Candidates whose election is historic are changing the face of Congress and State Houses across the United States. In an effort to diversify politics, campaigns to secure higher office have been run by women from all walks of life in numbers never seen before, and by underrepresented groups such as Native Americans, Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, millennials and LGBTQI candidates.

Some of the trailblazers include 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress; Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim Congresswomen, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first Native American Congresswomen; Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, the first Latina Congresswomen from Texas; Jahana Hayes, the first black Congresswoman from Connecticut; and Ayanna Pressley, the first black House member from Massachusetts.

A first-time political candidate and the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Jahana Hayes won her bid to represent Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District. Hayes is the first black woman to represent Connecticut in Congress and, alongside Pressley from Massachusetts, they are the first two women of colour to represent New England.

Jahana Hayes, first black Congresswoman from Connecticut

For Democrat Jahana Hayes, winning the race for the 5th Congressional District is the latest achievement in her inspirational story as a poor high-school dropout who gave up school to have her daughter at age 17. Despite these odds, her website claims that her “community and strong desire for an education propelled her forward”.

She beat an established politician, the Democrat Mary Glassman, in the primary, because of her more aggressive fundraising and voter mobilisation.

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Regarding her primary victory, Hayes told Time, “When we started this campaign a little more than 100 days ago, we had no organisation and no network. People told us we had no chance and no business trying to upset the status quo… We proved them wrong.”

“I hear from people every day. They’re so inspired by what I’m doing,” Hayes told the New York Times. “Young girls are saying, ‘I see myself in you.’ We can bring that narrative to Connecticut — that no matter who you are and where you come from, that you have a message and a voice that’s important and you’re welcome here.”

In her victory speech, she said, “People have said: ‘She doesn’t have what it takes.’ Not only am I built for this, I’m Brass City built for this.”

Ayanna Pressley, the first black Congresswoman from Massachusetts

Pressley, a 44-year-old Boston city councilor, defeated Democratic incumbent Michael Capuano during the September primary and was therefore a shoo-in, given that she faced no Republican challenger.

In the debate against Capuano, Pressley argued that she could represent the district’s voters from her lived experience as a young black woman, saying, “I’m not going to pretend that representation doesn’t matter. But it doesn’t matter about how inclusive and representative we are. It matters because it informs the issues that are spotlighted and emphasised, and it leads to more innovative and enduring solutions. That’s why it matters. You cannot have a government for and by the people if it is not represented by all of the people.”

In her victory speech, the now Congresswoman outlined the struggle she had as a black women seeking political office. “The well-intentioned conversations that occur when a woman of colour seeks public office take on a texture of their own. Is your appeal broad enough? Are you playing identity politics? Can you really inspire millennials and the faith-based community? Can a Congresswoman wear her hair in braids? Rock a black leather jacket?”

But she also enthused over her triumph, even with insurmountable odds: “When it comes to candidates who are women of colour, folks don’t just talk about a glass ceiling. What they describe is a concrete one. But do you know what breaks through concrete? Seismic shifts!”

Pressley went on to conclude her speech with sentiments of hope: “I did not come here to deliver a victory speech tonight, only one of vision. When we realise justice, equity and equal rights for everyone, then and only then will I deliver a victory speech.”

President Barack Obama talks with Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year, and Lynadia Whiting, a student of Hayes, in the Blue Room of the White House prior to an event to honor Hayes and Teacher of the Year finalists, May 3, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)