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City Council, School Board Candidates Push For Diversity In Central Ohio Suburbs

 Ajmeri Hoque, candidate for Dublin City Council Ward 1.
Michael Lee
Ajmeri Hoque, candidate for Dublin City Council Ward 1.

Election day in a few months could bring new faces to local city councils and school boards. But in some Central Ohio suburbs, candidates are looking to bring racial diversity to those boards.

A realtor once told Ukeme Awakessien Jeter that when she moved to Upper Arlington from Shaker Heights in 2018, there would be a stark difference in diversity.

Her daughter became the only Black girl in her kindergarten class. And one February, when she took her to school, Jeter said she didn’t see any mention of Black History Month. So, she took her curiosity to an Upper Arlington Facebook discussion board.

“And I said, ‘Hey, new resident here, trying to understand maybe I’m missing what else is going on in the city for Black History Month,’" she said. "I received such a warm response and a ton of responses, and it was this, ‘Oh my God, never noticed. What, we don’t do anything?’”

After the murder of George Floyd last year by a Minneapolis police officer, Jeter joined the city’s community relations committee. That led to her spearheading Upper Arlington’s first Black History Month celebration.

But now, she’s set her sights higher and is running for a seat on Upper Arlington’s city council. As a first-generation Nigerian immigrant, she’s pushing for diversity on an all-white council. But in Central Ohio, she’s not alone.

Ajmeri Hoque is running for Dublin City Council Ward 1 and is a first-generation Bangladeshi immigrant. And in a city with no Asian or Asian American councilmembers, it’s one reason Hoque is running for office.

“We are the largest growing racial group, not only in Ohio, but Dublin as well. And Dublin has the largest Asian population in the state and one of the largest Asian populations in the country," Hoque said. "And so we really need to get some leadership in Dublin that reflects the people that they serve. And that’s kind of why I’m running.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 20% of Dublin’s population is Asian or Asian American.

But it’s not just city councils that lack representation reflective of their community members. In 2020, the Ohio School Board Association found that almost 96% of its 3,500 members were white.

 Nidhi Satiani, who is running for the Upper Arlington Board of Education.
Nidhi Satiani
Nidhi Satiani, who is running for the Upper Arlington Board of Education.

Nidhi Satiani is a second-generation Indian American running for Upper Arlington’s school board. She said it’s important to have different voices in leadership at the school district level to show students and teachers that those voices are valued.

“I think it’s important for achieving the educational priorities of the district to understand that there are different perspectives, and that all those perspectives together is what creates the truth that we want our students to understand,” Satiani said.

Jeter, Hoque and Satiani are participating in a community meet-and-greet later this month for first- and second-generation immigrant candidates. There, they will collaborate with other candidates running for positions in Central Ohio.

One of the event’s participants is New American Leaders — a national organization that supports, but does not endorse, diverse candidates across the country who are interested in running for office.

Aamina Ahmed is New American Leaders’ Midwest program manager. She said it’s important to have candidates of color support each other — especially in this part of the country — because she said elected offices often have not been safe and supportive spaces for them.

“So it sounds like it’s cliche, but we all need to be lifting each other as we climb. And so anytime I see events like this or anytime I hear about candidates supporting one another, it’s always not only heartwarming, but it’s very necessary.”

For candidates like Satiani, she said having that space helps her connect her experiences as a person of color with other candidates. But also, it’s these experiences they have that will allow their communities to grow.

“As a kid I played that Hasbro Game of Life, and the way you won Hasbro’s Game of Life was you retired with the most money. And that’s so different from the life we actually live, there are so many different ways to find joy and happiness and success within our community,” Satiani said.

And it’s those different ways, lifestyles and choices that she believes would be valued more with diverse representation in office.

Michael Lee joined WOSU in 2021, but was previously an intern at the station in 2018. He is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism where he obtained his master's degree, and an alumnus of Ohio State University. Michael has previously worked as an intern at the Columbus Dispatch and most recently, the Chicago Sun-Times.