Esther Agbaje, the first Nigerian-American to serve in Minnesota house of Reps

Esther Agbaje became the first Nigerian American to serve in the state House of Representatives. Last year, she decided to run for the state legislature in Minnesota.

She was born to Nigerian immigrant parents and is among several lawmakers who are first- or second-generation Americans of African descent elected to hold office in the United States.

Agbaje, 35, was born in the Minnesota state capital, St. Paul, after her parents immigrated from Nigeria. Her father is a priest in the Episcopal Church, and her mother has worked in homeless services. After high school, she graduated from George Washington University and received a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Agbaje worked for the U.S. State Department, where she traveled in the Middle East promoting issues including the rule of law, freedom of expression and women’s rights. She returned to the U.S. to attend Harvard Law School, where she decided she wanted to make an impact closer to home.

“When I went to law school, I really saw that a lot of the laws and policies that we were promoting overseas, we weren’t doing as great a job promoting them in the United States,” she said. “And so, I took the opportunity after law school to return to my home state.”

While in private practice in Minnesota, she worked on issues like ensuring inmates have access to hepatitis C medication at the Minnesota Department of Corrections. She became passionate about the right to affordable housing.

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