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That's what she said

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Jyotsna Raj, candidate comes from a family rooted in academics, women’s leadership

Artist Jyotsna Raj poses with her painting "Buddha's Lotus"

Artist Jyotsna Raj poses with her painting “Buddha’s Lotus” (photo courtesy Jyotsna Raj)

During her last bid for City Council, artist Jyotsna Raj heard from a group of Boulder’s homeless at a forum. She was taken by their issues.

“It pulled on my heart and I saw how marginalized they were on various issues,” Raj says. “After the election, I went back and said ‘You interest me.’”

Raj, who was not elected to the Boulder City Council during that 2009 bid, still took it upon herself to be a civic servant. She began volunteering with the homeless clients of the Bridge House. She did Henna body art for some of the women clients and facilitated an art program at the day shelter. Raj, recognizing the many talents of the group, arranged exhibitions of their work at the library and at the Gondolier Restaurant on Pearl Street.

The 64-year-old University Hill resident is a painter who specializes in Indian folk art, children’s art and illustrations. She’s also a former professor who comes from a family rooted in academics and community involvement.

Raj’s grandfather, S.S. Bhatnagar, was a chemist who established the National Research Laboratory system in India. The “Bhatnagar Award”—which could be considered the Indian version of the Nobel Prize—is named after her grandfather. Her grandmother was a former city council member. And, Raj’s great aunt Mahadevi started a girl’s school in 1902 known as Mahadevi Kanya Pathshala, which, today, is the largest women’s college in India.

“I’m from a very academic family and come from a family of extremely strong women who are great women’s rights advocates,” Raj says.

Raj, in continuing the spirit of that legacy, is a member of the University Women’s Club at the University of Colorado, which awards scholarships to nontraditional students every year.

Raj grew up in India and, at age 24, immigrated to the United States with her husband Rishi Raj, who is a mechanical engineering professor at CU. She earned a master’s degree in English Literature and previously taught at Kanpur University. Prior to moving to Boulder, she and her spouse lived in Ithaca, New York, where she volunteered with literacy programs.

During Raj’s first run for council, she was focused on compatible development—coming off the heels of leading a successful movement to secure historic designation for two University Hill blocks along 14th Street. Since 2009, though, her experience volunteering and serving on boards has introduced her to many more constituencies.

“I volunteer a lot and serve on several boards and have come across a lot of people who don’t feel heard,” Raj says.

Raj has served on boards ranging from BOHO, a community program to provide shelter to the homeless on cold nights, to the University Hill Commercial Area Management Commission, which advises the city and council on hill issues such as parking and land acquisition. An avid reader, she also started a book group at the library a few years ago called “The Great Indian Novel,” focusing on literature from the Indian subcontinent.

Former Boulder City Council member Crystal Gray became acquainted with Raj when Raj came before council with historic preservation efforts.

Gray was impressed with Raj’s focused and positive approach, as well as how she built community in the historic neighborhood, which had housed university professors in the early 1900’s.

“What really impresses me about Jyotsna is her involvement in the City of Boulder,” Gray says. “It’s quite deep in ways that I really think would enrich City Council.”

Gray also says she’s impressed with Raj’s “green” lifestyle that includes gardening, composting and making use of public transportation.

Raj’s involvement with the university can also help inform the council on town-gown issues, Gray says.

Raj, a mother of three grown children, enjoys being in the outdoors—hiking in Chautauqua and Shanahan Ridge. She’s also an avid gardener, with a garden overflowing with flowers, tomatoes and zucchinis and she enjoys sharing her bounty with her neighbors.

“I also love the public library, which is truly my second home,” Raj says.

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