support from my extended family, but they weren’t easy. My dad taught me young to fight. I have vivid memories of being dragged behind a dumpster by bullies in elementary school. In that school we had a principal who physically and verbally abused black children and even broke a young boy’s ribs. It was at this young age that I became a protester against the injustices heaped on girls and on black and brown children. I stood up to the schoolyard bullies. I stood up to that principal. Later, in high school and college, I stood up to unfair practices by businesses, corporations, and the government.

Almost every year throughout my childhood, my family was evicted or moved for some other reason, such as a failed con or other local danger. I was pushed out of multiple communities, changing schools nine times until I was finally enrolled at the Columbus School for Girls on scholarship. My grandmother and the middle school vice principal claimed that this was the best way to escape the violence of the neighborhood high school. I remember the anger I felt yet could not then express that they would take me out of the school rather than fix it for all the kids.

Studying at the Columbus School for Girls changed the trajectory of my life. It was not only the instruction but also the unyielding support of so many loving teachers that set me on the path to MIT, a school many in my community had never heard of. At the same time, not every adult in my high school was supportive. While my trigonometry teacher pushed me to take high-level math exams, my guidance counselor refused to give me the paper application she kept in her office because she said I would never get accepted by any school that required a high-level exam. I had to search her office right in front of her to find it myself. (She was so resentful when I got into MIT and the three Ivy League schools I applied to that she threw a party for “everyone who didn’t get into one of their dream schools.” That was everyone in our class of 46 girls except for me and my friend, who then received a personal invitation from the counselor.) I remember sitting in an ivy-clad brick tower on our high school campus, staring out the window at the beauty of my surroundings and marveling that I was having full conversations in French with other girls. It was such a striking difference from all the other schools I’d attended. I blurted out in French, “Every kid in my neighborhood should have this level of education.” The teacher responded in French that the kids in my neighborhood would ruin this school. I replied, “I’m the only kid from my neighborhood you’ve ever met. Am I ruining this school?”

Thankfully, however, for every negative or racist word that was spoken, there were a hundred people vouching for me and even pushing me further than I thought I could reach. For example, Dr. Hall, my double-Princeton-PhD physics teacher who chose to teach high school girls because “there was no more important profession than the education of young women in the sciences.” He’s the one who strong-armed me into applying to MIT. Or Mrs. Lodge, who rescued me from the 9th grade teacher who told me that I “just didn’t have a good head for writing” and delivered me to my 11th grade teacher, an award-winning A+ writer.

I share these stories with you not just so that you can understand the source of my own passion for justice and the policies that make or break it. I share them because I know that in our district we all strive for the indomitable resilience and optimism that mark the lives of people who have lived surrounded by champions. People in our district believe that anyone can overcome the many obstacles to their dreams with the support of family and community. We understand that this applies not only to “poor” kids growing up in the ghetto. It applies to all of us.

My own commitment to these principals has been borne out time and again in my 23 years of experience in community and economic development. My first job out of MIT was with the National Consumer Law Center’s Foreclosure Prevention Project, where we developed and trained leaders across the country on groundbreaking models to help low-income and elder residents keep their utilities and mortgages current. We had an 88% success rate at keeping people in their homes. I went on to work for the Emmanuel Gospel Center, developing community leadership and collaboration in diverse areas including gender justice, community health and wellness, and youth development. Over the years I worked with more than 300 organizations of every size and with businesses locally and abroad to teach and facilitate results-driven and community-led research and action.

Helping diverse voices develop and share effective and accountable leadership at the decision-making table is the core that runs through all my work experiences. I‘ve been intentional about periodically bolstering my capacity to bring people together through formal education. At Harvard’s Kennedy School, my masters-level studies in negotiation, leadership, and political advocacy boosted my understanding of the complex dynamics of management and organizational development. In law school at Boston University, where I understudied mentors in both law and economics, I crafted special studies on the use of legislation to engage communities and private corporations in anti-corruption and human rights work.

After graduating law school and working for Senator Chang-Díaz, I became the founding director of MassSaves.org, a multi-sector collaborative. Once again, I worked with community and public organizations and with bankers to promote asset development and economic justice in low-income communities statewide. I next went back to Emmanuel Gospel, where I worked until I decided to campaign full time.

My values of freedom from oppression for people of color, elders, people with differing and disabilities, immigrants, and the LGBTQ+ community all stem from my deep roots in faith. My Christian faith is important to me and is rooted in love, acceptance, and respect. I’m passionate about ending structural oppression and injustice in all its forms, including in my own congregation. When an anti-LGBTQ+ organization wanted to hold a meeting at my place of worship, I was the first to speak out against it. I have ardently worked and continue to work with faith leaders to help inform and transform our ability to fully accept, love, and embrace our LGBTQ+ family. For years, I’ve worked to build support among evangelical churches for the Public Accommodations bill, now law, protecting transgender rights and safety. This work is especially important in congregations like mine, mostly comprised of communities of color, where ironically the experience of LGBTQ+ oppression can be widespread and accepted. We are always stronger as a community when we affirm the dignity of all and unyieldingly promote values rooted in love for all our neighbors.

What’s At Stake in This Election

I respect Chairman Sánchez, as he has done many things for the community. However, Speaker DeLeo has been a roadblock to real justice and that has held Massachusetts back. Right now the window is open for the culture to change on Beacon Hill, but if we want Massachusetts to lead again we need to elect leaders who will stand up for our values no matter what. Chairman Sánchez is not that leader.

If I’m elected your State Representative, I will work to dismantle structural oppression and bigotry in our laws and legislative frameworks. I want oppression in our state and our communities to be a historic memory, not a contemporary reality. My daughter is getting married next month. Naturally I think often of the future I want to leave to my grandchildren’s grandchildren. For this future, we need a champion to fight for us now, and, as I learned young, we need to champion one another.

On Tuesday, September 4th in the Democratic primary, you get to choose your champion.

I humbly ask to earn your vote and, if you haven’t yet, that you join this movement for progressive transformation and policy at the Massachusetts State House and in legislatures across the country.

I’ll be in touch again soon to elaborate my progressive platform for change, shared with advocates and legislators across the district and state. Until then, as always, I‘m eager to listen to your concerns and priorities. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at info@electnika.com or 617-971-8743.

Warmly,
Nika Elugardo

PD: Si prefiere leer mi carta en español, me encantaría llevársela. Por favor contácteme al número de teléfono que menciono arriba. ¡Gracias!