This past weekend, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre celebrated her first anniversary as the chief spokesperson for the Biden administration. Jean-Pierre’s appointment has been historic, as she is the first Black person, first openly LGBTQ person and first immigrant to serve in this role. Now, one year into her position as the face and voice of the President, Jean-Pierre sat down exclusively with Blavity to talk about representation, the sources of her hope, and her responsibility to the next generation.
When asked about her taking on the job of representing the Biden administration, which started with a stint as deputy press secretary before taking on the role of press secretary last May, Jean-Pierre described getting the call from President Joe Biden. “The president offered it to me, and it was an opportunity to work in the administration, the Biden-Harris administration, back in the, you know, the early days of putting this administration.”
Having been a key part of the Biden-Harris campaign, Jean-Pierre said, “I knew I wanted to be part of this historic moment.”
She described her reaction as the gravity of her new role hit her.
“I was like, oh, my gosh! Can I do the job? I don’t know what that means. What does that look like, and how will my world change, and how am I going to be able to do that in a way that’s effective.”
At the end of the day, Jean-Pierre said, “I took a leap of faith,” which eventually led to her being summoned to the Oval Office last May by Biden, who informed her that she was his choice to take over as press secretary.
Jean-Pierre said she is well aware of her responsibility as both a representative for a number of marginalized communities in this country and a key force in driving the policies of the current administration.
“I am the 35th White House press secretary. So just think about it. There were 34 more before me that didn’t look like me at all,” she said.
As a champion of the American people, Jean-Pierre said she sees her role and the work of her colleagues as both “making sure our voices are heard” as well as “putting forth policies and passing legislation that makes real change, not just for us, but for generations to come.” While this is a great responsibility, Jean-Pierre also speaks of the job as an adventure.
“I am literally having the best time of my life,” she said of her time as press secretary “because, as I say all the time to my colleagues and to the young people that work for me, it’s like we are all superheroes.”
When asked about her most memorable experiences while serving in the White House, Jean-Pierre noted that “there’s been many wonderful, amazing moments, because, again, this is a historical place,” but two stood out to her. The first was the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Jackson’s confirmation “was another amazing moment that you truly felt on campus.”
The second moment that has stuck with her was the release of Brittney Griner from imprisonment in Russia.
Jean-Pierre said, “When I got to go to the podium to talk about her being released,” she felt the importance of announcing Griner’s freedom and was honored to “deliver a message from Cherelle [Griner] to the American people from the podium.”
Jean-Pierre’s role in inspiring youth has reached as far as this reporter’s 17-year-old daughter, an aspiring writer, who insisted on asking Jean-Pierre about her experience as a Black woman “giv[ing] hope to young Black girls like me, seeing you in such a high role.” Asked how her experience has been, Jean-Pierre was honest and inspiring. She admitted that her job has “been up and down” with “some really, really hard days,” but overall, Jean-Pierre said that her job “has been certainly the most amazing experience that I have ever, ever had in my life.”
Jean-Pierre, giving hope to a young Black woman at the beginning of her career path, then said, “This is why I wake up every morning. Yes, I speak for the president. Yes, I have to do hard things every every day … but the inspiration part is so important.”
Noting that she had no idea what a press secretary was when she was younger, Jean-Pierre is excited that youth today know about this role through her.
“And I think I like to think me being in this role has opened up this kind of career or this possibility to young people who now know that I exist in this role, and what this role now is.”
Jean-Pierre said she is not close to done with her important work. “I’ll continue to be in this job as long as I can, as long as possible, as long as the president wants me and needs me,” she said. Yet she already has a sense of what she’d like her legacy to be. “I want to be remembered as someone who not only gave it all at the podium and represented the president in the best way that I possibly could, but also hopefully the American people felt like I represented them well.”