Interviewed by Citrine Ghraowi, Photography by Joana Meurkens
Felicia Singh is an anti-racist teacher and candidate for New York City Council in Queens District 32. She is the daughter of working-class immigrants and learned from them that knowledge is power and one must use it to do good. Through service and education she hopes to empower individuals to create the change needed for everyone to live and lead thriving lives. Felicia is the only Democrat who can flip the seat from red to blue! Help her do that by donating, learning more and joining Team Felicia at felicia2021.com.
Can you state your name, pronouns.
Felicia Singh, she/her/hers
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I grew up in an interfaith and intercultural home. My father is Sikhi from Punjab and my mother is Muslim from Guyana. They’ve both raised me to believe that knowledge is power and I must use it to do good. As the eldest daughter of immigrant parents, I learned what it’s like to navigate the world as myself and also navigate the world as a first-generation American. It meant teaching my parents how to navigate systems not made for us. I’ve lived with great responsibilities and also the great privileges of earning two degrees, traveling the world and changing careers. I have a different lived experience from my parents, one that I lead with honor, hope and courage because I know that my success is their success, and my ability to change the political spectrum would be their access to change, too.
I’m a teacher and a continuously learning anti-racist one at that! I’ve taught for 9 years in so many different kinds of education systems. I’ve taught in a small village in Gujarat, India to an excellently resourced high school in Mineola, Long Island. These experiences have taught me that children, no matter where they are from, want to be loved and want to be successful.
Seva (service in Punjabi) is really important to me. I’ve served in the United States Peace Corps from 2013-2015 in China. While serving, I created my host university’s first gender studies class and was the Editor-in-Chief of the newsletter, Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment. I co-led workshops for volunteers of color about race and racism.
Upon returning from service, I co-led professional development for teachers, staff and administration around culturally responsive teaching. I strive to build anti-racist curriculum and practice in schools and within legislation in my run for New York City Council for District 32. I am the Queens Borough Director for Amplify Her, an organization aimed to address underrepresentation in New York City elected offices. My hope is that with effective organizing, education and courage we can all build a more equitable City that truly serves all people.
You’re running for City Council in the 2021 elections, tell us more about that! What pushed you to run/get into politics?
I’m running for New York City Council in District 32 in Queens. This district encompases the neighborhoods of Woodhaven, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Howard Beach, Broad Channel and the Rockaways. It’s a really big district (13 neighborhoods to be exact) with varying socio-economic incomes, political affiliations, races and languages. Ozone Park is the community that raised me and a community my family, like many other families, chose to invest in. I’m running for office because children from working class families deserve the educational opportunities that don’t just come to some by chance or by luck. My district graduates students with an unacceptable 42% college and career readiness. In my district, it takes almost an hour to commute from one part of the borough to the next, while at the same time we face food inequities that have always existed. These issues identify a deep seated division in our neighborhoods.
We need leadership in our district that not only sees people and their circumstances, but can offer the perspective as someone who has lived through them. I will strive every day to ensure that our opportunities for success are provided despite these circumstances and my district’s diverse voices are represented, heard, and responded to in the City Council. I’m the candidate that can continue to be a force of change in my community.
Who do you look up to in the political world? Why?
I get asked this question a lot and while I deeply respect the activists that are paving the way for so many people like me to run for office or to live thriving lives, the people who give me motivation are the people I see every day hustling to survive. I’m inspired by everyday working-class people who push through our systems, who push through our status quo education systems, who go through times without healthcare or an income. They are the ones who I look up to because they are the ones I work for. I am in service to all of them and they hold me accountable.
You’re a High School teacher! Tell us a little about that. Has being part of the educational system had an impact on you in ways that got you involved to run for City Council?
When I was in high school, I applied and was accepted to a pre-college program at Columbia University, hoping it would give me an advantage upon entry in college. The three week course cost $3,000.00 and my parents wrote the check for me to attend without hesitation. Unbeknownst to me, my father was waking up at 2 in the morning to drive his taxi and my mother would take a cashier position at a local Stop and Shop supermarket near Union Turnpike. I am proud of being the first person in my family to graduate high school and college. I am proud to represent a working-class family. My story is not a single story of struggle and resilience in our district, it’s the story of many individuals and families.
Our education system is built for those who have always had an advantage, while pooling everyone else into oppressed systems where we become marginalized adults. This pandemic exacerbated inequities that have always existed and we need to stop looking at education through a ‘this’ or ‘that’ lens. Every school district in NYC needs resources that’s different from the other. Not one school is the same and we need to face that reality and do everything in our power to change the system, so that every child has what they need to thrive in a learning environment that centers their history, their stories and their power.
What has been your experience in navigating the world as a POC, especially in politics?
My mother always tells me, “spread your wings and fly.” My parents taught me to live my life without limits- even if they exist- even if I have so many things stacked up against me- I should try no matter what. I believe they raised me to believe this because the world wasn’t made for a little Indian girl like me, and in order to be ready to face this I have to wholeheartedly believe that I can fly.
Now that I’m navigating the world of politics, flying has been a little more challenging. I am, as an Indian woman, battling erasure and tokenism at the same time. I am both Guyanese and Punjabi-I am my mother and my father and I love, share and honor both in how I walk around in the world. Politics does not make room for intersectionality. The love for shallow and surface level culture runs deep in politics because it quiets the masses and makes us think that once we paint Black Lives Matter on the street or elect our first X candidate then our city can brush their hands off of meaningful action. I’m not falling into this mindset. I am an activist by being me and having the courage to run for office.
What changes would you like to see happen in your community?
I would like us all to live in a city, in a community, that centers restoration and healing. Imagine if we invested in tools and people who help us heal rather than investing in the tools and people who simply react to harm. We have everything we need to make our communities a better place to live in but we are missing the courage to make this a reality for everyone. We spend time teaching people how to work through a system. We need to be in a place where systems work for people.
The change I hope to see in my community is one where we feel more connected than segregated; a community where all of our schools have the resources they need to teach children with anti-racist staff and curriculum; a community that has a resiliency plan to face our changing climate and environment; a community that redefines safety and puts it in the hands of the community members most impacted by traditional forms of safety measures.
Is there anything else you want to add, anything you want to share?
The system of politics was built so that you could be intimidated by it. Do not be afraid of politics. Own your voice and your vote. Too many lives are at stake to not vote or not get involved in something you believe in with all your heart.
Follow my story and that of many other women of color running for office across this city. 2021 is going to be a transformative year in New York City and we need you to be a part of this revolutionary change.
For more from Felicia go to felicia2021.com.