Karine Jean-Pierre addressed the nation as the first Black woman to hold the position of principal deputy press secretary of the White House in 30 years, and as the first openly gay woman to ever hold the position.
She said during her first press conference it was “a real honor” to speak on behalf of the White House but that the role “is not about one person.”
Jean-Pierre grew up in New York’s Haitian community and went on to serve under President Barack Obama before she was appointed to her role in the Biden administration, according to her memoir, “Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America.” She is a first-generation Haitian-American. Jean-Pierre has a wife, Suzanne Malveaux, and a daughter, Soleil. Their daughter’s seventh birthday is today, May 27, 2021, according to her wife’s Twitter post.
Some might recognize Jean-Pierre from a viral video in 2019, when she blocked a protester from then-Senator Kamala Harris. The protester jumped on the stage and took Harris’ microphone while she was speaking.
The last Black woman to be deputy press secretary was Judy Smith in 1991. She served as deputy press secretary to then-President George H.W. Bush.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. ‘It’s a Real Honor,’ Jean-Pierre Said of Her Position With the White House
Jean-Pierre was the first Black woman to speak on behalf of the White House in three decades when she addressed reporters Wednesday, March 26, 2021, according to NPR. While she said it was an honor to serve as press secretary for the Biden administration, she said the task is about the American people, not an individual.
“It’s a real honor just to be standing here today,” Jean-Pierre said at her press conference. “I appreciate the historic nature, I really do. But I believe 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.”
“I am profoundly honored to be the Principal Deputy Press Secretary for [President Joe Biden],” Jean-Pierre wrote on Twitter. “I am especially thrilled to work alongside [Jen Psaki] whose leadership and stellar instincts will ensure we are positioned to effectively communicate the Biden-Harris agenda to all Americans.”
She began her press conference speaking about Kristen Clarke, announcing that Clarke was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday, May 25, 2021, as the leader of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Clarke is the first woman and first woman of color to hold the position, NPR reported.
2. Jean-Pierre & Wife Suzanne Malveaux Adopted Their Daughter, Soleil, Exactly 7 Years Ago & May 27 Is Her Birthday
Jean-Pierre’s wife is Suzanne Malveaux, a national correspondent for CNN. Jean-Pierre and wife Malveaux have a daughter, Soleil, who turned 7 years old May 27, 2021. They adopted Soleil at birth, according to their Twitter accounts. The anniversary of her adoption and her daughter’s birthday came the day after Jean-Pierre’s historic press conference.
“Celebrating the greatest blessing to come into my life 2 years ago today. Every day you bring a new joy. Happy bday!” Malveaux wrote on Twitter May 27, 2016.
Soleil shared her wife’s post, writing, “Happy Birthday Sunshine!”
Jean-Pierre served as the regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs during the Obama administration and also held multiple roles in Obama’s presidential campaigns in both 2008 and 2012, according to the Washington Blade. She said at the time it was an honor to serve a campaign dedicated to LGBT issues.
“Serving and working for President Obama, where you can be openly gay, has been an amazing honour. It felt incredible to be a part of an administration that prioritises LGBT issues,” she said, according to The Africa Report.
At least two other openly gay people – both men – previously held communication roles for the White House, according to the Blade. Judd Deere served as deputy press secretary under the Trump administration, and Eric Schulz was a deputy press secretary under the Obama administration. The Blade reported Schulz was “the first openly gay person to conduct an on-camera news conference from the White House briefing room.”
3. Jean-Pierre Was Born in Martinique & Moved to New York as a Young Girl; She Graduated From Columbia University
Karine Jean-Pierre’s parents were born in Haiti and fled the Duvalier dictatorship, landing in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Jean-Pierre was born there in 1977, according to The Africa Report. At age 5, her family moved to Queens, where she grew up in a Haitian community.
“Initially wooed by the myth of the American dream, her parents’ hopes were quickly dashed by the hardships of living as immigrants in the United States,” The Africa Report said. “Despite having an engineering degree, her father went to work as a taxi driver while her mother became a home health aide.”
Jean-Pierre graduated Columbia University with a master’s degree in public affairs in 2003, according to The Africa Report. In 2014, she returned to Columbia University as a faculty member.
4. Smith, the Only Other Black Woman to Serve As Deputy Press Secretary, Attended Jean-Pierre’s Press Conference
Jean-Pierre spoke to MSNBC about her historic press conference and about the diversity of Biden’s administration.
“I stand on so many shoulders,” she said. “It’s not just me. It’s so many people that come before me.”
She referenced Smith, the only other Black woman to serve as deputy press secretary. Smith appeared at the White House to watch Jean-Pierre’s briefing.
“It was super kind of her, and I have to say we showed some bipartisanship, right, she worked for a Republican… It was just amazing to meet her for the first time and for her to support,” Jean-Pierre said.
Smith shared a photo of them together on Twitter.
“Standing in support,” Smith wrote. “Sisterhood. Always.”
Jean-Pierre went on to say that a diverse administration was a promise Biden made and kept.
“There’s something about this moment that we’re in, the diversity, the movement of Black women, where we are in different positions, and this is an administration that is the most diverse administration ever,” she said.
5. Jean-Pierre’s Previous Work Includes Campaigning for Martin O’Malley & Work With MoveOn.org
Jean-Pierre has held several roles in activism and politics, according to her website. One of her most notable roles was as the Chief Public Affairs Officer for MoveOn.org, a progressive group mobilizing to create “a world marked by equality, sustainability, justice, and love,” its website says.
A video clip of Jean-Pierre went viral in 2019 when she protected Kamala Harris from an animal rights activist. At the time, Harris was a U.S. Senator and Jean-Pierre was working for MoveOn.org, serving as a moderator, according to Politico. The clip shows the protester jump onto the stage and grab a microphone from Harris. Jean-Pierre shielded Harris, and security surrounded the protester, identified by Politico as Aidan Cook of the Direct Action Everywhere animal welfare advocacy group.
Jean-Pierre also served as an NBC and MSNBC political analyst, served in the Obama administration, and worked as the Deputy Campaign Manager for Martin O’Malley for President. O’Malley, a Democrat, was a two-term governor of Maryland from 2006 to 2015, according to Ballotopedia. He ran for president in 2016.
Jean-Pierre wrote a memoir, “Moving Forward,” which begins with her childhood in New York’s Haitian community and discusses her political career.
“A moving, inspiring political memoir and progressive call to arms from the chief public affairs officer for moveon.org, chronicling her own experiences—from growing up in New York’s Haitian community to working in the Obama White House and charting a path for others to help change the face of politics,” her book’s description says.