Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy press secretary for the Biden administration, took to the podium on May 26th, making history as the first Black woman to lead a white house briefing in 30 years. Jean-Pierre is also the first openly gay woman to ever do so.
"I appreciate the historic nature. I really do," Jean-Pierre added. "But I believe that ... being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building is not about one person. It's about what we do on behalf of the American people."
Hailing from Fort-de-France, Martinique, Karine Jean-Pierre was born to Haitian parents. At the age of 5, Jean-Pierre’s parents immigrated to Queens, New York in search of a better life and more opportunities for their family. The eldest of three, Jean-Pierre was no stranger to taking on responsibility. Her mother worked as a home health aide and her father was a taxi driver. As both parents worked to make ends meet, the responsibility for caring for her younger siblings often fell on Jean-Pierre.
Career Highlights and Accomplishments
Before joining Biden’s all-female White House communications team, Jean-Pierre served as the regional political director for the Office of Political Affairs in the Obama White House, a senior advisor to Biden’s campaign, and later Kamala Harris’s chief of staff during the 2020 presidential campaign. She was also a political analyst on NBC and MSNBC.
In 2016, Karine Jean-Pierre became the chief public affairs officer for MoveOn, a progressive public policy advocacy and political action organization. Prior to that, she worked as a lecturer at the University of Columbia School of International and Public Affairs and at the Center for Community and Corporate Ethics where she successfully pushed big companies such as Walmart to change their business practices.
Karine Jean-Pierre’s interest in politics began in graduate school. She received her bachelor's degree from the New York Institute of Technology and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) in 2003. There, she ran for President of SIPA's Student Association. Her mentor at the time, David Dinkins, the former mayor of New York City, encouraged her to pursue a career in politics and she did. Jean-Pierre often attributes her start in politics to SIPA.
How Being an Immigrant Shaped Her
In her book, "Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and The Promise of America," she recounts her experiences and hardships of growing up in New York’s Haitian community to working in the Obama White House. She noted how growing up in an immigrant family helped to define her. Like most Caribbean children, she was taught to work hard and was encouraged to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Jean-Pierre notes that it was not until she went to Washington to work for the Obama administration that her parents understood she was changing the world in her own unique way.
Her journey, however, was not easy. Jean-Pierre struggled with mental health issues during her adolescence. In her book, she recounts how the prevalent silence around mental health in her community and the tremendous pressures put on her growing up contributed to her wanting to take her own life. Jean-Pierre wrote that she felt like a failure and an outsider and saw suicide as her way out. She attempted it, writing that she never thought she would speak publicly about mental illness. Today, she is proud to have lived and realized everything her parents worked so hard for her to accomplish.
Jean-Pierre's accomplishments are undeniable. She is a pillar for representation for many communities. She noted during her historic White House briefing, “Clearly the president believes that representation matters and I appreciate him giving me this opportunity, and it’s another reason why I think we are all so proud that this is the most diverse administration in history.”
The lesbian Haitian-American has broken barriers and made history. This June, as the nation celebrates Caribbean-American Heritage Month and Pride Month, it's stories like hers that inspire hope. In a 2020 interview, she told Out magazine, “I believe that America, one that is stronger and more inclusive, is within reach” going on to say, “America is progressing towards a stronger, more inclusive future — and I know women of color are a driving force in that evolution.” Jean-Pierre wishes to inspire hope in downtrodden communities and encourages young people not to let go of their idealism for a better tomorrow.