Growing up in a conservative and wealthy community was a major factor in pushing Aisha Yaqoob to challenge the status quo.
After years of actively advocating for immigrant rights at the Georgia State Capitol, Yaqoob believes it's time for her have a seat at the table. The 25-year-old is running to represent District 97 in the Georgia House of Representatives.
If elected, Yaqoob would be the first Muslim woman to serve in the Georgia State House, according to Georgia Rep. Sam Park for House District 101.
YR Media correspondent Sarah Belle Lin spoke with Yaqoob to learn more about her story and if elected, how she plans to address priorities like immigrant rights, access to education and voter engagement.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Sarah Belle Lin: What are some of the issues facing young people in Georgia?
Aisha Yaqoob: We don’t have good need-based programs here in Georgia, so I would like to allocate some funding there. Part of my platform is reforming the HOPE scholarship, which was originally intended to cover 100 percent of public university tuition for students who graduate from high school with a 3.0 GPA. I was able to get 100 percent of my tuition at the University of Georgia covered through the HOPE scholarship.
When I was in my first year, there was a lot of debate around the HOPE scholarship, and that took funding away from my scholarship. After my first year, I only had 75 percent of my tuition covered. Ever since then, my funding has decreased. I’m fighting to reinstate and expand the HOPE scholarship so that it’s going beyond a 3.0 GPA and so that more students have access to the HOPE scholarship.
Why should people vote for you?
I have observed the changing demographics of our district and state over the past 15 years. Up until this point, all of my work has been in a nonpartisan space, so for me, it’s not about party politics. It’s about the issues we can work on together, the similarities we have and how we can make sure we’re working toward a better Georgia for everyone.
Can you describe the moment when you felt you needed to get involved in the political scene?
Four years ago, I was working for a nonpartisan nonprofit, Points of Light. My boss at the time, Michelle Nunn, had stepped down because she was running for U.S. Senator for Georgia. A lot of my friends and coworkers volunteered for her campaign, and that’s how I got involved in politics - by canvassing and attending events for Nunn.
In the fall of 2014, I started my master’s program in public administration and policy at the University of Georgia. In 2015, I had an internship in Washington D.C. where I got to work for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Doing that solidified my passion for working in government. One of the big things that came out of the summer internship was meeting so many people around the country who had been engaged in their communities to get people out to vote. That was a new concept for me because it was something that I had tried to do in 2014, but was unsuccessful. I started to ask around: how do you get a community that has never been engaged in politics before to show up?
After that internship, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I could get my community registered to vote. That led me to create the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, an organization aimed solely to register and engage Muslim voters in Georgia. It launched officially in January 2016, and for the rest of the year after graduate school, I ran my organization because I understood how important the 2016 election was going to be for our Muslim and immigrant communities. I was able to put together a team, and we registered over 1,000 voters. We increased the turnout of our community in a way that we’ve never done before.
How have you advocated for civil and immigrant rights and how do you plan to continue with this goal?
For the last couple of years, I have been a lobbyist at our State Capitol and fighting against anti-immigration legislation that gets introduced every year. I’ve been the one talking to legislators behind the scenes about why some of these bills are so horrible. I’d love to see some legislation aimed at providing more access for immigrants - whether that’s access to health care, education, and language.
I want to increase the presence of immigrants at the State Capitol by making sure that more immigrant families and community members have access to come and advocate for their issues. I'll also like to set up more advocacy days, making sure that they understand that they have representation at the Capitol. Lastly, I would like to encourage more immigrants to run for office in two or four years.
What are your future political goals?
People assume that I want to run for higher office, and I don’t know if that’s the case yet.
I want to make sure that I do this job justice first and do right by the people in my district before I decide to do anything else. If I do run for anything else, I don’t think it would be anything federal because I have a passion for local and state government. A lot of really important change can come from electing progressive and thoughtful people at the state and local level.