Highlighting Black LGBTQ+leaders in the Buckeye State

Ohio Democratic Party
5 min readJun 30, 2020

As Pride Month comes to an end, it is important to honor the Black LGBTQ+ leaders who are helping to push our state forward.

Ohio Democrats are proud to cast a spotlight on Toledo Public Schools Board Member Sheena Barnes and Akron Public Schools Board Member Dr. N.J. Akbar.

These leaders are testament to what our party represents and the possibilities of what it may look like in the years to come.

Sheena Barnes

Toledo Public Schools, Board Member

“Don’t let anyone determine how you show up to the table, be unapologetic about your voice, experience and what you have to offer for the betterment of society.”

What inspired you to run?

I was inspired to run because of my three children and their situations with environmental and educational challenges. I felt most students in a marginalized school district face challenges such as trauma. I felt there was no voice on a bigger platform, and it was time someone started having those uncomfortable conversations.

What advice would you give to Black LGBTQ+ people considering running for public office?

Don’t let anyone determine how you show up to the table, be unapologetic about your voice, experience and what you have to offer for the betterment of society.

What are the top three issues your community or our state face today?

Racial injustice, neighborhood trauma, poverty.

What has been your biggest political challenge since entering public life?

Standing strong and speaking up as a Black queer woman and not letting folks try to silence my voice because they’re uncomfortable or miseducated on topics that affect our students and their community

Tell us something that you do to destress during this crazy election cycle.

Something that always helps me get through challenging times is music — it fits every mood and it can get you motivated when you feel drained from battling all the challenges our community, state and country faces.

Dr. N.J. Akbar

Akron Public Schools, Board Member

“I decided I was who my community needed as a member of our Board of Education.”

What inspired you to run?

As a professional educator and diversity administrator, I found myself at a crossroads with the vitriolic sentiment overtaking our politics. I believe that all politics are local and began asking my friends to run for office. One turned it back onto me and asked for the reason I was not considering a run myself. With the inspiration of President Obama and the boldness of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I decided I was who my community needed as a member of our Board of Education. We needed someone with my lived experience in education, professional and academic knowledge and passion for people on the Akron School Board watching out for all of our children.

What advice would you give to Black LGBTQ+ people considering running for public office?

Run. Do not let others define you or pigeon hole you into one box. Be proud of all of your identities. Be BLACK out loud. Be LGBTQ+ out loud. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to choose one or the other. We need to be able to bring our full selves to public service. You represent everyone.

What are the top three issues your community or our state face today?

The top three issues that face Akron, the Black community, our schools and our state are: racism and equity, school funding reform and economic opportunity.

Racism and equity are a major issue. We must seek to resolve the underlying issues of racism in order to truly achieve equity. Racism is in our policies, practices, language we use, hiring practices to include the way job descriptions are written and “colorblind” decisions. Equity policies and practices should look at eliminating both racial and sexual orientation exclusions in order to adequately address the disparities in achievement outcomes and other crises like food insecurity and youth homelessness.

“Racism is in our policies, practices, language we use, hiring practices to include the way job descriptions are written and “colorblind” decisions.”

School funding in Ohio is a travesty. It has been determined to be unconstitutional and yet, we continue to have the same funding model essentially. Our overreliance on local property taxes also embeds racism and begets inequities at its core.

Economic opportunity and the future lives our children will be able to live is critically important to tackle. Education and economic opportunity are inexplicably linked. It is impossible to move in one area without the other. We must review and revise our hiring practices in our communities to reduce racial bias, implicit bias and outright economic exclusion of entire groups of people. If we are to solve the challenges of the next generation, we must have a diverse and thriving economy that includes segments of the entire community.

What has been your biggest political challenge since entering public life?

Eliminating racism and taking direct concrete actions to call out racism by name have been the biggest political challenges in my public life. You are asking to turn the system upside down perhaps and deliberately take major actions towards mitigating the effects of the institutionalized menace. COVID-19 did the shifting of our axis for us, and the recent events of police brutality were the perfect recipe to lead our board into the types of actions I have been advocating. It’s the right thing to do, and we made the first step by passing a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis that adversely impacts our students, staff, families and community at large. The next step is to move those nine actions and many more forward.

“Run. Do not let others define you or pigeon hole you into one box. Be proud of all of your identities. Be BLACK out loud. Be LGBTQ+ out loud.”

Tell us something that you do to destress during this crazy election cycle.

I have unplugged for a period of time. No news. No social media. No cable. I have engrossed myself into computer games like The Sims, which has become a guilty pleasure. I also have enjoyed trips to the different MetroParks with my pups, 4-year-old Piston (Black Lab/Dachshund) and Dhamu (Black Lab/Pitbull). This has been stress-relieving and has allowed me to escape 45’s temper tantrums and pathological lies. I have also stayed busy with reading new books.

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Ohio Democratic Party

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