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May 16, 2022, 3:40 p.m. EDT

Who is Karine Jean-Pierre, the new White House press secretary making history Monday?

By Nicole Lyn Pesce

When Karine Jean-Pierre, then the principal deputy press secretary, took her first turn giving the press briefing at the White House in May 2021, she said it was “a real honor” to fill in for Jen Psaki.  

And on Monday afternoon, standing behind that iconic lectern in the West Wing briefing room became her full-time gig — and it will now be her job to deliver the Biden administration’s message just as the country heads into the midterm elections. What’s more, President Joe Biden’s second White House press secretary is making history as the first Black woman and the first openly gay person in one of the White House’s most prominent positions.

“I am obviously acutely aware that my presence at this podium, represents a few firsts,” she said on Monday. “I am a Black gay immigrant woman. The first of all three of those to hold this position, I would not be here today if it were not for generations of barrier breaking people before me. I stand on their shoulders.”

She continued by saying that she learned from the sacrifices of those who came before her, and she is forever grateful to them. “Representation does matter,” she added. “You hear us you hear us say this often in this administration, and no one understands this better than President Biden.”

Biden said in a statement that Jean-Pierre “not only brings the experience, talent and integrity needed for this difficult job, but she will continue to lead the way in communicating about the work of the Biden-Harris administration on behalf of the American people.”

So here’s what you need to know about the new White House press secretary. 

She ran track before helping candidates run for office. 

Jean-Pierre, 44, was born in Martinique (a Caribbean island that is an overseas region of France), and grew up in Queens and Long Island, New York. She ran track and field and cross country at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, where graduated in 1993, and where Newsday called her a “track star.” She was also on the track team at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, where she graduated in 1997 with a bachelor of science degree in life science. She then earned a master’s of public administration degree from Columbia University in 2003. 

She worked plenty of odd jobs — such as volunteer firefighter. 

Jean-Pierre’s 2019 memoir “Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America” describes growing up and going to school on Long Island, as Newsday reported . It also lists the range of jobs she worked. These included: serving as a volunteer firefighter; working at an Estée Lauder plant; and exploring her roots through documentary film.

She’s got a long resume in community service and local politics.

She worked as a phone canvasser for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment based in Farmingdale. Her work with this group also saw her monitoring piping plovers bird nests on Jones Beach, and working on an outreach project to get girls more involved with learning about the environment. 

Her official bio notes that she also worked at the nonprofit Center for Community and Corporate Ethics, which studied the impact of large corporations on society and worked toward developing standards for responsible corporate behavior. Her website writes that she pushed major companies like Walmart to change their business practices. 

She was also a senior aide (deputy chief of staff and director of legislative and budget affairs) for two New York City Council members, and served as press secretary to former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner. 

She has also served as a senior adviser to the progressive MoveOn.org political action committee, and has appeared on MSNBC as a political analyst. 

She’s a veteran political strategist who served on a few presidential campaigns.

She worked on John Edwards’ failed 2004 political campaign — and was apparently not a fan of living in South Carolina, according to a passage from her memoir that’s gotten some buzz recently. “Everything about it was off-putting,” she wrote. “The Confederate flag, the humidity, the covert stares I received every time I ventured into a white neighborhood, the simmering racial hostility that seemed to permeate the very oxygen that I breathed.”

Jean-Pierre also worked on both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, and she served as the regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs under the Obama administration. She was a senior adviser on Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, as well. 

In fact, her political savvy brought her back to Columbia University in 2014 to teach a course on campaign management as a faculty member at her alma mater’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Now Jean-Pierre is living in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area with her partner, CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, and their daughter

Jen Psaki raves about her grace and “sense of humor.”

Outgoing press secretary Psaki, who is expected to take an on-air role with MSNBC, shared a Twitter thread earlier this month describing Jean-Pierre as a “remarkable woman” with “decades of experience from her early years working in government and politics in [New York City], to her years as an outspoken advocate, to serving as a long-time advisor to [Mr Biden] back when he was the VP.” 

“She is passionate. She is smart and she has a moral core that makes her not just a great colleague, but an amazing Mom and human,” Psaki added . “Plus, she has a great sense of humor.”

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