The 2023 - 24 general assembly has been called the most diverse ever, with 83 people of color among its 236 members. That includes over a dozen first and second-generation immigrants–and of those, at least 10 were just elected, the vast majority of them, Democrats. Brought to you by ACC x 285 South.
House District 43: Marietta, Cobb County
Occupation: Kale Me Crazy franchise owner
Education: M.A. in public policy, Georgia State University
Birthplace: Lagos, Nigeria
When Solomon Adesanya decided to run for the newly redistricted House District 43 seat in East Cobb, he was told it was a bad idea.
“People would tell me, ’Why would you want to run in East Cobb? You’re better off going to Atlanta, Mableton, Austell–Go to where people look like you,” says Adesanya, a local business owner who grew up in Lagos, Nigeria.
But the Democrat was resolute, “I said no, I’m exactly where the work is needed–I’m staying right here.”
His race was one of the most closely watched in Cobb County, which has been trending blue since 2016, but just barely. The Republican incumbent, Sharon Cooper, had been redrawn into House District 45, and Adesanya won with over 56% of the vote against his Republican challenger Anna Tillman.
Adesanya is one of five Nigerian-Americans newly elected to Georgia’s most diverse House of Representatives ever. Like Adesanya, they’re all Democrats and either first- or second-generation immigrants: Segun Adeyina (HD 110) and Gabe Okoye (HD 102) in Gwinnett County; Tish Naghise (HD 68) in Fayette County; and Phil Olaleye (HD 59) in Fulton County.
Do you live in Rep. Adesanya’s district? See what’s in HD 43.
But his Nigerian-American identity wasn’t at the top of Adesanya’s mind during his campaign. In fact, he says he wasn’t even aware there were other Nigerian-Americans running. He met Adeyina, Naghise, and Olaleye for the first time at a political event in Atlanta.
“We did not know each other at all. … The first time I saw them was at a gathering downtown,” he says, sitting at a corner table at his East Cobb Kale Me Crazy location. (He owns another one in Smyrna.) They’re now all connected via a group text chat.
While campaigning, Adesanya emphasized supporting small businesses, expanding Medicaid, improving public education, combating racial injustice through criminal justice system reform, and standing up for women’s right to choose an abortion.
He thinks those messages–and values–connected with people and tapped into a political shift in a historically white Republican district whose demographics have become increasingly diverse. Now it’s 60% white, 14% Black, and 13% Asian.
Though Adesanya didn’t keep tabs on the other Nigerian-American candidates, his immigrant background is an inextricable part of his identity. He grew up in Nigeria with his mother and his younger brother, but constantly traveled back and forth between Lagos and Chicago, where his father had moved in 1971 to attend the University of Illinois.
Adesanya joined his father in Chicago in 2008, and then he and his wife Ashleigh in 2015 moved to Atlanta, where his younger brother lived, eventually settling in East Cobb. “We liked the system. I like the people. And then, I bought my house there and I started looking at getting involved.”
The new lawmaker says he saw the shift in what matters to people in his East Cobb district while he was going door to door to introduce himself to prospective voters.
“Sometimes I’d knock on doors,” he recalls, “and the moms are looking back and making sure their husbands don’t know how they want to vote. There’s a shift going on–and that shift is not totally accepted by their spouses.”
Still, he was surprised when he won. Local media didn’t take note, but the Nigerian diaspora did. “I got so many messages from people all over the world,” he says. “People were paying attention.”
The president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, even called Adesanya to congratulate him. “He reminded me that every Nigerian or African that has the will to serve the people is doing a remarkable job. He’s a great guy.”
But it was the work of the East Cobb moms that Adesanya keeps coming back to. “They voluntarily helped, knocked on doors, and told their friends to get involved–they were awesome.”
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