In our collective pursuit of economic empowerment, it is important to acknowledge the role of politics. It is also important to acknowledge the public officials that are working to create the policies that can help us achieve our economic goals.
Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, the 1st African American Assemblywoman for the 31st District for the state of New Jersey, is one such person.
What inspired you to get into politics?
Based on the prior work I had been doing in the community since about 2010; I was approached by the Mayor of Jersey City and the County Democratic Organization to run for the Legislative District 31 Assembly seat. After speaking with my family and close friends, we collectively decided that running for office would place me in a better position to advocate for my community.
As an elected official, I have been able to take the work that I have been doing on a local level and implement change through advocating and creating policies in our capital, Trenton, New Jersey.
What existing policies do you feel are most beneficial to business owners and what types don’t exist but should?
Some examples of policies on a state level that are beneficial to business owners are Opportunity Zones and Urban Enterprise Zones, New Jersey’s Small Business Development Centers, and various incentives for Minority/ Women Owned Businesses. The State of New Jersey aims to foster a thriving environment for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Our policies are very forward thinking; for example in 2018, New Jersey passed the strongest pay equity law in the country and paid sick leave. In order to make our economy stronger, I believe our state needs to raise our minimum wage to a livable wage so everyone can contribute to our economy without constantly struggling to make ends meet.
You recently teamed up with Tiffany Aliche to get a financial literacy law passed. Can you explain the significance of this law?
This bill (A-1414) expands on the New Jersey Student Learning financial literacy standards that are in place for New Jersey public school students in grades K-8. What is unique about A-1414 is that it establishes uniform requirements for each grade from grades 6-8. With the current standards, which are not mandated by law, students must learn about various aspects of financial literacy “by the end of grade 4,” “by the end of grade 8” and “by the end of grade 12.”
Through A-1414, public school districts are mandated by law to incorporate financial literacy in each grade 6-8. The goal of this bill is to develop state-mandated, uniform requirements that districts must implement. In other words, the intent is to help students learn and implement best practices for managing money prior to adulthood.
What is a law or bill you got passed that benefits the business owners in your local community?
In 2018 I sponsored a piece of legislation, A-3754, which establishes a limited license for hair braiding. The bill was signed into law and went into effect on January 2, 2019.
I wanted to make sure that hair braiders, who are predominantly African-American and African immigrant women, are able to use their skills to support themselves and their families, without excessive regulation. I want to support entrepreneurship. As a result of this law, hair braiders can now practice their talents without fear of excessive fines.
In your opinion how can entrepreneurs collaborate with their local government officials to promote economic development?
Entrepreneurs can collaborate with their local government officials by engaging in the process and letting them know what policies/ procedures are doing well and what can be improved. Without input from the community, local officials will not be able to accurately assess what is best for their constituents.
Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)