ANN ARBOR, MI – As the daughter of immigrants who moved from her birth home in Lansing to India when she was just six months old, Anuja Rajendra believes her upbringing and life experiences offer a unique perspective as a candidate for the Michigan Senate.
Rajendra, a Democrat, is seeking election to the 18th District Senate seat in 2018, a post currently held by fellow Democrat Sen. Rebekah Warren, who is term-limited.
After living with her grandparents during her early childhood years, Rajendra eventually moved back to Michigan at the age of 6 when her father had enough money to bring her back. That experience has shaped not only her own life and career, Rajendra said, but influenced how she thinks about others.
“From my earliest memories of childhood, I’ve had an awareness of economic opportunity and education and an appreciation for that,” said Rajendra, who has lived in Ann Arbor over the past two decades after graduating from the University of Michigan. “Especially living in a place like India – you would literally open the doors to your home and see kids on the street. As a child myself I would go to preschool and there would be kids in front of me who would put their hands out. That left a deep impression on me from my earliest years.”
Rajendra is the founder and CEO of BollyFit – an Ann Arbor-based fitness and dance studio – and is an alumna of UM’s College of Engineering, with an MBA from the Ross School of Business.
She was appointed to a governor’s statewide council and also has a regional appointment focused on the health and nutrition of Michigan’s youth and underserved populations. For her efforts, she received a Congressional Award and was inducted into the Michigan Indian Women’s Hall of Fame for her contributions to health and wellness in Michigan.
Locally, she has served as the development director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival while collaborating with nonprofits, small businesses and schools like Beaumont Hospital and Mitch Albom’s S.A.Y. Clinic to serve Michigan communities. Rajendra mentors for Walker’s Legacy to assist women entrepreneurs and also serves as an ambassador for UM’s LEAD Scholars Program to support diversity and minorities.
In the aftermath of a contentious election cycle back in November, Rajendra said she wanted to take on a new challenge as a candidate for the senate, as a way of bringing positive change to her community.
“I’ve excelled in the corporate sector, the nonprofit sector and entrepreneurial sectors and every time there’s been a challenge, I have risen up to try to take that challenge and help the lives of people around me,” she said.
“In the events of this past year, starting with Nov. 8, 2016, it just outraged me,” she added. “I am a person of action and not one to sit around and complain and sit on the sidelines. I started looking at what our community needs and where are the gaps and where can I add value in a community that I care about.”
She believes it is difficult to categorize “issues” she plans to address or work on in the Legislature. Instead she is choosing to focus on taking a wider, more holistic approach while listening to her constituents’ concerns.
“Issues are interrelated,” she said. “We have to understand that physical fitness is related to mental health, which is related to how kids can do in school. I want to take a step back and look at things holistically and then look at where we can make the most positive impact.”
At the center of all of these issues, Rajendra said, is education. She hopes to use her strengths in the business and nonprofit sectors to build coalitions and bridges within the Legislature, as well as representing the interests of her community.
“I have seen firsthand how having access to education and a roof over your head and food to eat can impact the lives of children,” she said. “When I look at kids in our community in Washtenaw County who are struggling, that’s something that really determines me and motivates me to make a difference.”