Paterson Teacher, Entrepreneur, and Activist Zellie Thomas Joins Race for City Council

Zellie Thomas was an outspoken proponent of increasing affordable housing opportunities for Paterson residents during his recent campaign for city council. Credits: Gee Grier

PATERSON, NJ- Lifelong Paterson resident, third grade math teacher at School Number 16, entrepreneur, and one of the leaders of the local Black Lives Matter movement, Zellie Thomas, is the latest candidate to announce his candidacy for one of the three At-Large seats on the Paterson City Council up for grabs in this May’s election. Thomas, according to the City Clerk’s Office, is the 15th candidate for Council to pick up petitions for the May 8 election.

In a prepared statement announcing his run, Thomas, 33, said that he is running because he recognizes “the immense challenges and the potential of Paterson.” The first time candidate who recently accepted the New Jersey Education Association’s (NJEA) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Human and Civil Rights Award for his advocacy for social justice continued, “I believe the only way to build a future that works for every member of the community is with a political revolution. Only then can the residents create the communities they want and deserve to live in.”

Asked during a sit-down with TAPinto Paterson why he chose to pick this election as his first for public office Thomas suggested it was the victory of Donald Trump in 2016 that prompted him to throw his hat in the ring. “I thought it was impossible for someone like Trump to win,” Thomas said referring to the President as bigoted, unintelligent, and someone who “doesn’t care about the majority.” However, since that time, he has been heartened to see “diverse people come together to stand up,” against Trump’s actions and statements.

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Thomas has announced that his platform includes bringing “better jobs, better healthcare, and better housing” to Paterson, issues, he said, he’s long advocated for as a community activist through local, national and international platforms. While as a member of the City Council he may not have the ability to tackle all the issues he has been fighting for, he suggested that elected officials often don’t realize that they can use their seat for advocacy, even if they don’t “have the authority to make change.”

Acknowledging that crime is a key issue Paterson faces, the answer to making residents “feel safe” isn’t always increasing the number of police officers, or the only way to improve the quality of life. He believes additionally that education has to “extend beyond the classroom,” and creating a culture of entrepreneurship has to become a priority so that Paterson, much like its founding around the Industrial Revolution, becomes home to a “technology revolution.”

John McEntee, President of the Paterson Education Association (PEA), the union that represents more than 3,000 teachers and education staff in the City of Paterson, said that Thomas’s “passion for quality of life issues would be a breath of fresh air to the residents of Paterson.” His experience as an educator, and as a member of the PEA, would provide Thomas with “valuable knowledge on ways to improve the quality of life for all Paterson residents,” McEntee continued. 

The ingredients to “create the city we want to live in,” already exist within Paterson, Thomas believes, pointing to the work of fellow teacher and founder of Paterson’s Little Free Libraries, Talena Lachelle Queen, as an example of what can be accomplished. 

Ultimately, Thomas concluded, quoting social activist Grace Lee Boggs, “we are the leaders that we’ve been looking for,” and it’s time for these leaders to “bring different energy, a different model, and more inclusiveness,” to local government.”

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