Jehmu Greene has spent her career leading youth, women and people of color across America in building social justice movements. And tomorrow, when hundreds of Democratic National Committee (DNC) members vote for new officers during their winter meeting in Atlanta, Greene will be one of two women—and the only African-American woman—on the ballot for chairperson.
She’s among five Black women seeking national leadership positions, including vice-chair and secretary, following party losses in the November presidential election.“It was personally heartbreaking for me, and a punch in the gut for millions who voted for Hillary Clinton,” says Greene. “But Donald Trump’s presidency has re-energized the party with greater passion and engagement. When vulnerable and disenfranchised communities are under attack, we don’t have the luxury of being comfortable. We must be fierce and fight.”
The 44-year-old grew up watching her parents—Liberian immigrants who’d fled civil unrest and political persecution—fight to achieve the American dream for themselves and their four children. Greene was very young when her family left the Washington, D.C. suburbs and planted roots in Austin, Texas. “We were poor. I received free lunches at school,” Greene says.
Meanwhile, her folks were undocumented. “It meant living in fear and terror. They were limited in employment and exhausted from working different jobs—in restaurants, caring for the disabled, cleaning churches.” Still, she says, “even with a lack of resources, my parents made sure we had access to education. And we lived in a vibrant, progressive community in the middle of this red state. My imagination and sense of possibility was never constrained.”
The family’s immigration status and economic fortunes would eventually shift—her mom became a registered nurse and her dad, started his own business. But the memory of those early struggles underscores her devotion to the Democratic party. She believes in its espoused values: ensuring all Americans have access to a good job with solid pay, affordable health care, a secure retirement plan, and a quality education for their children. “I’m running to lead the party because we’re at a unique moment in history,” says Greene, who is single and lives in New York City. “We are living in unprecedented political times and Trump and his supporters are playing a whole new game. It’s going to take a unique set of skills to rebrand and rebuild.”
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In order to succeed, she believes a bold platform is key. Hers encompasses goals of 80 percent voter turnout; full gender parity in elective office; ensuring at least half of staff and consultants be women or women-owned businesses and at least half be people of color or minority-owned businesses; and transforming donor participation so the majority of funds come from grassroots fundraising.
Greene, who cut her political teeth in Texas, says her credentials showcase a commitment to progressive social change.
While still in her twenties, Greene was tapped to helm Rock the Vote, the youth voter registration organization. During her five-year tenure as president, the membership soared from 1,500 to more than 1 million. From there, she led the Women’s Media Center, an advocacy and training organization with feminist principles co-founded by Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan.
Green’s other leadership roles have included serving as women’s outreach director and Southern political director at the DNC; co-founding Define American, an initiative created to elevate the conversation on immigration reform; and being a founding board-member of VoteRunLead, an organization credited with recruiting/ training more than 15,000 women to run for political office.
Along the way, she’s worked on dozens of political campaigns at the local, state and national level, and was an advisor and national surrogate for Hillary Clinton’s first presidential bid. Until recently, Greene worked in private industry and served as an analyst for FOX News, stepping down to campaign for chair of the DNC. “This isn’t a photo op for me,” she said. “It’s about doing the work,” she says.
The DNC will hold a general session on Saturday morning to elect new officers. The eight candidates were required to submit 20 DNC member signatures in order to qualify for the ballot. All officers will be elected by the full membership (normally 447 members, but currently 442) officials said. Donna Brazile, the interim DNC chair spoke to media on Thursday. “I’m proud of them.
I know them all,” she said of the candidates. “This is a great moment for the party.” That said, while Brazile has twice been appointed to serve as interim chair, the DNC (nor any other major American political party) has never elected a Black woman to the top slot. Greene feels confident that she is up for the task. “The whole process has been very exciting. I’m embracing the joy of rebuilding the party. Fighting for righteousness comes easy to me.”