EDITOR’S NOTE: VOICE YOUR CHOICE is an ongoing feature that spotlights political candidates of color who are running for office in South Jersey on Nov. 8. If you have a suggestion for candidates to feature, contact editor Clyde Hughes at clyde.hughes@yahoo.com.

By Jenae Padilla | For AC JosepH Media

VINELAND — As soon as you meet Vineland native Makema Douglas the first thing you see about her is the fire in her eyes.

She is passionate about education and teaching people. Not just in the classroom but real life skills. Douglas as an activist, pastor and educator has a true heart for people and it shows.

I got the opportunity to sit down and talk with her about her life and the driving force behind her desire to be on the Vineland Board of Education and after meeting her, the Board of Education and the surrounding community would be lucky to have her elected.

Her life has been one of pivots and relying on the timing of God. Growing up she loved fashion and could be found drawing up her own designs and writing comics to feature her work. Always one for service, she both earned and was offered scholarships based on her community service alone.

Life rerouted her, as it does with us all, and she did not attend college until later. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Rutgers University. With multiple degrees in education, she was led to the path of teaching.

She has 15 years of experience as a teacher in the Salem School District. She worked diligently at the All Kids First Preschool. It was there that Douglas saw the disparities in education and the large gap in leadership representation. While working in those “trenches” as she put it, her passion for representation in education was ignited.

“I couldn’t believe this was happening in South Jersey, it was such a culture shock,” she said about the conditions she saw.

Believing Vineland to be a melting pot, with a large percentage of the community identifying as Hispanic and Black/brown people she thought it odd the boards didn’t represent it, fully. 

Douglas set her sights on doing and being the change she wanted to see. She got a position in administration and along with a colleague of hers, Dr. Valerie Robinson, Douglas was instrumental in opening an infant’s wing in an Early Head Start facility.

There she was able to meet with parents and really see the needs they were facing. Inspired by their grit and desire to learn and do the best they could for their families, Douglas found herself gaining new perspectives on how she could even better serve the community.

Amidst personal struggles and a global pandemic, in 2020 Douglas had a hand in opening the Legacy House in Vineland. The Legacy House is a safe place for single women and their children. There they learn the necessary skills to maintain their own households.

The house only operates for five women at a time and is for women 18-25 with three or fewer children. The house is still educating women and have already seen two women graduate the program and move on into society. They are providing for their families from a place of capability and education.

That is what Douglas is all about. Equipping people to take care of themselves and what better place to do it from than inside the school system.

Her target goals to reach if elected to the Board of Vineland Education include closing the representation gap in school leadership, transparency in school policy and procedures, providing a validating voice and choice for teachers, parents and residents on issues.

“This is why I’m calling on the community to be accountable and parents accountable. You need to be involved and aware,” Douglas said.

Douglas knows she is not the only Vineland resident with these values, and she counts on the involvement of the community to reach her intention. She is an open book with her objectives and prides herself on being clear and confident. She has the desire and knowledge to make a real difference in the great City of Vineland.

Whoever you plan to vote, voting is what matters. The election is Nov. 8 and though early voting is already happening plan to get your voice heard.

If you would like to know more about Douglas outside of education, she has authored several books and educational materials. You can visit her website www.mudpiequeens.com.

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