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19-year-old RU-N Student Vies for Jersey City School Board Seat

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Mussab Ali, a 19-year-old student pursuing dual majors in economics and biology at Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N), is on a quest to ensure the students of his hometown, Jersey City, New Jersey, are not forgotten. Ali is seeking to occupy one of Jersey City’s three vacant school board seats in the upcoming November 8 election. After spending 15 years of his life as a student within the Jersey City public school system and a top-tier graduate of Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School’s class of 2015, Ali believes he is a strong candidate for the race. We asked Ali to explain further what inspired him to vie for a board seat, his stance on issues impacting his community, and his plans for the future.

What inspired you to run for a position on the Jersey City Board of Education (JCBOE)?

My experiences at RU-N have taught me much about civic engagement, its effectiveness, and how to be a strong advocate in my community. An African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I believe being a member of the JCBOE will allow me to show my gratitude to the community that helped raise, educate, and provide me with the tools needed to be a successful student and leader.

Talk about your campaign experience thus far. What strategies seem to work best for you?

The campaign process has been enlightening and has required a lot of time and effort. What I find most fascinating is that my campaign staff mainly consists of millennials. It has been great to see so many people my age learn that their voices matter and in order to be heard, they must engage with the political process. We have used social media outlets successfully to ensure our message reaches a mass audience.

What challenges have you faced since announcing your candidacy?

Funding the campaign has been a challenge. Many perceive my age as an issue. When they discover that I am 19 years old, they assume my candidacy is a joke. To me, my age is the x-factor. I graduated from high school last year and have a fresh recollection of what it’s like to be a student in the Jersey City public school systems.

What issues in Jersey City do you think should be top priorities for the JCBOE?

I believe safety, diversity, and productivity are essential issues that must be addressed to improve the education system. I propose the development of youth programs, recreational schools, and trauma centers to help make communities safer for children and diminish the effects of violence. Volunteer tutors to work with families in which English is not the primary language will bridge the communication gap that exists within Jersey City’s numerous multicultural neighborhoods. Regarding board meetings, implementation of meeting facilitation best practices will increase productivity and attendance, and promote overall respect and collegiality.

How does this experience correlate to your experience as an RU-N student?

One of RU-N’s greatest aspects is its role as an anchor institution in Newark and its mission to serve the city’s entire constituency, not merely the RU-N community. Similarly, my vying for a seat on the JCBOE allows me to broaden my aspirations to effect positive change in my community. Moreover, the comparable demographics of RU-N and the Jersey City public schools will help me to continue to develop and leverage my leadership skills within both settings. 

Photo taken by Alaa Belhadj