Jazari Kual Zakaria, a senior broadcasting and journalism double major, poses for a photo outside the Reactor Coffee Shop on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Zakaria is running for Nebraska’s First Congressional District seat in the United States House of Representatives.

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln student declared his candidacy for United States Congress, and he’s working to be defined by his sincerity and drive to help others, not his age. His campaign posters hang around campus, inviting students to vote for a familiar face and “fight for our future.”

Jazari Kual Zakaria, a junior broadcasting media production and journalism double major, is running as a Democrat for Nebraska’s First Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. 

Prior to his campaign, he had success in growing an online brand as a micro-influencer and in sharing a wide range of content related to social and political issues. His most popular livestream of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 has reached nearly two million views.

“The protests started happening, and then I started live streaming and reporting on that,” Zakaria said. “Things like that really took off.”

In January 2020, Zakaria said a family reached out to him for help obtaining necessities, such as water and a heater. However, due to the amount of snow at the time, he was unable to reach the family’s door and had to hand the necessities through a window in their trailer, where he spotted children inside. Zakaria said this was his defining moment on deciding to run for Congress. 

While on his way home, Zakaria thought about the family he helped and the current congressman of his district, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who had recently chosen not to vote on a bill that would increase stimulus checks to $2,000.

“He said that he didn’t vote, but had he voted, he would have voted against it anyways because ‘Nebraskans don’t need it,’” Zakaria said. “And so here I am, just got done helping this family who that money that could have been provided through that stimulus check was a matter of life or death for.”

Zakaria’s family immigrated to the United States from South Sudan two months before he was born. After his father died from cancer in 2021, Zakaria documented his trip to South Sudan, where his father had wished to be buried. He was able to document the trip and share it to his popular social media pages, specifically Facebook.

“I’ve been able to share with people online what it’s like in South Sudan and the village and where my dad was from,” Zakaria said. “That kind of ties into the experiences that I shared with people and trying to bring a spotlight to different areas that aren’t usually covered and shared.”

Stephanie Howell, Zakaria’s former government and politics teacher at Lincoln Northeast High School, described him as someone who is considerate and understanding.

“While he may be young, he has lived a lifetime full of experiences that a lot of people would never ever experience,” Howell said. “He’s traveled, he’s had tragedy in his life, he is an entrepreneur, so he’s got a strong business sense. His age is not something that people should focus on.”

Zakaria said the two biggest challenges with running for Congress at his age of 26 are accessibility and connectivity.

“A lot of [older candidates] have been in the political world, so they know people and they have access to fundraising that I just don’t,” he said.

Zakaria said his goal beyond winning the election is to encourage as many people to vote and be involved in politics as possible.

“A lot of people are just like, ‘I don’t do politics; don’t talk to me about politics,’ because you go online and you turn on the news and the things you see are just crazy,” Zakaria said. “People just try to distance themselves from that. So we’re trying to take a different approach to politics in a way that doesn’t make it so divisive and makes it a learning opportunity for everyone.”

Elections for the U.S House of Representatives will be held in Nebraska on Nov. 8, 2022. Anyone interested in voting or becoming involved in the election can visit the Nebraska Secretary of State website for more information.