Lawrence state rep chosen for Obama leadership program

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TOPEKA — Christina Haswood was in 8th grade biology class when she watched Barack Obama get sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.

Now, Haswood, a Lawrence Democrat and the Kansas House minority policy chair, has been chosen as an emerging changemaker for the first iteration of Obama Foundation’s Leaders USA program. When asked what her younger self would think of where she is now, she said she’s taken back to that moment in biology watching Obama’s inauguration.

“It was just a surreal moment,” Haswood said. “And I really didn’t understand what it meant, but I knew that a person of color was going to be in the White House, and I was like, this is so amazing.”

When asked who her favorite politician was, she would answer Michelle Obama. While she says she knew Michelle wasn’t necessarily a politician, her work on community and childhood health connected with Haswood and what she wanted to pursue.

Launched in 2018, the Obama Foundation Leaders program gathers leaders from different regions of the world and allows them to share ideas and expand their leadership skills to improve their communities and create positive change. In addition to working with each other, the changemakers will engage with the former president, leadership coaches and experts in various fields, according to a news release announcing the program.

Haswood’s group of 100 is the first batch of leaders to participate in the new United States program. Previously, the leadership programs were only in Africa, Asia Pacific and Europe. Members in the U.S. program include residents of 37 states, Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, and five tribal nations.

Obama said in the news release he is inspired by the diverse group of individuals in the program who are “working on the most pressing issues facing our world.”

“Their ideas and leadership will help strengthen democracy now and in the future,” he said. “These leaders give me hope, and they deserve our support.”

Currently in the second week of the six-month program, Haswood said it’s great to see the group share their diverse experiences and ideas to solve long-standing problems.

“There’s great lessons of compassion and great lessons of what it is to be a leader,” Haswood said. “They’re giving us resources from effective communication to coaching, it’s really a surreal experience, and to just see the diversity and to see the issues that people are working on is so inspiring.”

Growing up as a Navajo Native American in Lawrence, she said while she wasn’t physically near her family and reservation, her parents gave her a depth of knowledge about her culture. She said she loves dressing in traditional Navajo regalia and is glad members of the community have accepted her as an indigenous woman.

“My personal experience of growing up in a western society, in a town that’s not really diverse, has helped me navigate my experiences as a Native American, indigenous young woman in a space that’s predominantly not of color,” Haswood said. “But quite interesting enough in politics, a space that once wanted to kill us off, a space that implemented and had thoughts of genocide towards the indigenous peoples and a country whose political system wanted to get rid of us.”

Haswood was first approached about running for office a month before graduating graduate school. As a 26-year-old with a public health background, she learned along the way, using social media as a way of advertising on a small budget.

Now 29, she recently expanded her use of TikTok to explain politics to young people and show those who don’t have extensive background in law how to find and understand legislative bills. She said as someone who didn’t come from a law background and has only been in office a few years, she understands how scary learning about politics can be and how those outside of the Statehouse may not have time to focus on legislators.

Haswood said she wants young people to know they are needed in politics and their voices are important.

“As we learn how to be civically engaged and politically involved, bring your friends along, build a bench and leave down the ladder,” Haswood said. “Because it’s going to take a community and it’s going to take years and generations to continue to build a more just and equal society.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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