JOHN F. SILVER / CTNEWSJUNKIE
Jahana Hayes reacts with emotion after winning the Democratic Party primary in the 5th Congressional District in August (JOHN F. SILVER / CTNEWSJUNKIE)

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

—Bob Dylan (1964)

If Robert Allen Zimmerman — aka Bob Dylan — thought the times were changing in 1964, he must be looking at today’s times as an absolute transfiguration.

BARTH KECK

Jahana Hayes, elected in the 2018 midterms as the first African-American woman to represent Connecticut in the U.S. Congress, symbolizes this sea change. As a member of an ethnic minority, as a woman, and as a former public-school teacher, Hayes is the very embodiment of this new wave of leaders in the state and in the country.

It’s about time.

To begin, the term minority will soon change to majority. According to an insightful National Geographic article last April, half of American children in 2020 will be from what we now call “minority groups.” By 2044, slightly more than half (50.3 percent) of all Americans will be from those groups.

Jahana Hayes represents this coming “majority,” a stark contrast to the vision of America that many older citizens hold.

“We have one of us in that White House,” said Sally Yale, 53, a white woman from Hazleton, Pennsylvania, featured in the National Geographic article. “We are going to make America great again.”

“When asked who she means by ‘we,’ Yale pauses. Her gaze hardens a bit. The music goes out of her voice. ‘The we are the Caucasians that built this country,’ she says. ‘Our generation. We’re going to make our grandfathers proud. We have to’.”

Hayes, who resembles and understands America’s shifting demographics, will certainly have something to say about that after she is sworn in this week to represent Connecticut’s 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In a similar vein, Hayes is obviously part of the current surge of women leaders, highlighted as the Hartford Courant’s No. 4 story of 2018. The midterm elections included 125 women elected to Congress and governorships, noted the Courant, including “the first Muslim and Native American women in Congress, the first woman to lead South Dakota as governor, and the first women of color from New England to serve in the house: Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Hayes.”

And then there’s Jahana Hayes’ experience in education, including more than a decade as a history teacher at Waterbury’s Kennedy High School. In 2016, she was honored at the White House as the nation’s Teacher of the Year. The upstart politician says the classroom was apt preparation for her turn as a U.S. legislator.

“Who will speak for [the students]? Who will share their story with the world?” she asked in a video on her campaign website. “Teachers are nation-builders. That’s our job: To effect change, to improve outcomes. Isn’t that the same job of Congress?”

As a teacher in an urban school district who grew up in a Waterbury housing project herself, Hayes has seen her share of the adversity challenging many citizens. And she knows exactly how to help her constituents meet those challenges: “Education saved my life, and I will ensure that all children from all communities have access to a high-quality education.”

She’s an African-American, she’s a woman, and she’s a teacher. She is, in short, a most fitting symbol for the changing times of 2019. While many voters have looked recently to political outsiders from the world of business — the current president comes to mind — their impact on politics has been questionable, at best. Why? Because these outsiders are usually older white men whose blinkered experience is grounded in the past.

You won’t find Jahana Hayes looking backward, however, yearning for some 20th-century American dream. Instead, the very person she is will encourage Hayes to embrace the current times that are indeed a-changin’ and not going back. As trailblazers like Hayes begin their work this year, they won’t be trying to “make America great again.” Rather, their focus will be on making America better than it ever was.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.