Karishma Mehta: A Working Class Champion Vying for Virginia House of Delegates

Karishma Mehta is a 29-year-old preschool teacher, community organizer and daughter of South Asian immigrants, seeking to represent the people of Virginia’s 49th House District. Her working-class background and upbringing influence much of what she is fighting for in her campaign. Mehta spent her preschool years in India before she arrived in the United States and split her childhood between Chattanooga, TN and later, Pittsburgh, PA.

Growing up, she experienced xenophobia, discrimination and lack of a culturally responsive and historically accurate curriculum at schoola reality all too familiar for immigrant children. Her parents worked for a big corporationDunkin Donutsand she recalls sleeping in the back of their car on a makeshift mattress while they got up for their 3 a.m. shifts and then being woken up for school. After graduating high school, she attended George Washington University in Washington, DC and said she inherited a lot of her parent’s struggles:

“I faced food insecurity after graduating college. I worked a lot of low wage jobs-sometimes 60 hours a week-to pay down my direct loans that I owed GW. They withheld my diploma so I couldn’t apply to any teaching jobs until I could get my transcripts and diploma from them.”

From a young age, seeing how various systems of inequitywhether it’s the cost of tuition for higher education or struggling to put food on the table due to low wagesthwart her and her families’ upward mobility, she began to question the status quo. Her disappointment toward the current economic systems arises from recognizing the ways in which capitalism is intertwined with anti-blackness, white supremacy, and worker exploitation.

Mehta views Democratic Socialism as a way for many young working-class Black and brown people to have their interests represented within the Democratic party, which has often alienated them. She believes it’s because the Democratic party is often beholden to corporations, special interests, and those that are wealthy. Although she is running as a Democrat, she thinks that there is a place for Democratic Socialists within the party and aims to push the party forward. According to a 2019 YouGov/Victims of communism poll, her positive views toward socialism are shared by other Millennials and Gen Z, 70% and 64% respectively, who say that they would be somewhat or extremely likely to vote for a socialist, compared to only 36% in the Baby Boomer generation. This is also seen in the large youth support for other popular Democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

“In identifying as a socialist and running as a Democrat, we are changing the future of the Democratic party and we are fighting for those who feel left out. We are the very best of what our community deserves and that is representation of working people like us.”

[Read Related: Deepti Sharma: Small Business Owner and Community Organizer Runs for Queens City Council]

Standing Up to Corporations and Strengthening Communities through Mutual Aid

Mehta believes that corporations and corporate money do not belong in politics; however, she states that our current system has allowed capitalism which has bolstered corporate power, to spill over into the legislature. These blurred lines between politics and corporate interests can be seen in the rise of “Model Legislation” or pre-made “copy-paste” legislation often written by special interest groups to achieve their political goals. Mehta rejects this kind of encroachment into governance and plans to stand up to corporate interests to ensure that legislation is written in the interest of the people it is serving.

“I have Amazon HQ2 coming to my district. A really important stance politicians need to take is by saying that we need corporations to pay their taxes, we need people to adhere to labor standards and labor laws and not exploit their workers, and we need them to stay out of government. That’s not their place. If they want to enter the economy, they need to follow the rules of the legislature not the other way around.

While, on the one hand, she is against corporate interests exploiting her community, she embraces mutual aid as a way to strengthen it. “Mutual aid” is rooted in the belief of creating beneficial and interdependent systems, that it is community members who keep communities safe. Mutual aid can be everything from childcare, to groceries, to alternatives to calling the police, all things that allow a community to divest from systems that are inherently oppressive. Mehta’s campaign has been involved in vaccine mutual aid and outreach to communities, efforts to provide transportation to vaccine appointments, grocery drops, and hopes to build on food sovereignty so that they are divesting from corporate control of food systems. During the pandemic, mutual aid has also allowed community support for families who have public school students that are learning virtually.

Another way Mehta believes in building community power is through a robust labor union movement. Virginia ranks as one of the lowest labor standards across the country because of an antiquated law called “Right to Work.” This law has its origins in the Jim Crow era when it was passed to ensure that black and white workers are not unionizing together and to enforce segregation within the workplace. It’s been an ongoing struggle within the state to get it repealed, but doing that is the first step for Mehta to ensure that people are able to come together in the workplace and demand dignified conditions and better benefits.

She successfully fought to unionize her preschool along with other teachers. While she was proud to have fought for a union, Mehta recognizes that a large barrier preventing more widespread unionization is the lack of education and awareness around America’s vibrant labor movements. Because of this, children and young adults aren’t learning about the people who fought and died just for a few days off (the weekend), an 8-hour workday, paid sick leave, or paid time off, which are a few of the demands of strong labor movements.

“Teaching young people about that, about how they have the power inside of them, of how everyone is a labor organizer that has to work to live, and to bring that organizer out of everyone that’s very critical.”

[Read Related: Moumita Ahmed Helped Organize Millennials for Sanders. Now She’s Running for City Council in Queens.]

Fast 4 to get to know Mehta!

What are some of your book recommendations?

  • We Do this Till We Free Us” by Mariame Kaba
  • “Education and Capitalism. Struggles for Learning and Liberation.” Edited by Jeff Bale and Sarah Knopp
  • “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” by Angela Davis
  • “Change everything.” Coming out in June 2021 by Ruth Wilson Gilmore
  • “Azadi” by Arundhati Roy

“For young people and people interested in learning more about our systems and how they interact with our freedom, I’d recommend those.”

What are some easy-to-cook meals that you’ve made recently?

“Tacos. So versatile, super quick and easy way to have a healthy meal. I grew up a vegetarian so I am trying to get back to those roots by incorporating Portobello mushrooms or even some jackfruit. I don’t really follow recipes, I just like experimenting and seeing what happens.

Vada and other Indian street food like Pav Bhaji. I’ve been learning from my mother how to season the potatoes and flash fry them or using my air fryer to make them healthier.


What’s the funniest thing one of your students has said?

“My students are 4/4.5 years old so they have very wild imaginations. It was a Friday afternoon and everyone goes around and says what they’re planning to do for the weekend. And I say, “I’m so excited to go home, make some pasta, watch a movie and relax.” And one of my students has a shocked look on his face like, “What do you mean you’re going home? No, like…don’t you live here? Excuse me?”

Here’s the thing, I wasn’t about to tell him that I basically do live here, because I take my work home with me, but this kid thought I actually live here. I must exude this perpetually “here” energy.

What is your favorite spot in your district?

“So hard to choose but Sofia Pupuseria on Columbia pike. Also Columbia pike in general. I know it’s not a place but it’s like Main Street, with Black and brown businesses, and different communities all coming together. It’s indicative of how lively the district really is. Every nationality, every ethnicity, and all walks of life, are there and it’s so beautiful to be fighting for the community here. You never feel alone.”

Mehta ran for election to the Virginia House of Delegates to represent District 49 on June 8.

By Sruveera Sathi

Sruveera holds an undergraduate degree from The College of William & Mary, a Master's degree from Georgetown University and is … Read more ›

Philanthropist Nirmala Ramprasad Champions Sustainable Development Through Green Dupatta

Nirmala Ramprasad
Nirmala Ramprasad

To overcome global challenges, collective investments and groundwork are fundamental in advancing an equitable future across diverse communities. Sustainable development — a development that promotes growth through social, economic and environmental progress without compromising natural resources — is essential for human survival. At the young age of 21, Nirmala Ramprasad founded Green Dupatta, a sustainable development charity organization, and advocated for its importance through multiple pageant ambassadorships. As a philanthropic representative for the Indo Caribbean diaspora, her work showcases how individuals of any age have the ability to be changemakers for social advancement in areas such as environmental and agricultural protection and education. 

[Read Related: Melissa Ramnauth’s Fight to Support Caribbean Businesses and Preserve Ancestry]

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Ramprasad acknowledges her passion for service was inherent since elementary school.

“My exposure to the nonprofit sector during my formative years really helped to shape my understanding of how complex, complicated and time-consuming philanthropy work can be,” Ramprasad said.

Additionally, she credits the values and ideals seen in Indo Caribbean culture as critical to her personal identity and crucial to her work in sustainable development.


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A post shared by Nirmala Ramprasad (@nrampsy)

In conversation with Ramprasad, the following answers have been edited for clarity and concision. 

Growing up, did you resonate with your Indo Caribbean heritage? What ideals do you most connect with and want to pass on in creating positive change?

As a mixed-race person who grew up primarily within the Indo Caribbean community, I have always felt deeply connected to my culture and heritage. As a child I was fully immersed in all things Guyanese (I refused to wear anything but a lehenga to every school picture day). From a young age I was exposed to, and learned about, our music, food, political climate, history of indentureship and the importance of our cultural connection to India. 

In regards to my nonprofit work, one of the most important lessons I take from my Indo Caribbean culture is the significance of ancestral knowledge and practices. One of the main tenets of my nonprofit work is sustainability and I have found that the most effective and practical sustainability practices can be found when we look back at the way our ancestors treated the land they lived on. 

Although we are all changemakers in some way, I always advocate for community involvement in not only development, but also sustainability practices.

Can you describe what Green Dupatta is?

Green Dupatta is a sustainable development non-profit that I started when I was 21 and have since completed projects in Canada, Guyana, India and Trinidad. I work directly with project participants to co-create community-based spaces and programs that increase environmental awareness, food, water security and access to quality education through sustainable development models.

While most of Green Dupatta’s fundraising efforts take place in Canada, community projects are mainly done in Guyana and India. 

In 2020, Ramprasad traveled to Guyana to work with locals in the town of LeonoraTogether they replaced leaking zinc roofs, restored plumbing to old drains, re-poured concrete exteriors and repaved and repainted buildings to be used for yoga and meditation classes, affordable daycare and community gardens. To ensure donations are maximized, local contractors are always utilized. Green Dupatta aims to repair and reuse as many materials as possible. It does not dictate what the spaces should be used for, instead assists the community in having the agency select programming that benefits residents.


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A post shared by Nirmala Ramprasad (@nrampsy)

Across India, Ramprasad detailed Green Dupatta’s completion of seven projects in seven weeks in an eight-part YouTube docuseries. With partnership from JDS Public School in Varanasi, Green Dupatta constructed two sports facilities for student health, engaged in community outreach awareness campaigns on women’s empowerment and environmental conservation, aided in scholarship opportunities for students, helped create a community garden and provided the school with a system to harvest and irrigate water. 

After this, they traveled to Devdaspur, a village with no clean water, to install a well with a shower enclosure, a water purification system and reservation tank, and a fenced enclosure food plantation. With their new ability to easily access clean water, people in Devdaspur showed an increase in social, economic and health outcomes. The community now had the resources to lower the percentage of water and hygiene-related illnesses, increase food and water independence, increase school attendance for children and increase productivity for adults, seeking work, without having to take time to filter or find clean water for their families. 

Through successful sustainable development projects, resources are conserved and enhanced to empower communities to meet their needs, irrespective of their size or location. Like many sustainable development nonprofits, Green Dupatta’s international service delivery was significantly impacted by COVID-19 due to limitations with travel and in-person fundraising. 

As a result, Ramprasad turned to her career as a special education teacher and utilized her knowledge to focus on a project that would directly help Toronto’s families and their schoolchildren.

Created as an emergency response to COVID-19 school shutdowns, Green Dupatta’s ‘Furnishing Minds’ project, is based on a circular economy model in which slightly-used educational resources are redistributed to families in need.”

Since the program began in 2020, more than 1400 pounds of educational resources and curriculum-based materials have been redistributed within the Greater Toronto Area. Its success led to the project being formalized annually. Green Dupatta currently showcases free online guides to the Ontario curriculum, by grade level, for families looking for strategies to help their children’s academic growth and achievement.

Is Green Dupatta currently looking for more educators? How can people get involved?

I am always looking to expand my team! We are really lucky to have dedicated volunteers from a variety of different sectors and backgrounds. Nonprofit organizations can always use all the help they can get — we have general volunteers, event volunteers and sub-committee program volunteers. Anyone looking to get involved can directly message us on Instagram or our website.


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A post shared by Green Dupatta (@greendupatta)

What is your vision for Green Dupatta in the next five years?

In addition to co-creating new community projects and programs, I hope to continuously expand current Green Dupatta projects. With a larger team and additional funding, I would like to strengthen and scale our Furnishing Minds program, as well as increase our international presence, to fill needs and advocate for these communities. In order to build organizational capacity we are always looking to partner with like-minded individuals, businesses and other nonprofit organizations. In the past we were lucky to work with supportive organizations that provided valuable services, resources and expertise.

Outside of Green Dupatta and teaching, Ramprasad has a history of competing in pageants that reflect both her Indo Caribbean heritage and passion for service. She won the Miss West Indian Canadian pageant in 2015 and subsequently became the first Canadian representative at the Divali Nagar Queen Pageant in Trinidad and Tobago where she was awarded second runner-up. In 2020, she was invited to compete as Guyana’s representative in the Miss Face of Humanity Ambassador Search, an international event that showcases female changemakers from around the world. Ramprasad believes that competing in pageants offered, “a platform to educate others about my organization, and the importance of sustainable development as well as an opportunity to showcase myself as an individual capable and dedicated to carrying this torch.”


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A post shared by Nirmala Ramprasad (@nrampsy)

How was it representing Guyana on a global stage at the 2020 Miss Face of Humanity? What platform did you run on, and what message do you have for the next generation of Indo Caribbeans?

The Miss Face of Humanity competition was a unique experience for me as I was given the opportunity to represent both Guyana and the Green Dupatta Charitable Organization. I explored their intersection and looked at how my homeland and culture has impacted both my core values and philanthropic work. 

Being part of a diasporic community is a uniquely beautiful, but also quite complex, place to be. All of our experiences are vastly different — some people feel deeply connected to their communities and some feel very far removed. Although there are many struggles that come from being once, or twice-removed, people are facing much different struggles in the places our ancestors called home. 

My advice to the next generation of Indo Caribbeans is to remember that a diasporic community is very different from a local one. Although some of us may feel very connected to our communities and cultures as they are practiced abroad, we should make space to amplify the voices of our motherlands and remember to give back to places that have given us so much.

Ramprasad says juggling work and leading a nonprofit can be deeply taxing; often fielding criticism and making personal sacrifices. Nonetheless, she loves what she does and is eager to implement sustainable development practices around the world.  Through these projects, communities are equipped with the techniques, tools and knowledge to uplift themselves. Ramprasad is forever grateful that she was drawn to a life of service and believes that it is of utmost importance to actively collaborate with communities in order to preserve the environment and improve the access to quality education.

To learn more about Green Dupatta,  visit their website. You can follow Nirmala’s journey on Instagram @nrampsy.

Featured Image photo courtesy of Bert Pierre.

By Priya Deonarine

Priya D. Deonarine, M.S, NCSP, is the quintessential Pisces who has been dramatically shaped by her experiences and emotions. She … Read more ›