- Born and raised in India, the youngest daughter of an American father and Indian mother, who were career United Methodist missionaries to India, she has been working for “people living on the fringe.”
Entrepreneur Nalini Joseph has announced her candidacy for the Salisbury City Council in North Carolina. If elected in November, the 53-year-old will be the first Indian American to serve.
Joseph owns and operates Lini’s Mahal LLC; a concierge chef business and Lini’s Burgers — a gourmet burger business. She told American Kahani that although she’s a political neophyte, her work in government has given her “a deep understanding” of how maladies like poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, crime affect “our society on progress and on our economy and how they impact a city.”
For the last 14 years, Joseph served as the district administrator for the Guardian ad Litem and has been working for abused and neglected children through the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. She is the founder and current executive director of William Jones Scholars LLC, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the education of children.
Speaking about her decision to run for a seat in the city council, Joseph said: “I have been working for children and families for so long that I thought of what can I do for my city, what can I do for my community that will have a real impact.” She feels her “unique background” will stand her in good stead.
The youngest daughter of two career United Methodist missionaries to India, Joseph was born and grew up in India after her father moved there to begin a ministry. Her mother, B.K. Jones was an Indian, and her father, Rev W.W. Jones was American. “Christian family values, service to others and the invaluable role of education were the bedrock of my upbringing and have shaped my value system as an adult,” she says on her website.
Growing up as a Christian in India, “in a very pluralistic society,” Joseph says she’s “always been considered a minority no matter where I am. I’m a minority here in America, I’m a minority in India; I’m a white-skinned person in India but in America, I am considered brown-skinned,” she says. “So I have always been challenged to work for the minorities, for the poor, for the people living on the fringe.”
After high school, Joseph moved to the U.S. to attend Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She’s been living in Salisbury since 2001 with her husband Jude and their 11-year-old son, Rohan.
Joseph says she decided to run for a position in the city council “to actively try to become part of the solution,” to go beyond just my day-to-day job, to make my city more prosperous, to reduce crime, to make sure we have clean water, clean air, and be litter-free.”
She is “very much about equality of opportunity,” because “in India, we have a system where only the most educated, the most talented, the most well-resurged individuals get out of the country and are able to educate themselves abroad and maybe come back or live abroad for the rest of their lives and have their families there. But I want to give that opportunity to everybody. I want every child to have their educational opportunities and job opportunities,” she says. “I have a pretty good understanding after working in the nonprofit and government system for over 32 years as to how these issues affect our cities; issues that plague our poor usually, how they affect the rest of us. So I really want to get to work and make sure every person feels free and every person feels safe.”
On her website, Joseph shares her ‘Vision of Progress and Prosperity’ for families in Salisbury. She notes that “by uniting and working together, we can get past our differences, bridge divisions and thrive as united residents of Salisbury.” Other initiatives include creating jobs, making the city more environmentally friendly, and “a model city where every woman, man and child has Equality of Opportunity and can pursue our guaranteed unalienable Rights – Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Salisbury, the county seat of North Carolina’s Rowan County, is located in the heart of the Piedmont area, the industrial heart of the state. The city, with a population of about 35,000 is “predominantly Democrat,” Joseph notes. “About 35 percent of the population is African American, 25 percent Hispanic and Latino, 1-2 percent Asian population and the rest are white,” she explains. “There is a very small Indian American community with just a few families.”
Along with her experience, Joseph is aware that her faith will play a role in her election. “Although someone should be hired or elected solely on their merit, people always look at the character,” she says. “They always look at diversity, not just of race but of thought.” And Joseph says she brings “a completely different perspective from anything that they’ve ever had here,” she says, adding that the city has never had an Asian American run for office. “So I think it [faith] does play a part in people’s ideas about what you can bring that would be new, innovative, refreshing to the city council and I think all this plays a part in who they vote for.”
The council is currently made up of the mayor, who is white, and four other council members – one Black and the rest white. In the November election, seven people are vying for two extra seats – there are two incumbents and five newcomers, including Joseph.
Noting that “we are in the South,” she says “religion does play a part in how people judge the overall character, and I think the fact that I am a Christian does make people feel comfortable with me because we have a large churchgoing population and so faith does have something to do with people’s overall assessment of a person.”