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Omarosa says Michael Clarke Duncan's death inspired her to run for the Los Angeles Unified School District school board. Credit: Maury Phillips/WireImage.com
February 19, 2014 AT 3:30PM :: Omarosa Manigault is hoping to go from the boardroom to the school board.
The provocative star of "The Apprentice" has announced that her next gig will not be continuing her reign as a reality TV villainess. Instead, Donald Trump's crafty contestant is on a quest to help public school children by running for the Los Angeles Unified School District school board.
On Friday, the late Michael Clarke Duncan's fiancée filed her paperwork to make a bid for the vacant District 1 seat. It's a special election to replace Marguerite LaMotte, who died last year, and at least 10 others are vying for the spot. The election will be held on June 3 and the winner will finish LaMotte's term of an additional year.
While this may seem a little out of left field for some (those who only know her for her colorful TV antics), the 40-year-old has long been an advocate for education, she tells Yahoo. She grew up in the projects in Youngstown, Ohio, where she went to public schools and witnessed tragedy. She then went on to graduate Central State University in Ohio and complete her master's degree and doctorate studies at Howard University. She's been teaching for more than a decade at the university level, including currently for Howard's executive MBA program (for which she also serves on the board).
"I'm surpised by the reaction that I've received," Omarosa tells Yahoo about the attention she's received over her campaign announcement. "My life's work didn't start when I walked into Donald Trump's boardroom. I have been working and advocating long before I ever got on television. To me, that's important for people to know. It's time for me to break out of that 'Apprentice' persona and do something meaningful to help people."
Omarosa, who also studied to become a minister and is a full-time assistant pastor at a L.A. church, says she's been advocating for special needs students for the last 14 years, and quietly completed the process to become certified as a LAUSD-certified special education substitute teacher last fall. Because of her new role as a sub with the school district, she was aware when LaMotte, whom she knew, died suddenly of a heart attack. With her own loss — Duncan also died of a heart attack in 2012 — it hit home.
"After Michael died, I was in a low place and I needed something that inspired me — and it reconnected me," she said of working with special needs students. "That's how I was so aware of what was going on with the school board. I've also been out advocating about heart health since Michael died of his heart attack, so to know this woman and see that she was a strong champion in the community… There are so many more layers than just me running for this spot."
Omarosa, who has also worked as educational director for the Los Angeles Clippers Youth Hoops Camp and director of education and research for Bill and Camille Cosby's National Visionary Leadership Project, said that it was her position at her church which turned her on to the needs of the younger members of her community. Children talked about not feeling safe in their schools, so that is a big part of her campaign. She also has a strong background in telecommunications and thinks that will help the troubled school district, which committed a billion dollars for technology into their schools last year, spending 30 million on iPads last year. (The school system has about 640,000 students; 300,000 of which fall into District 1, she says.)
"I think people know I'm educated, but they don't know that my masters and doctorate study was in the digital divide and telecommunications. My educational focus has always been telecommunication policy, so I'll bring a unique perspective in this situation," she says. "Additionally, at Howard University where I teach, our executive MBA program is an completely online program. I'm already implementing and utilizing a digital curriculum on the college level, so I can be an asset showing best practices in incorporating technology into the K through 12 classrooms."
"My own personal success comes from hard work and education," she says. "I'm the product of a public education system. When people ask, 'What's your experience?' Here's my experience: I grew up in the projects. I took what I had and created a successful life out of it. … And I hope that some kids say, 'Wait, she grew up in the projects?' The violence I suffered — my brother was murdered, my father was murdered, my classmates. I'm not just saying this, I sincerely believe I can connect with the kids. I think my story will resonate with them and their parents.”
If she wins the vote, she'll have to utilize many of her talents from "Apprentice" — she also appeared in "Celebrity Apprentice" last year — while on the job.
"Because it's a special election, the person who wins has to hit the ground running. There's no time to train, for explanations, or anything. I think America has seen me in the boardroom, in high-pressure situations. I've been in a pressure cooker and I had 28 million eyeballs on me while I was doing it," she says.
Plus, she's just trying to find new ways to give back after enduring her personal loss when Duncan died. After saying she's doing better these days, she shared a story about visiting a doctor after her fiancé passed and asking for mood-stabilizing medication to help her cope.