Don Scott Jr., a trial lawyer and delegate representing Portsmouth, made history on Jan. 9 when he was sworn in as Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. Scott, chosen unanimously by his Democratic colleagues to lead the House, is the first Black person and the 88th to serve in this role. For Scott, who has drawn upon his experiences with the criminal justice system to advocate for change, his new position is a new opportunity to do the work that he has dedicated years to pursuing.

“With the 2024 session now underway, I’m grateful for the trust that my colleagues have placed in me,” Scott tweeted on Jan. 10. “Let’s meet this historic moment, and set our sights on moving Virginia forward.”

Scott’s journey to leading the Virginia House of Delegates has been unusual, filled with highs and lows. Scott had a very promising start despite growing up as one of five children in a low-income family in Houston. He graduated from Texas A&M, served in the Navy before leaving with an honorable discharge and gained his law degree from Louisiana State University in 1994. But his career was soon derailed when he was arrested and pleaded guilty on a drug charge — based on a “bad decision” — and ended up serving seven years in prison. Scott eventually moved to Virginia, but it was only in 2013 that he had his voting rights restored and was subsequently allowed to take the bar exam to practice law.

His career in law took off, with Scott becoming a partner in his firm and being active with the local NAACP. But in 2018, he was challenged by his past when a reporter called to ask for comment on a story about his past prison sentence. Scott, who never lied about his history, confirmed the report and embraced his past, focusing on criminal justice reform and eventually launching a successful campaign to represent Portsmouth and promote an agenda that includes abortion rights and gun control while also pursuing a just criminal justice system.

Scott takes office at a crucial time for Virginia, becoming the leading Democrat in a state led by a high-profile conservative Republican governor. He takes office as Speaker, with Virginia being a vital swing state in a presidential election year. As such, Scott will have his work cut out for him, but his long journey has prepared him to handle challenges.