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In April, Del. Danielle Walker stepped down as representative for the 81st House District to become the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia.
Anitra Hamilton was selected to serve out the remainder of Walker’s term, and reporter Chris Schulz sat down with her to discuss her new position and plans.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Schulz: How are you feeling?
Hamilton: It’s still a little overwhelming, but I’m excited. I’ve been able to meet a lot of new faces, which I love. I’m a people person, very community involved, so it’s been exciting. Not as overwhelming as I thought it would be, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around the excitement of it all.
Schulz: This all happened rather quickly from what I understand. Can you walk me through that process? You were selected by Gov. Jim Justice on the suggestion of the Monongalia County Democrats. Is that something that you applied for?
Hamilton: The position was vacated by former Del. Danielle Walker. She recently received the job with ACLU West Virginia. Upon the date of resignation, they have 15 days to submit a nomination, the top three nominations go to the governor.
How I joined, to be honest, I’ve never aspired to work in the West Virginia Legislature. Just being very community involved. Actually, it was a lawyer in town who reached out to me and was like, “Hey, I think you should apply for this position.” And I was like, “I don’t feel like I’m qualified.” And she was like, “You’re beyond qualified.” And I thought about it. Then within like, two days, seven different groups or organizations asked me to apply. I still wrestled with it, prayed about it and submitted my application.
I attended the Mon Dems meeting to learn more about the process and did submit my application, which was just a bio and answers to some of the questions that they had, then we had an interview. I think I had about maybe nine different people there to ask me different questions. Then they selected the top three nominations and submitted those to the governor, and he made the appointment.
Schulz: So as you said, this wasn’t something that you had considered for yourself. What is it that you do in your day-to-day life? You said you’re involved in helping the community. How do you do that?
Hamilton: I work in Ruby Memorial Hospital. I’ve been here since 1995. I attended West Virginia University. I have a degree in psychology, biology and nursing. I work in orthopedics. I’ve been a healthcare worker for about 17 or 18 years. I’m also the president of the Morgantown-Kingwood chapter of the NAACP, which I absolutely have loved doing. I’m a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and I’ve been a member of the sorority for about four years. I’m the vice chair of WVU Council for Gender and Equity. I also advise some student organizations on campus.
So I’m definitely busy. I do a lot more community work than I do in my formal jobs. I’m very busy, but I definitely love engaging with the community, doing community service, doing things that will impact all people to have a better thriving Morgantown.
Schulz: You suddenly have a much bigger platform on which to do exactly that kind of work. Can you tell me a little bit about what your objectives are for the rest of your term?
Hamilton: I’ve been thinking about this, and one of the advantages I think that I have is being definitely blessed working with NAACP. We’re nonpartisan, so I’ve worked with both sides. So coming in, for me, my whole focus is about the people. I’m here to negotiate. I’m here to work with everyone to have a better state, to see a better county, a better even with Morgantown. Seeing us being able to thrive the way we should together, and that’s inclusive of all demographics, which a lot of times I don’t think is considered or is a moving factor in a lot of decisions. I intend to bring my vantage point through my lived experiences, and I believe that lived experiences have a lot to do. It brings a different angle to some of the things that’s written on paper, it brings it to life.
My goal is to work in health and education. Obviously, those are kind of my two wheelhouses, but also agriculture. I’m a native of West Virginia. I was born and raised in McDowell County, which, with me growing up, we were the wealthiest county in the state due to coal mining. My grandfather and father were coal miners. But now we know that McDowell County is the poorest county in the state. So we do a lot of community service with my high school. We’ve helped to raise money to buy uniforms to send children to camps, trying to get them scholarships to college. So agriculture, I think it’s very important. My father was raised on a farm, he has a garden to this day, he helps to build a community garden.
I just think those types of aspects are important in our state. I definitely want to work in agriculture as well. I just hope that my vantage point, my lived experiences, my connection to all demographics, young and older – I’m also an ordained minister at Agape Life Ministry. I have a lot of different facets to me that I feel can bring some depth to who we are in the legislature.
Schulz: Are you going to be able to work on those committees for those topics?
Hamilton: Yes. So I’ll be working in Health and Education, also Agriculture, and also with Seniors, Children and Family.
Schulz: You mentioned that you want to work with everyone, and you’re open to working with everyone. You’ve had that experience at the NAACP. I’m curious, what has the reception been like from the rest of the House of Delegates and the rest of the legislature in general?
Hamilton: It’s been amazing. I’ve gotten so much tremendous support. It has made what could have been overwhelming, just a lot more peaceful. All of the delegates have reached out, have been so wonderful meeting with me just offering support. I received a lot of support from Sen. Mike Oliverio, offering not just support, but just giving me some nuggets of wisdom, and just talking about the future of working together with me. I was really appreciative of that, because I was able to moderate some of the forums. And the last forum that he was in, that was one of my promises to him, is NAACP, we work across the board. Whatever you need will be there. And he remembered that and brought that to this platform of us continuing our work together.
I know a lot of times, sometimes people can get stuck in these ridges of blue versus red, and a lot of times we missed people, and we missed what was important. But to bring that back up and offer that support to work together meant a lot.
I’m excited and I’ve received nothing but support, it’s been amazing, definitely boosted my confidence and made it a little easier for me to take such an overwhelming appointment in such a small amount of time.
Schulz: I think that it would be a disservice to the position that you’re taking to not mention your predecessor, Del. Danielle Walker. Is there anything about her platform, about the work that she’s done? Have you spoken to her about continuing that work? Or are you out to chart a new path for yourself?
Hamilton: First of all, let me say, Danielle Walker is more than my delegate, because I’m in the 81st district, she’s my friend. We’re very close friends. She’s been very supportive. She was at my swearing in ceremony. She’s always been such a major inspiration to all of us.
There was something that I expressed in my interview that, you know, I don’t want people to treat me as if I’m Danielle, because it’s so easy to do. Especially being an African American woman. I don’t want them to treat me as if I’m her, because I am a different person. My perspectives, and of course our backgrounds are different. I’ve learned so much from her, her support and just her drilling it into me that I can do it has been everything.
But absolutely, what she has done has been tremendous, what she has brought attention to, and I’m proud to say that a lot of the alliances that she has made, they showed up and supported me. I had never met these individuals or organizations, but they were there to offer their support. She has done such a tremendous job, so of course I would want to extend and continue on some of the paths of what she has laid down, but also bring to it some of what I’ve learned and lived and hopefully be able to trailblaze in a path that is indicative of some of the passions that I have. She’s done such a tremendous job, it would be almost illegal not to expound upon such great work she’s done.
But also, I don’t want people to put me in a box of personality, or because we’re African American women. Also, I think it’s such a powerful teaching lesson that there is so much diversity and power in who we are. And sometimes when people haven’t seen that, or known that, they come with the expectation. So we want to shatter those expectations and hopefully bring about a greater depth of change.
Schulz: What’s next? What’s the immediate next step that you’re going to be taking? Do you have to go down to Charleston and set up your office?
Hamilton: After my swearing ceremony, I did get to see my office. That’s something I plan to do over the next month or so, is to go down and set up my office. Right now, it’s just the logistic work, the behind-the-scenes stuff that people don’t see that takes up a lot of your time: the paperwork, the filing, and the preparation because I have to start now for next year. That is something that can be overwhelming if you don’t get ahead of it. I’m really developing my team, which is new for me, thinking of what I want my future campaign to look like. So those are all new, different areas.
I’m definitely gaining such wisdom from former delegates. Barbara Fleischauer has been amazing. Charlene Marshall has been an absolute gem. So just being able to glean from some of the different groups and people has been amazing. I’ve gotten tremendous support from so many different people in Morgantown wanting to help, so I’m so thankful, so thankful.
It’s uncharted territory for me, and I’m excited. And I can’t wait to get started. But at the same time, I’m also here to learn and grow, you know, so I’m learning from some of those that have definitely paved the path, although I know I’m trailblazing.
Schulz: I do want to give you an opportunity to, if there’s anything I haven’t given you an opening to talk about, your plans, how this experience has been for you, anything at all. If you have a message to give to your delegation, or the people of West Virginia. That’s quite an order. But basically, if there’s anything else that you’d like to say, please do so.
Hamilton: One of the things I think I have learned in the last couple of weeks is that I think sometimes we take our lived experiences and who we are for granted. Sometimes we don’t think we have anything to offer and we don’t put ourselves out there to be of service. I’m just so thankful that someone’s seen something in me to start that conversation that has gotten me here. I do want to encourage all West Virginians, because a lot of times when we look at the news and we look at statistics, we’re always behind and lagging, but we have so many powerful and intuitive people in West Virginia that have definitely made a change like during COVID. We had some of the most powerful interventions come out of West Virginia, so I do want to encourage people not to sell yourself short.
What I’ve done in these last two weeks is to step out on faith, in faith, feeling unqualified, but just going in confidence has really gotten me to a place of wanting to learn and wanting to do and become more. I think that in itself is what West Virginia can be about, in a sense of wanting to thrive. We want our state to grow, in order to grow we have to grow as individuals. So we have to be able to extend beyond the boundaries that we set around ourselves, whether it be how we view other people, how we stereotype people, we have to be willing to be flexible in how we view laws, understanding that laws have been created to marginalize people and that has been since the beginning of time. We cannot erase history because history, it sets a precedent of how we do things today.
And if we are willing to stretch ourselves just a little bit, I am a testimony and a testament that change can happen immediately. My life changed in one day with one appointment, with one announcement. Since then, I’ve met people that maybe I would have never met before. And I’m embarking upon a new journey. And I just believe that it’s possible for everyone, that we don’t have to be last in statistics, we can forge ahead in areas that we’ve never dreamed of being in. You know, I never saw myself here but I’m so happy to be here.
I think it’s just important to make every moment in our lives count and as we move forward and create a better West Virginia, all the pieces of our lives matter, so hopefully we can have some impact and change. I know that it may take some time, but I’m also a testimony that some things happen instantaneously. I’m just hoping for the best and appreciate all the support from people that don’t even know me. That has been surreal. So appreciative. It makes me want to work harder and do more for our district, our county and our state.