Operations Director Amani Wells-Onyioha says passion fuels her work at Sole Strategies. She joined the political start-up with the goal of harnessing that passion to disrupt the system and make changes in the world around her. “People tend to burn out when they feel obligated to take on a role,” she says. “If you’re passionate about something, it keeps you going when it’s not easy, when you’re working 12-hour days, when everything seems to be going wrong. It keeps you going because there’s a bigger purpose.”
Amani Wells-Onyioha finds her passion for progressive politics
Wells-Onyioha made a pivotal decision to follow her passion for politics at age 18 while working in the jeans department at Nordstrom. “I was keeping my ear to the streets and hearing what was going on in the world politically,” she remembers. “I would watch the news all day long.”
While scrolling through the newsfeed during her lunch break, Wells-Onyioha confided to her co-worker that she wanted to do something bigger. With her friend’s encouragement, she applied to grad school and came away with a degree in political journalism. “After that, doors began opening,” says Wells-Onyioha. “I started working for the Democratic Party in Dallas. I kept expanding my outreach until I was hired at Sole Strategies.”
Amani Wells-Onyioha brings her passion to Sole Strategies
Sole Strategies is a team of political experts building grassroots campaigns across the US. Wells-Onyioha came to Sole with a passion for impacting the lives of underprivileged minorities and women. “I’m an African-American woman, and I wasn’t wealthy growing up,” she comments. “When you feel you’re personally impacted by these issues or when you see your community impacted by them, you push harder to make changes.”
Sole Strategies organizes political campaigns for candidates who are passionate about change. They bring an expert team to the field with the goal of giving power back to the people. “There are a lot of districts throughout this country run by people who take money from and work for their donors,” explains Wells-Onyioha “Their donors aren’t the people living in their districts. Their donors are corporations or wealthy business owners who don’t have the people’s interests at heart. It honestly infuriates me when I see politicians ignore the needs of their people and vote alongside the people paying them off. When I get to work with campaigns that take corrupt people out of leadership roles and replace them with people who have a heart for their community, that’s what gets me passionate.”
Wells-Onyioha says finding politicians with passion for their communities is critical to Sole. “We’re selective about the people we work with. We weed out people who aren’t in it for the right reasons or who aren’t competent to come in and do what it is they need to do.”
The teacher who taught Amani Wells-Onyioha about passion
Wells-Onyioha says her first lessons in the power of passion came from her single mother. “She was a kindergarten teacher, and she brought her passion for teaching into every part of her life.”
Teaching was her mother’s role not only at school but in the home. One of Wells-Onyioha’s first memories is the sing-song way her mother taught her to spell her name. And at family gatherings, Wells-Onyioha remembers her mother bringing her treasure chest full of prizes and gathering all the children in a circle around her. While the adults ate and talked, Wells-Onyioha and her cousins sat and listened to her mother read stories.
When Wells-Onyioha was 14 years old, her mother was injured in a car accident. Already struggling with severe arthritis, the accident significantly reduced her mother’s mobility. “She had to use a walker and sometimes even a wheelchair,” recalls Wells-Onyioha. “She could scoot around the house, but she didn’t have full mobility. It required me to grow up a little bit faster. I learned to drive early. I was the one doing the cooking, the cleaning, and driving to the grocery store.”
The passion of Wells-Onyioha’s mother for teaching was evident even in the long months after the accident. “There was a point in time where she would bring her wheelchair and walker to class and teach kindergarten,” she remembers. “She still loved it so much that she would bring her walker to school and have the kids sit around her. That is such a vivid memory. She loved to teach. It was who she was, and that’s how she was able to do it for so long.”
After teaching for 27 years, Wells-Onyioha’s mother was forced into early retirement. She had no choice but to give up her salary and raise her daughter on a limited pension. “It was sad,” Wells-Onyioha says. “Someone who gave almost 30 years of her life to a career should be taken care of better. I feel like there’s more that employers can do for workers who have dedicated so much of their lives to them. Seeing how my mom struggled through those things activated me at a young age. It let me see the world for what it really was.”
Amani Wells-Onyioha puts passion to work
During her busy days at Sole Strategies, Wells-Onyioha often finds herself remembering the lessons she learned from her mother. She thinks back on her mother saying, “When you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.” Wells-Onyioha says her mother was a teacher in and out of the classroom and truly embodied that quote.
Today, Wells-Onyioha identifies with her mother more than ever. The same profound passion that pushed her mother to bring about change in the classroom drives Wells-Onyioha to bring political change to communities across the country. “The way my mom felt when she was teaching is the same way I feel now,” she explains. “I know I work hard here at Sole, but it doesn’t feel like a chore. There’s just no other work in the world I’d rather be doing.”
Wells-Onyioha believes people who want to follow their passion and change the world must first stop and listen to the quiet voice in their hearts. “If I had ignored that little voice, I would still be selling jeans,” she says. “So as cliche as this sounds, I would definitely tell people, listen to your heart. What is the thing you would do for free? What is the thing you care about the most? What is the thing that lights a fire in your heart? Don’t ignore that! Pursue it through any avenue you can. Whatever way you can get your foot in the door—do it, and don’t be scared of it. Don’t be scared of what’s on the other side of that door because it could be your dream.”
To find out what Wells-Onyioha is doing with Sole Strategies today, readers can visit their website and follow them on Twitter.