By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
On June 17, Fatima Heyward will be the youngest honoree recognized by SJ Magazine during its prestigious Women of Excellence reception at the Crown Plaza in Cherry Hill, but she is just beginning to impact New Jersey.
Heyward, 25, has shown a true passion for sensitive topics such as human and civil rights, police brutality and pay equity. She was honored in April by the East Camden County NAACP with its 2019 Visionary Leader Award during another ceremony.
After a highly-publicized incident last year where a Haddonfield Memorial High School lacrosse player used a racial slur that led to the cancellation of the boys’ team season, Heyward joined other members of the East Camden chapter to lead diversity training with teachers.
The graduate from Rider University and Camden County’s Sterling High School is currently the co-founder and president of the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus that seeks to mold and engage young African-Americans and grow a new crop of civil rights advocates.
John Mulholland, president of the South Jersey Young Democrats lauded Heyward for the explosive growth with Black Caucus in comments published by Inside NJ last month.
“The growth of the Black Caucus, due in large part to its innovative events and programs, is truly a testament to Fatima’s visionary leadership,” Mulholland said.
In SJ Magazine’s profile, Heyward is recognized for leadership and inspiration at such a young age.
“At just 25, Heyward is making herself known in New Jersey politics,” SJ Magazine said of Heyward in a profile of her recognition. “Heyward is a natural-born leader, a fact that was recognized when she was selected as one of 20 participants statewide for the New Leader Council.”
During an interview with Front Runner New Jersey.com, Heyward talks about her passion for human and civil rights, her recent honors, forming the Black Caucus and being a role model for other young African-Americans following in her footsteps.
FRNJ: Where did your passion for human and civil rights come at such a young age?
Heyward: Since I was very young, I knew that I wanted to make a difference. I always had a need to help people and make an impact in my community. But with all of that aside, what sparked my true passion for human and civil rights was as I got older I started to see the real ugliness in the world. From seeing families suffer due to poor living conditions to unequal pay to lack of access to health care to police brutality, I knew I had to speak up and speak out against such injustices. Human and civil rights are basic rights and it’s extremely important to bring awareness to what’s actually happening. I saw the power that I had within myself to make an impact, and with that, encouraged others to get involved to help create a better world for us all.
FRNJ: What led to the founding the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus? What are you hoping it will accomplish?
Heyward: I am truly proud to be the president and co-founder of the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus. The South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus’ purpose is to inspire, educate, and empower young, Black leaders to ensure that they are armed with the tools and resources to stand up for their human and civil rights. We also focus on building and molding Black leaders to be active in the political process. This is done through training, informative meetings and events, and providing opportunities for their voices to be heard. I would say that what led to the founding of the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus was a conversation.
A conversation with co-founder and vice president Digna Townsend. When I first met Digna, I was inquiring about next steps to increase Black representation in South Jersey. This is how the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus came about. In partnership with the South Jersey Young Democrats, the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus launched August 26, 2018. I am blessed and fortunate to have a phenomenal team of individuals with different backgrounds and expertise. And together, we are building and lifting up Black leaders as well as making sure that community members are informed about issues that will heavily impact them and their families.
FRNJ: What does receiving the Visionary Award from the Camden East NAACP mean to you?
Heyward: I am humbled and honored to be a 2019 Visionary Leader Award recipient. It means a lot to me because I have come across many obstacles at just the age of 25 and I believe receiving such an honor is proof to be strong and resilient, and to persist. It also means that I’m doing something right. My number one goal is to make a difference in the community and to build and lift up Black leaders. I’m one of many who puts so much into the community. I think receiving the NAACP Visionary Award means a lot not only to me, but others who are just like me. Our work matters. Our opinions matter. We matter.
The night I received my award, I was delighted to have one of my closest friends, Sally Manneh, join me. It was special because she travels in and out of the country quite frequently, so I wasn’t sure if someone so near and dear to my heart would be able to share this moment with me. To my surprise, she was able to attend and I’ll never forget what she said. She told me that when I walked up to receive my award she felt like she was getting it as well. That this was a win for us all and that it inspired her. As young, Black women, we naturally have the odds against us due to racism, sexism, classism and other systemic barriers. This is also why I believe it is important that we lift each other up. Because as my dear friend said, when one of us wins we all win.
FRNJ: What does being recognized by SJ Magazine as a Woman of Excellence mean to you?
Heyward: It is an amazing feeling to be recognized by SJ Magazine. Being named SJ Magazine’s 2019 Woman to Watch – Women of Excellence recipient is a true honor. It is not often that you see a young, Black woman recognized to this degree and that’s why I am proud to be a part of breaking barriers. There were many before me and many after me who will continue to open doors. And of course, a big thanks to SJ magazine for the recognition.
FRNJ: How important is it for you to be a role model as a young African-American woman?
Heyward: It’s extremely important. It actually plays a very large role in where I derive my motivation. I know from firsthand experience how critical it is to see people who look like me achieve things that may have originally only seemed like a dream. As a young, African-American woman I want to make it very clear to all young people that you can make your dreams a reality. I want young people to feel empowered to not let anyone make them feel as though they don’t belong in a room or at the table. It is our job to prepare our children for tomorrow. I strive to set the best example I can that you can craft your own path. You are brilliant, you are powerful and you are unstoppable.
FRNJ: What did you get out of the New Leadership Council Program?
Heyward: This is a program that I recommend to all progressive millennials. It is essential that everyone applies to this program. The New Leaders Council Fellowship is a six-month intensive training program that equips NLC fellows with the skills to run for office, manage campaigns, and create start-ups and so on. I had the privilege to be selected for the 2019 NLC fellowship and have gained so much from participating in the program.
I was fortunate enough to enter a room every month with like-minded individuals with various backgrounds that really challenged me to think outside of the box. From the training to the in-depth discussions to the wonderful people it truly has been a life-changing experience. Completing this fellowship has provided me with the tools to be a stronger leader and advocate for change.
FRNJ: Where do you see yourself in the next five years? 10 years?
Heyward: In the next 5-10 years, I see myself as a director for a nonprofit. I will have also received my doctorate’s degree by this time. All in all, I will continue to stand up for human and civil rights while focusing on expanding diversity, equity and inclusion.
FRNJ: Anything else would you like to tell FRNJ?
Heyward: I am a proud sister of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I was president of the Tau Kappa Chapter for two years at Rider University. I graduated from Rider University Cum Laude in 2015. While at Rider, I was inducted to Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society, Order of Omega Leadership Honor Society, and Lambda Pi Eta Communication Honor Society. I was also selected for Who’s Who Among Colleges and Universities and Rider Star Scholar. Additionally, I received multiple Greek leadership awards. My love for serving the community is nothing new. As an undergraduate, I worked with TASK, HomeFront, One Simple Wish, Womanspace and Aids Walk Philly.
Now, I am an executive board member and political action chair for the Camden County East NAACP, mentor at Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region, social action committee member of the South Jersey Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., member of Rider University’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Alumni Board, leadership team member for the Atlantic City Women’s March, 2019 New Leader’s Council Fellow and president and co-founder of the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus.
For work, I am the communications manager for Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey and Planned Parenthood of Northern, Central, and Southern New Jersey. I want to be a part of the solution. This is why I’ve joined the fight for access to quality, affordable health care. Due to systemic barriers and racial discrimination, communities of color face a harder time getting access to health care. That is a part of my personal connection to my job because Planned Parenthood works to dismantle those barriers.
I am who I am and if it inspires someone to take action and join the fight then that is enough for me.