Representative Jahana Hayes speak to NHS students


Kami Shaw, Jodie Saint Paul, Rachel Gyamerah, Kelyse Hall, Jada Brown, Rep. Jahana Hayes and Mia Dailey

Reanne James, Senior Reporter

On Monday, April 18th, Connecticut Congresswoman Jahana Hayes visited Naugatuck High School, and it was such a liberating and insightful experience, especially as a Black teenage girl.

During her speech, Rep. Hayes spoke about what led to her running for office and becoming a Congresswoman; She also spoke about the importance of getting involved in politics, voting, taking action, and using your voice to make a difference. 

The event was planned and hosted by Emily Sturtevant, a junior at Naugatuck High School. In an interview, Sturtevant said in her ECE Health and Education Class, her class began working on an independent project that had to revolve around health and/or education and they had discussed having speakers visit our school that weren’t school administrators. For her project she decided that she would take a shot in the dark and try to get our state’s Rep. Jahana Hayes as a speaker, remembering that the year before Rep. Hayes became a Representative after being voted and serving as National Teacher of the Year. 

In the middle of February, Sturtevant would email Rep. Hayes’ House Scheduling address, not expecting a response back; however, about a week later Rep. Hayes’ scheduler would respond to her request and tell her that it was being reviewed.

But a few days later I got the email saying that Rep. Hayes was interested in coming to talk to us, it was around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the school had already ended and Mr. Fowler was actually out sick that day so I forwarded the email to him but didn’t think he would respond that same night. The next day I walked in hoping that he was there and sure enough he was. I told him to check his email and he literally jumped out of his seat in excitement,” says Sturtevant.

What teacher or student wouldn’t be excited to meet her, a former teacher of the year?

Representative Jahana Hayes was born on March 8th, 1973, in Waterbury, Connecticut and she grew up in the Berkeley Heights housing projects of Waterbury. Her mother was suffering from drug addiction, and she would end up being raised by her grandmother. 

In an Essence article from July 2018, Rep. Hayes said, “I know what it’s like to go to bed to gunshots outside, I know what it’s like to wake up in the morning to a dead body in the hallway. No jobs give you that kind of experience.”

Despite her troubled childhood, in school Rep. Hayes would excel in her education, be on the honor roll and take advanced placement classes. However, everything would come to a halt when she became pregnant at sixteen. She would enroll in an alternative school for teen mothers and worked multiple-night jobs to support herself and her daughter. In her speech, Rep. Hayes spoke about how difficult it was to go from being a star student to having to attend an alternative school. The shift caused education to lose the magic that it once had in her eyes. 

In her early twenties, while she was working to support her family at night, Hayes would go back to school and take her classes during the day. She would attend Naugatuck Valley Community College and graduate with an associate’s degree in 2002. Then in 2005 she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Southern Connecticut State University, and master’s and advanced degrees from the University of Saint Joseph and the University of Bridgeport. 

Rep. Hayes worked at John F. Kennedy High School as a social studies teacher for 15 years, where she taught World History, Roots of American Citizenship, U.S. History, Civics & Geography, and African American History. There she would also start a club in 2010 named HOPE (Helping Out People Everywhere), for students who wanted to make a difference in their community, such as volunteering at soup kitchens, clean-ups, and Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Walks; through this she would find the magic she once saw in education again. 

In 2016, for all of her accomplishments, she would be named National Teacher of the Year in 2016 and was honored by former President Barack Obama at the White House during National Teacher Appreciation Week, on May 3rd of the same year.

Rep. Hayes would run for office in 2018 and would be elected as the first African-American woman to represent the state of Connecticut in Congress in November of 2018, and she would be re-elected in 2020.

Representative Hayes is currently sitting on the house Committee of Education, Labor, and Agriculture. 

In her speech, Rep. Hayes would speak about how her goal in Congress was to represent the underrepresented, to be a voice and advocate in the house that people could relate to because of what she has gone through; she would go on to say, “All of these experiences make me hypersensitive to what happens when nobody acts.” 

What stood out to me and stuck with me was when Rep. Hayes said, “We shouldn’t have to be forced to act,” because a lot of the movements we see happening today, for example the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, were in response to us having to be forced to act to protect Black lives after the murder of George Floyd, but we shouldn’t have to be forced to act because it should be a given that Black lives should be protected. 

Something else that Rep. Hayes said that I will leave you with is, “Our responsibility as a country is to make the next generation better than this one.”