By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
WILLINGBORO – After two breast cancer surgeries and 36 rounds of radiation treatment, Burlington County Freeholder Felicia Hopson knows what it means to be a fighter and a survivor.
So when Hopson’s political opponents starting slinging mud last year bringing up her past financial challenges in a pivotal election to see which party would control the freeholder board, they had no idea who they were dealing with.
Today, Hopson is lone African-American on the Burlington County Board of Freeholders, helping the Democratic Party win back control for the first time since 1975. She has moved on from that contentious race to serving on the board, but the lessons she has learned from beating cancer – and her political opponents – have stayed with her.
“I relied on my faith to ignore all the negativity that was being said about me and to stay focused on my primary goal and that was too win,” Hopson told Front Runner New Jersey.com. “I knew that I needed to speak up for myself and use my voice.
“I knew that I had people in my corner, depending on me no matter what the outcome, I was expected to finish and finish with grace. My faith and the support of folks pushing me was enough to keep me level-headed,” she continued.
Hopson, who was serving on the Willingboro school board, was considered an underdog in race but when the votes were counted in November, she was the top vote-getter, beating out one incumbent. She was the only candidate of the four running to get more than 100,000 votes.
“Needless to say, I was thrilled,” Hopson said. “I went into this process with no expectations. Having the outcome of a win was amazing and I am very proud to serve Burlington County.”
She credited her victory to her faith and her willingness to have “difficult conversations” about the issues swirling around her. Taking on such things head-on were learned while watching her mother fight cancer and dealing with the same disease herself.
“Going through my cancer battle I was numb,” Hopson said. “I lost my mother to breast cancer, so getting breast cancer after she passed made me numb. I didn’t want to say, ‘Why me?’ I just relied on myself to stay focused and push through what needed to be done.
“After two breast surgeries and 36 radiation treatments, all while working two jobs, I knew that my mother would tell me to fight and that’s what I did. I have been cancer free for 2 1/2 years and I am grateful,” she added.
With last November’s election and hopefully breast cancer fight now in her past, Hopson has moved on to the heavy lifting of freeholder work. She said that she has no shortage of issues she is passionate about. Her biggest challenge is the mere 24 hours in day.
“My biggest goals are improving economic development, addressing homelessness, enhancing our infrastructure, and making sure county residents are aware of all of the services available to them,” Hopson said. “My biggest challenges are making sure everyone has accurate information about the issues that they are most concerned about and obviously, time. There simply isn’t enough time.”
Hopson has an English bachelor’s degree from South Carolina’s Benedict College and master’s in business administration from Wilmington University. She said has been able to use her school board experience to help her deal with some of the meatier issues with county.
“I decided to run when my son was entering the high school and I wanted to make sure I was informed and engaged in his high school experience,” said Hopson, who works as a director of operations for a local financial services company full-time. “The experience on the school board was great.
“It definitely prepared me for working with a public entity. When dealing with students and parents, there is very little room not to get things right. That said, being a school board member was the best experience any politician could ever have,” she continued.
Even with her accomplishments and hurdles she has overcome, Hopson, an active member in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, said she doesn’t feel like a role model, but added she feels “honored” to lone black on the freeholder board. She said others have helped shape her for this time in her life.
“My mother first, because she taught me how to be strong, how to overcome difficult situations and to always be faithful,” Hopson said. “Then along the way some amazing folks has helped shape me, but most notably a college professor and I have a mentor (since I have on the school board) that has helped and continues to help me.”
Hopson said she has several person mottoes that she lives by.
“When people show you who they are believe them,” Hopson said. “Be very comfortable with difficult conversations, always be willing to listen and stay faithful.”
In the near future, Hopson, who has served as an adjunct professor at several local colleges, said she wants to continue being a public servant and getting as much done for the people of Burlington County.
“What I learned is that I am extremely focused and a hard worker,” Hopson said. “With these two traits, I was able to beat cancer and being the only African-American Freeholder is a privilege. I learned as long as you are comfortable with being yourself then most people will be comfortable working with you.”
After beating cancer and her political opponents, Hopson has proven she is comfortable for about anything one is willing to throw at her.