Voice Your Choice: Dr. Julia Hankerson Looks to Blaze Another Trail in Cape May Commissioners’ Run


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of Mid-Term election stories produced by Front Runner New Jersey and FRNJ Extra called “Voice Your Choice.” In this series, you will see local, regional and state stories on both platforms highlighting Black and Latino candidates. We will also produce pieces highlighting where all the candidates stand on critical issues important to these communities. Check in often for the latest stories in this column.

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

WOODBINEDr. Julia Hankerson has lived a life filled with first and advancement, whether it was creating first-ever wellness events in her hometown of Woodbine or being the first African American female inducted into the Millville High School Thunderbolt Hall of Fame for her time as a student-athlete.

Hankerson wants to add one more first to her list in her run for the Cape May County Commissioners board. If the Democrat wins a spot, she will become the first Black female to serve on the county on the board of commissioners.

“For me personally, it would mean that I can continue to fulfill my lifetime goal of helping people,” Hankerson told Front Runner New Jersey. “For the county, they will finally have another point of view, new eyes watching how business is conducted and assure that information is being dispensed equally to all people.”

Hankerson is of a part of trio of African Americans running campaigns in Cape May County, a rarity for the region. Cape May County makes up a large portion of Congressional District 2, where Tim Alexander is representing the Democrats against Republican incumbent Jeff Van Drew.

Melisha Anderson is also on the ballot, running as a Democrat for the Middle Township Committee.

Julia Hankerson (M) with Melisha Anderson and Tim Alexander. Photo courtesy of Julia Hankerson.

“Yes, this is a historic election in Cape May County,” Hankerson said. “For the first time in history there are three people of color, specifically, African American candidates on the ballot. I’m very proud of them for answering the call. And I’m very proud of our Cape May County Party for supporting these choices.

“I hope that It will encourage and help our younger folks to pursue and get involved in public service.”

Hankerson said she realizes the challenge she faces in trying to win a seat in Cape May County as a Democrat, but it is an effort worth fighting to make sure all the county’s citizens are heard.

Hankerson with cousins Dr. Charles Payne, Jr. (R) and former sheriff Cape May County Sheriff Raymond Lewis (L). Photo courtesy of Julia Hankerson.

“Cape May County has been a Republican County for the past 100 years or more so winning in this county will be hard, but it is not impossible,” Hankerson said. “I intend to work very hard, but I intend to get every Democratic leader in Cape May County to work as hard as I do and to join me and my team in mobilizing the Democratic Party.

“I intend to make this a team effort and the goal will be to get out the vote and win! Also, I have strong faith in God so I will be praying.”

Hankerson, who has a doctorate in theology and has run a successful business in Woodbine that has help thousands of people, she wants local voters to know that she is more than qualified to take on the job and “because I have earned many accolades in my life, but this is about providing a public service to them. I have a heart for people, and I want to see everyone do better.”

Julia Hankerson returns to basketball court with young people. Photo courtesy of Julia Hankerson.

Hankerson was born and raised in an education and community-oriented family. Her father’s cousin, Charles Payne, Sr., was the first African American appointed to a public office in Cape May County and his wife Bea Payne was a stellar political advocate.

“Their son Dr. Charles Payne, Jr. became chairperson of the history department at Duke University and encouraged all of his cousins to get educated and be someone who can contribute to society, and we did just that,” Hankerson said of her family.

“My parents, Elmer and Rose Hankerson were pillars in our community and church. They made sure that all the neighborhood children went on fun and cultural trips annually. They also were very education oriented and we all had to attend college after high school or go into the military, so we did.

Hankerson said she was raised in Woodbine, where they were all raised together and had equal opportunities.

Hankerson (R) with Tracey Caldwell and Lois Smith. Photo courtesy of Julia Hankerson.

“So when I left my little happy world after college, the racism was very shocking and sad but it taught me that we can have a world without racism, but we have to have the proper leaders in place,” Hankerson said.

“After college I eventually returned home to Woodbine and opened a business, the Woodbine  Wellness Center and that allowed me to help thousands of people but what I appreciated the most was being able to help many of our young Black men to leave the streets, get jobs and take care of their families.”

Hankerson said she learned from this experience that the foundation of the criminal justice system was based on racism and oppression.

“We need to do everything that we can to assure that people of color get second, third and fourth chances and then support, and that criminal justice change needs to be absolute and eminent,” she said.

From 1986-1989, Hankerson worked for the Commissioner of the Department of Human Services under Gov. Tom Kean.

“My specialty is strategic planning and budgeting,” Hankerson said. “During this experience I learned how budgets work and how to make them transparent so that we can all see where the money is coming from and where it is going (and I’m sure in most cases folks will be shocked).”

Hankerson has already made an indelible mark in South Jersey but said there is still so much more to do.

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