ANUJA'S STORY IS AN AMERICAN STORY

 
 
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inclusive community builder

“Anuja makes everyone feel like they are welcome and equal. She lets everyone have a voice, not just the loudest person. She involves even bystanders in whatever capacity they can. She never cherry picks who is allowed to have opportunities and who doesn’t. Everyone has a place.” —Priya Rajendren

As the daughter of immigrants, a mother, a small business owner, and an activist, my unique life experiences speak to the fabric of Washtenaw County’s vibrant community. I’m a problem-solver and I will bring a fresh voice to the State Senate.

My father came to Michigan from India with little other than a dream of a better life for our family in 1970. He earned his PhD from Michigan State University and worked as an engineer. My mother was a schoolteacher in India and later stayed home with her three children.

 
 
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I was the first in my family to be born in America. But my parents struggled to make ends meet — something that many working families still know all too well today. So my grandparents cared for me in India for several years and I returned to Michigan at age six.

I have enormous gratitude for what this great state and country offered to my family. That’s why this was the only place I wanted to raise my children.

I grew up in Okemos and graduated from public schools there. I was the vice-president of the local chapter of Young Democrats. I went on to earn both an engineering degree and an MBA from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, where I played rugby.

My husband, Vijay Sankaran, is from New Jersey, but I convinced him to move to Michigan. We have lived in Ann Arbor for over two decades. We are the parents of two sons and two daughters we adopted after they were abandoned at a train station in India. My children certainly provided me with plenty of material when I wrote the “Mom” column for The Ann.

 
 

In my career in both the private and non-profit sectors and as a volunteer and activist, I have tried to help nurture diverse communities. It has always been important to me to build spaces where people of all ages, races, socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and genders have come together to find common ground and raise each other up.

Many people in Michigan and across the country are deeply frightened right now. The basic rights of women, LGBTs, and people of color are under attack from the president, Congress, and our state government. Immigrants and refugees now live in fear that they or their loved ones will be hauled away and sent back to war-torn countries.

But even in these trying times, there is hope. It has brought out the best in people. I saw that when I brought my eight-year-old son to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. in January 2017. I saw that fighting to keep our kids safe as a member of Washtenaw County's Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

 
 
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And that’s why, like so many women and people of color, I was inspired to run for office for the first time in 2018. We need progressive, diverse, and inclusive leadership in state government. Washtenaw County should lead by example.

In the State Senate, I won’t be afraid to make bold decisions. My first bill will be banning most concealed weapons in Michigan. It’s time for progressives to stop playing defense on issues and stand up for our values.

One of my core beliefs is that everyone must have a seat at the table. As a State Senator, I will focus on inclusion to bridge and heal the diverse communities that make up Washtenaw County. And I will be proud to represent an area that I believe can be a model of progressivism, innovation, and intersectionality for all of Michigan.

 

 
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experienced PROBLEM SOLVER

"As a student in Anuja's BollyFit class, I watched her thrive in leading a group of women from all walks of life, with different fitness levels, dance abilities, and all age groups. She had the unique ability to bring us together and help us work as a team. When I saw she was running for State Senate, I was so inspired to rally behind her and join Team Anuja once again!" —Anne-Marie Kim

We all have struggles. Like so many, my parents came here in search of the American Dream. They worked hard so that my sisters and I could go to college and make a difference in the world.

I tried to honor their sacrifice by earning two degrees at U of M, working in the non-profit sector, starting a small business, and raising a family.

After the birth of my second child, I had a serious health scare. I was given too many opioids while recovering. This led to heart complications. Instead of nursing my newborn and taking care of my 18-month-old, I ended up fighting for my life in the Emergency Room. I was able to slowly recover, but had to have in-home nursing care for months.

Fortunately, I never developed an opioid addiction, but this experience gave me an understanding of what far too many families in Michigan are going through. And I was shocked to learn that for all our medical advances, the U.S. still has one of the highest postpartum mortality rates in the world. The rates are even higher for women of color like myself. I could have been one of those statistics. And if my family didn’t have good health insurance, I probably would have been.

That was a very frightening time for our young family. And it ended up inspiring me to start my business, BollyFit, and focus on a humanistic approach to health and wellness as a way to create a more peaceful world.

A decade earlier, I started my first company, Moon-Baked Creations, at age 24. That was just after the untimely death of my sister. The Rachana Rajendra Bird Sanctuary at Michigan State University is named for her in a beautiful tribute. As I was grieving, I decided to help people engage using art as therapy to improve mental health and community connections. I have always tried to emerge from challenges stronger and more determined to help others.

After selling my business, I decided to pursue my MBA at U of M’s Ross School of Business. I established myself as a student leader, serving as president and co-chair of multiple organizations and bringing elite business schools across the country together for a massive food drive. I co-authored a Wharton-published case study on public-private partnerships to help alleviate public health crises. I was honored to be chosen to deliver a commencement speech for my graduating MBA class at Crisler Arena in 2004.

I have years of experience working in the business and nonprofit sectors. I was a successful leader at American Power Conversion Corp., a Fortune 500 company, where I created a customer satisfaction program that was implemented nationally. As Development Director for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, I achieved a record-breaking sponsorship rate, expanding not only the base, but the diversity of donors.

I feel that my life’s work has been to decrease the toxic stress prevalent in society today and improve the lives of people in Michigan, especially underserved and immigrant populations. I have focused on empowering women and children to be healthier mentally and physically, and to realize their untapped potential. I have taken my work one step further by training other men and women so they can improve the health of their own communities.

And so in 2007, I started BollyFit, a fitness and dance studio in Ann Arbor. We have mobilized thousands of Michiganders to feel healthier through grassroots community organizing. I also helped Meryl Davis and Charlie White, two Michiganders on Team USA, win a silver medal for ice dancing at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with a program that bridged cultures.

BollyFit has grown to have a global presence with our empowerment skills training. I have been asked to give speeches about my experiences to several groups, including TEDxDetroit and in a commencement address for Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility.   


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COURAGEOUS COMMUNITY LEADER

“Anuja doesn’t have to follow groupthink. She always pushes for ideas that are new and incorporates a 360 degree perspective.” —Priya Rajendren

Learning is a lifelong process. I have always enthusiastically sought out opportunities to expand my knowledge and the efforts of my community.

Helping others has always been a top priority for me. I was appointed to the Governor’s statewide council on physical fitness and the State of Play task force formed by the Ralph C. WIlson Foundation and Aspen Institute on the health and nutrition of Michigan’s youth and underserved populations. In 2015, I received a Congressional Award and was inducted into the Michigan Indian Women’s Hall of Fame for my contributions to health and wellness in Michigan.

I have volunteered for many schools, libraries, and community service organizations. I have collaborated with nonprofits, small businesses, and schools, such as Beaumont Hospital, Ann Arbor Active Against ALS, and Mitch Albom’s S.A.Y. Clinic, to serve Michigan communities. I am a mentor with Walker’s Legacy, assisting women entrepreneurs. I am also an Ambassador for University of Michigan’s LEAD Scholars Program to support diversity and people of color.

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I have been active in progressive and Democratic causes, starting with my time leading the local Young Dems chapter in high school. I have volunteered for Democratic campaigns, including those of John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. Working at the grassroots level has always inspired me and I’ve been proud to organize for groups like Moms Demand Action and the Ann Arbor Advocacy Group.

When I decided to run for State Senate in 2018, I was so humbled by the support I received from people from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti and everywhere in between. I know I’m not a household name. I’m not a longtime public official or a party insider.

I’m a mom, a small businesswoman, and a problem-solver. And I think working people and middle-class families in Washtenaw County are looking for change. They want someone who believes our diversity is our greatest strength and in giving everyone a seat at the table.

I am running for State Senate because we need a new way and a fresh, inclusive voice. That’s what we need in Washtenaw County if we want to make real, meaningful, and progressive change in our state.

I believe in the best in people. And I never give up. That’s why I want to be your State Senator.