Meet Bangor's First City Councilor Who Is an Immigrant and a Person of Color

Angela Okafor is the first immigrant and person of color to be elected as a city councilor in Bangor, Maine

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Local history has been made in Bangor, Maine.

This year, the Pine Tree State's third-largest city elected its first person of color and first immigrant city councilor, Angela Okafor.

Okafor says it's the latest in a series of challenges she's undertaken, but among the least expected.

"I'm not a political person," said Okafor, "but if I keep waiting, it may never happen, so why not me?"

It's a question Okafor has asked multiple times as she overcame various challenges upon arriving in the United States and Maine from Nigeria in 2007.

While her husband had a work visa after being recruited by Rite Aid as a pharmacist, Okafor had to find jobs that matched her law degree and legal experience, a task that proved to be challenging.

"It was very scary and it was demoralizing," said Okafor. "I remember being told I was overambitious and it was concerning. I didn't have the Maine experience or I was overqualified, so as a licensed attorney, I worked in a dishroom washing dishes, just to get my foot in the door."

After a while, Okafor decided she needed to pursue opportunities she was more passionate about.

She found out she could take on a narrow selection of cases in federal court on immigration, social security and disability, so she opened a small law office, initially in a spare room at her church.

"I'd start out anywhere and consult from my car if I had to," she said.

In 2017, she identified another need in the community, a lack of international foods and opened a market in downtown Bangor that had space for her law office.

A short time later, she added hair braiding services that could be provided in the same building.

But Okafor discovered she had other civic aspirations, as well.

This January, she became a United States citizen, and this fall, she was sworn in as a Bangor city councilor after running a successful campaign, while simultaneously running three businesses and caring for three children.

Asked how she stays organized, Okafor said, "I really don't know." But she added that she doesn't have a lot of "self-pity" and gets some support from friends in the community.

As for what she was to do as a new leader in the community, Okafor says she wants to make public transportation more accessible.

"Tto find and keep a job, [people] need to be mobile," she explained.

She also wants to tackle diversity and initiate difficult conversations about the lack of it in Maine, because she believes that will help Bangor "grow."

"So many people are so uncomfortable talking about it, but we cannot achieve anything, cannot grow, until we consciously put ourselves into that uncomfortable situation and truly address that elephant in the room," she said.

For Okafor, that conversation is not limited to racial and ethnic diversity. She says gender, economic and societal diversity are also important.

"We can do better," she summarized.

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