Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman made headlines this week after winning the heavily-contested democratic nomination for Congress in central New Jersey’s 12th District after defeating three other democratic rivals. If elected in November, she will be the first woman of color to represent the state in Congress and the first woman to do so since 2000.
ESSENCE sat down with the Congressional hopeful to discuss her win and the major issues facing Black women today.
ESSENCE.com: Congratulations on your big win. How does it feel to be poised to become the first woman of color to represent New Jersey in Congress?
Bonnie Watson Coleman: It’s very gratifying; we worked very hard for this. I feel excited, humbled, and I thank God for the opportunity to be a public servant. That being said, I also think it’s a little sad that I may be “a first” in 2014.
ESSENCE.com: You’ve been on the front line for many women’s issues like equal pay and reproductive rights, what do you believe are the largest issues Black women and families are facing today?
Watson Coleman: I think tremendous challenges for women of color today include pay equity, fair job opportunities, and having the opportunity to go to college or trade school so that they can have marketable jobs. I think the most immediate of these right now is the pay equity issue and that’s something we have to continue to fight for. When Black women are given the opportunities, education, and exposure they’re capable of being anything and anybody, including president of the United States. We just need to make sure that as a collective unit and as individuals we’re the strongest and best we can be.
ESSENCE.com: There are a lot of hot button issues stirring around on capital hill, where do you stand on:
Watson Coleman: Public education is a priority for me in that I believe resources must go into public education versus being stipend off into vouchers for private schools or charter schools. There can be supplements for public education, but not substitutions. I also think we need to think about what we’re teaching our students. We shouldn’t just be teaching them how to take a test, we need to be teaching them critical thinking and problem solving, as well as exposing them to the arts.
Watson Coleman: Whether it’s LGBT rights, or women’s rights, or voting rights; I’ve lived my entire life and career, in both the executive branch and legislative branch, ensuring that rights are preserved and protected for those most vulnerable in our society. That includes that of our immigrants as well. This is a country of immigrants and we need to find a respectful way to have a path to citizenship that is accessible and is affordable.
Watson Coleman: Climate change is real, and pollution has a devastating impact on all of our communities, especially urban communities where you see lots of heart disease and asthma.
Watson Coleman: More of us need to get into science, math, engineering and technology because that’s where the jobs are in the future. I think we need to expose our students to these subjects at an earlier age and find ways to teach them that they can relate to. For example, science, from an environmental perspective, affects your quality of life. Math can be applied to how you generate and maintain your income. Children are very tech savvy already; our little children and they’re doing things on computers and iPad’s I can’t even do. We need to encourage that interest beyond just letting them play games. But in order to do that we need to make sure all of our communities have 21st century learning centers and that our schools meet the needs of a 21st century economy and education.
ESSENCE.com: Like so many of our readers, you are a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. What advice do you have for working moms?
Watson Coleman: You can do it. You have to plan your time. Everything is about timing so while you have the vision and you’re not able to execute it at the moment, put the plan together and work the plan. At the end of the day you can; you can have a viable and vibrant family life, you can be a mother, grandmother, and a wife, you can be a member of your church or other faith institutions, and you can be an elected official who is a public servant giving back to the community. It’s yours to get.
Watson Coleman will run against Republican candidate, physician Alieta Eck, for the New Jersey Congressional seat on November 4.