Back in March, Virginia delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy was preparing to announce her campaign to be the next governor of the commonwealth in a history-making bid that could see her as the first African-American female governor in the United States, as well as Virginia’s first female and Black female governor, if she wins. She would also be the first Black woman ever elected to statewide office in the commonwealth.
However, the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the nation, prompting the delegate to focus on her legislative duties. Foy placed her campaign on hold for two months to focus on what Virginians needed at the moment, including better health care and better pay.
The pandemic convinced Foy that now more than ever is her time to step up and serve in a higher office.
“Before COVID-19, families in Virginia were already struggling to pay for their medical bills, earn a decent paycheck, and get ahead. The coronavirus has simply shown what was already beneath the surface: the inequities in our system, the struggles of working families, and the neglect of all of the people who have systemically and historically been left behind,” Foy tells ESSENCE.
As a delegate, Foy has dialed in on some of the issues that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted, including pushing for a call for a vote by mail in Virginia in November, emphasizing her concerns about the racial disparities that the country has seen in the face of the pandemic and calling for expanded sick leave.
And in a sense, Foy’s message, though perhaps a bit more targeted, has not changed very much from when she first spoke to ESSENCE in the early weeks of March, when she was first anticipating her campaign announcement. And she is running, she says, because she understands these issues.
Foy was born in Petersburg, Virginia, and raised by her grandmother, who later in life had a stroke and became a quadriplegic. Foy recalled having to decide, with her aunt, if they were going to pay for the mortgage that month or for the medications keeping her grandmother alive.
Throughout her life, Foy has worn many hats, as a former foster mom and now the mother of twins. She was a public defender and is no stranger to breaking glass ceilings as one of the first Black women to graduate from one of the top military colleges in the country, the Virginia Military Institute.
These experiences have given her a unique perspective to tackle the problems that have long plagued Virginia.
And so she did—starting in 2017, she went on to become one of a historic number of women to be elected to the state House of Delegates.
“I’ve dedicated my entire life to fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. And I’m going to continue to fight as the next governor of Virginia,” Foy said back in March. “[My grandmother] taught me life lessons and mentored me…in a way that inspired me to give back to others…She’d always say, ‘Jenn, if you have it, you have to give it.’ ”
Foy sponsored the measure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which passed in Virginia, making it the 38th state to ratify the amendment, thus clearing the path to officially ban discrimination based on gender into the constitution (although there are some legal and political struggles to overcome).
She has been leading the fight to expand Medicaid and a host of other initiatives, including delivering broadband to southwest and rural Virginia, as well as expanding career and technical education. She has called for criminal justice reform and the end of mass incarceration. She is passionate about fixing the Black maternal health crisis—given her own complicated pregnancy with her twin sons.
“Since COVID-19, I’ve transitioned that conversation and called for paid sick days, to pass paid family medical leave that I carried the last session that wasn’t successful, fight for PPE and masks for grocery workers, bus drivers and other essential employees, ensuring that teachers are not laid off and they are paid for furlough and are paid for the rest of this academic school year,” Foy says. “I’m for increasing the minimum wage, and of course vote by mail so people don’t have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their civil rights and participating in democracy.
“That is what Virginians are really waiting for, a champion for the people. I’m not afraid to take on the status quo, or stand up against special interest groups, or fight for big, bold change. I am a person who will never take no for an answer, because I know what’s at stake and I know that Virginians can’t wait.”
The determined Democrat wasn’t fazed at all about the delayed campaign in the middle of the pandemic, noting that the campaign has been rallying on social media and workers have been sending out mail to keep in contact with constituents.
“It’s actually encouraging because it forces me to think of new and creative and innovative ways to be able to reach more people, in order to broaden our scope of who we should be talking to,” Foy says.
For Foy, the only way to go is forward, and she is ready to do what it takes to make Virginia better for everyone.
“I am excited to be in a position to be able to change what the face of leadership in Virginia looks like,” she said back in March. “But I’m also laser-focused on what Virginia needs, and making good on the promises that I’ve kept to help build a better Virginia by increasing access to health care, bringing diverse high paying jobs across the commonwealth and making sure that we leave no community behind.”