jilly gokalgandhi

Mumbai-born Jilly Gokalgandhi is the first Indian American to be elected to public office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gokalgandhi secured a seat on the Milwaukee Public School Board in an election held April 6. (jillyformps.org photo)

Mumbai-born Jilly Gokalgandhi won a seat on the Milwaukee Public School Board in an election held April 6.

Gokalgandhi is the first Indian American in Milwaukee to hold public office. She won her District 5 school board seat with almost 60 percent of the vote, beating contender Alex Brower, and joins 11 other members of the school board.

“I don't see women who look like me in this community running for office, and we do have a growing AAPI community in the city of Milwaukee," she told WTMJ TV. "As I looked at this historic election, as you know, the squad and now Vice President Kamala Harris, I thought well why not me?"

"If we're not working every day on things that impact people immediately, and if people who look like me aren't in those roles, then we're missing a piece of the conversation," said Gokalgandhi.

The candidate received an endorsement from Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin. “Jilly Gokalgandhi is a champion for students and I believe her experience working in schools with families, educators, and community organizations directly will be invaluable as a school board director.”

“Jilly understands what our children need, and I am pleased to endorse her. I am confident she will continue to fight for a great public education for all students,” said the congresswoman.

In keeping with the times, Gokalgandhi ran on a platform of getting kids back to school safely by providing sanitization products to mitigate the spread of the Covid-19 virus, personal protective equipment for in-person learning and up-to-date technology services for children who will continue to study remotely.

She also fought on a platform of developing an anti-bullying, anti-racism model for the diverse school district and equity for special needs children, and inclusion of non-gender conforming students.

Core to her platform is the Community Schools Model, which, Gokalgandhi explained on her Web site, is a “progressive, transformational model brings educators and administrators, students and families, neighbors and community partners together to ensure student success.”

Gokalgandhi was born in Mumbai, India and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of three. Both her parents, Bharat and Sangeeta, have polio, but according to the candidate’s Web site, “worked tirelessly to navigate a vastly different system and culture in hopes of providing a brighter future with more opportunity for their children.”

Gokalgandhi told WTMJ that, as an immigrant child, she felt underrepresented at school and throughout her childhood experience.

"So at home, I would have a really traditional Indian life. We would eat Indian food, [practice] Indian customs. And then you know when you go out into the world, you go to school, it felt like that was the very American part of my experience," she said.

In her professional life, Gokalgandhi is an “Equity in Education” strategist at American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in international affairs and economics from Marquette University, and also studied at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

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