Anthony Daniels made history in February when he became the first black person in history to be named the Alabama House minority leader, and the youngest person in modern state history to hold that position.
NBC News reports that Daniels, 34, is one of 27 black representatives out of 105 representatives in the state Legislature. His election comes on the heels of former Gov. Robert Bentley’s resignation and former Chief Justice Roy Moore’s suspension from the state Supreme Court, and it reflects a shift in the state’s political landscape.
David Wasserman, political analyst for the Cook Political Report, told NBC that both Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature are looking for something new, but he cautioned that Daniels has his work cut out for him.
“Twenty years ago it was three parties in Alabama; today it has collapsed into segregated partisan politics,” Wasserman said.
Daniels told NBC that he was born in Barlow, Fla., but raised in Midway, Ala., by his grandparents with a strong foundation of faith.
“In middle school, I used to pray about being the most impactful leader, but it starts here. I want to help somebody,” Daniels said.
Daniels received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in special education from Alabama A&M, and at 23 he became the first black man elected chairman of the National Education Association Student Program, which provides support to college students seeking a career in public education.
Daniels told NBC that while working as an elementary school teacher in Huntsville, Ala., he realized that he could have a deeper influence working in government.
“I saw the impact I had on these young people, but I thought about all the things that we complain about in life, and I felt I was making a difference in the classroom,” Daniels said. “But I felt, as a policymaker, I could impact the lives of the young and people in general, those who don’t have a voice for themselves. So that’s why I decided to go into politics.”
Daniels first ran for the Alabama Senate in 2008, losing to Alabama state Rep. Laura Hall, a Democrat whom he now calls one of his mentors.
In 2009 Daniels was appointed chairman of the legislative committee for the Huntsville Education Association, and in 2010 he was elected to the State Board of Directors for the Alabama Education Association. He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2014.
Daniels said that he is on a mission to bring jobs to the state, increase revenue and recharge his party.
“I want to redefine the Alabama Democratic Party and unite Alabamians,” Daniels said. “I’m going to look at all the industry that has left Alabama and find people that have lost jobs to those industries and listen to them and figure out a way to create a jobs bill that’s going to help them. I want to see Alabama as one of the top 10 places for education and quality health care.”
Daniels told NBC that having one of the highest positions in the state Legislature is a double-edged sword and a road he wasn’t expecting to travel so quickly. He is both grateful and fearful.
“I haven’t even fulfilled a full term yet, and I’ve ascended this quick. Everything I’ve done prepared me for this,” Daniels said. “It scares me; most who have done this early on haven’t lived a long life. Dr. King, you go on down the list of leaders, they were young; they didn’t live a long life.”
Daniels told NBC that he’s not sure if he will stay in politics, because he still has a commitment to educating children. He started the Stay InBounds Foundation in his hometown, and he hopes that through that organization, he will be able to provide positive role models to at-risk youths and expose them to opportunities he didn’t have growing up.
“These kids need us now more than ever. We have to teach them how to fish. You don’t have to be wealthy to do this. We can start doing things now,” Daniels said.
Read more at NBC News.