Although she was just 13-years-old when officials at Seminole Middle School in Plantation failed to take steps to discourage the racial and ethnic slurs that suddenly began popping up in books and on desktops, Anika Omphroy rallied her classmates to erase the disparaging graffiti themselves and to collect signatures on petitions that decried the offensive attacks.

“I learned at an early age that my voice was my own – and I could use it,” said Omphroy, who, as a 41-year-old newly elected member of the Florida House of Representatives, is still speaking out, but these days on behalf of residents and businesses in District 95 in Broward County, which encompasses parts of Lauderdale Lakes, Lauderhill and North Lauderdale.

A one-time Broward College student and current resident of Lauderdale Lakes, Omphroy was automatically sent to Tallahassee after winning state office unopposed in last year’s November election.

“Running for office was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” said Omphroy, who, to her surprise, learned she had become a Florida lawmaker while ordering a Mint Majesty Tea at a Starbucks drive-thru window. “I would wake up every morning determined to explain to people what my goals are and every day I would get a little bit torn apart – ‘What do you know about this job? You’re too young. You’re too small. You’re too that.’”

Out of Her Element

Anika OmphroyPerceived to be a bit out of her element, Omphroy took pieces of advice and encouragement from others to stitch herself back together and create a vision for what she would like to during her first term. Reducing the poverty rate by five percent in her district, one of the most economically challenged in the state, she said, is within her sights.

“I’m on a mission to look at opportunities that we have to change economic outcomes,” said Omphroy, who has toured the local airport, seaport, and research facilities as well as her old stomping grounds at Broward College to initiate conversations with the county, state and federal stakeholders. “I want to go throughout my district and get people to sign up for apprenticeship programs and to get more people the information they need to change the outcomes of their businesses.”

On Board with Broward UP

That’s why the democrat said she is intrigued by Broward UP™, a community-centric approach established last year by Broward College to address low educational attainment levels and the financial challenges which often accompany them. Among the six Broward County zip codes identified for initial support under Broward UP, three of the zones are in legislative districts that Omphroy represents.

“Helping people – it’s something I do naturally,” said Omphroy, who, as a microbusiness consultant, wants to work with the Innovation Hub at Broward College to support new startups. “There is nothing greater than being able to gently tap someone in the right direction and, then a couple of years later, see them thank you for it.”

Some two decades after transferring from Broward College to complete her bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies at Nova Southeastern University, Omphroy acknowledges that the energy and passion she has for helping others was cultivated as a student. Unpretentious flashbacks, such as the time she couldn’t find her way to a class until another student pointed her in the right direction, are not lost on her.

“It was like the first time I drove a car by myself,” said Omphroy. “Going to Broward College was the first time I got to be in control of my own life. And those are the moments that stay with me.”

If you believe economic circumstances should not determine access to higher education, then Broward UP™ could use your help. Here’s how you can partner.