Regina Appolon: When Politics is Like Family

While making change is the prime motivator for Regina Appolon—PPAG’s newest team member—few could have predicted her unorthodox path to Trenton. Fewer still could have seen her making career steps towards state politics.

Raised in West Orange to Haitian parents, Regina’s life began with Creole as the language of her household—a childhood dominated by the force of a grandmother, an even dozen aunts and uncles, and over twenty-one cousins. Laughter, music, and the unceasing ribbing of their ebullient family formed the basis for Regina’s joyful presence and easy charm. A first-time meeting her is a family encounter.

Early in life, Regina would begin a lifelong passion for beauty. Hours of braiding hair with cousins would form her beliefs about the need for positive, individual expression. Without it, she argues, life is colorless. Despite these passions, she chose to major in nursing, not cosmetology. And like many who exhibit right-brain gifting, math was the unconquerable stumbling block. It was an introductory class in American Government that finally switched her on to the political track, and a straight path to the Capitol. She would never look back.

After graduation.  Regina wasn’t sure how to turn a political science degree into a life-supporting career. It wasn’t until the fall after graduation, that a Rutgers Political Science Department search for legislative aides generated her first solid lead, as an aide to Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee. When her boss retired, she leapfrogged others to become chief of staff to Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, becoming an instant star in the Capitol.

Regina’s new perch gave her a prime role in passion projects from TNC legislation and financial literacy to the passage of Eileen’s Law—toughening vehicular homicide laws against drivers who carelessly fail to maintain their lane in traffic. But it was the 2018 passage of New Jersey’s Hair Braiding Law—giving accreditation status to qualified hair braiding professionals—that brings obvious joy. In many ways, the law gave voice to hundreds of young girls and their mothers who felt their passions had no real place to call home.

 Regina sees her new post at PPAG as a way to “help people who don’t have a voice and who look like me.” Many immigrants and first-generation Americans, she contends, fear politics because of an immigration stigma. To them, she says simply, “You have a stake in this.” None should see the Capitol’s doors closed. Hers will always be open. “For my family, I’ll always say yes. For someone who’s going through something, I’ll always say yes.” Adding, “Let’s give people hope for something new.”