Valerie Jarrett And Civic Nation Usher In Fresh Era Of Social Advocacy
Valerie Jarrett | Photo credit: VALERIE MACON/AFP + Getty Images

The nation and world came to know Valerie Jarrett during her eight years as a senior advisor in former president Barack Obama’s White House. There, the Chicago lawyer turned Washington, D.C. power broker helped America’s first Black commander in chief make policy and history.  

Today, while supporting the new Biden-Harris administration, Jarrett remains committed to helping build a more perfect union. Her latest role is chairing the board of directors for Civic Nation, the nonprofit, nonpartisan home to a series of endeavors with a collective mission of creating a more equitable America.

Launched in the second term of the Obama administration, the Civic Nation family includes seven initiatives: When We All VoteUnited State of WomenALL IN Campus Democracy ChallengeEnd Rape On CampusIt’s On UsMade to Save and Creative Alliance.

Photo by Laura Rudich

Societal issues being tackled range from civic engagement and gender equity, to social justice, public health, safety and more. And of course, Black women are among the diverse leadership team at Civic Nation.

“Change often seems impossible until we, the people, make it inevitable. Civic Nation is home to the next generation of change makers ready to take on our biggest challenges,” Jarrett told ESSENCE via a spokesperson.

Civic Nation’s newest effort is Made to Save, a public education and grassroots campaign ensuring that access to COVID-19 vaccines will be more equitable and it hopes to build trust in communities of color who’ve been hit hard by the pandemic.

Working in tandem with the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services, and various nonprofit, labor, corporate, and healthcare policy partners, Made to Save will provide grants to trusted community-based organizations for organizing outreach programs. 

They’ll partner with local leaders in more than 30 states to increase access to the vaccines. Organizers said they will utilize the most up-to-date research and data to inform their outreach efforts, and use grassroots organizing to identify community-specific needs—aiming to reach those impacted by health disparities and least likely to get vaccinated.

“We know that COVID-19 only exacerbated the disparities that already existed in this country,” said Ashley Allison, senior advisor of Made to Save. “We know that Black women often lead the way through tough times, and this pandemic is no different. They are on the frontlines fighting for their communities, as essential workers, advocates, as organizers.”

“We know so many have lost so much,” she added. “That’s why we are on a mission to empower the organizers and leaders on the ground with the information, tools, and resources they need to get back to the moments we love— birthdays, cookouts, church services, graduations, family dinners, and so much more.”

Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo

The United State of Women also falls under the Civic Nation umbrella. In late March, their team launched the new “Every Issue Is A Gender Issue” campaign. It exists to help build understanding of how gender bias shows up across society, from health care to the fight for minimum wage.

“Women, particularly Black women and women of color, are disproportionately impacted by these issues, but we don’t often talk about them enough,” said Jordan Brooks, executive director of United State of Women.

“For example, we often talk about student loan debt nationwide, but what’s missing from that picture is that Black women are actually burdened with the highest amount ofstudent loan debt.”

United State of Women will launch campaigns to highlight the intricacies of these issues with organizing actions designed to shift the culture. Their goal is ensuring that women and girls, particularly those of color, thrive.

Two Civic Nation initiatives—End Rape on Campus and It’s On Us—use advocacy and action to end sexual violence. Their work includes direct support services for survivors and their communities; prevention through education and policy reform at the campus, local, state and federal levels; and centering historically marginalized communities.

Goals include working to create policy that is survivor-centered, trauma-informed, and intersectional. 

This week, the Department of Education moved forward with reviewing campus sexual assault rules under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded institutions. Critics have charged that protections for survivors were weakened under former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and the Trump administration.

“It has been four years of complete dismissal of student survivors’ reports—especially for Black, Indigenous, student survivors of color, immigrant and undocumented students, LGBTQ students, and student survivors with disabilities,” said Kenyora Parham, executive director, End Rape on Campus. “We have seen their voices continue to be faded out especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, where their resources and accommodationswere stymied.”

She applauded the Biden-Harris Administration for the recent move. 

“Conducting a process that allows students to be publicly heard and listened to is a big step forward in the right direction. I look forward to working with student survivors to ensure that they are truly a part of this process and that their stories are being heard and that appropriate action is taken.”

When We All Vote—launched by former First Lady Michelle Obama to increase voter education and participation in U.S. elections—is working to close voting gaps by race and age. Mrs. Obama and a host of celebrities recently penned an open letter urging Americans to push members of the U.S. Senate to support the For The People Act, a bill which includes voting rights reforms. 

“I am so proud that we are a leading voice in the fight for expanded voting rights and we remain committed to protect the incredible gains we saw in 2020 with voter participation and turn out,” said new executive director, Stephanie L. Young. “It’s not time to let up, but rather it’s time to lean in, register, organize and educate as many Americans as we can through civic education, engagement, experiences and events.”

In addition to her role at Civic Nation, Jarrett is the newest president of the Obama Foundation. She’s providing leadership as they move towards construction of the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side.

Meanwhile, the foundation’s programming continues to focus on efforts to engage K-12 students and the future leaders with programs such as My Brother’s Keeper, which mentors boys and young men of color.

Jarrett not only worked on similar initiatives in the White House, they dovetail with her long commitment to service. She formerly served as deputy chief of staff to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley; was the commissioner of planning and development in his administration; and has served on the boards of leading civic organizations.

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“There is no one closer to understanding President Obama’s lifelong mission of community engagement than Valerie Jarrett,” said Marty Nesbitt, the foundation’s Board Chair in a statement. “She was a central figure through it all—starting with community organizing in South Side basements, going on to fight for better education and jobs for African Americans on the campaign trail, and strengthening access to health care in the White House. She is the perfect choice to help train the next generation of leaders to be the change they want to see. She’s living proof of what that looks like.”

In a statement, former President Obama noted: “Valerie is not just our dear friend and longtime advisor, she’s a daughter of Chicago who cares deeply about our hometown and has been with the foundation since the very beginning.”

He added, “Her command of policy and organizational leadership will serve the foundation well, and her demonstrated commitment to mentorship and developing young people will be a guiding light as we move forward.”

Jarrett is energized and ready for this latest chapter of public service and advocacy. “I know we will continue to drive change and inspire people to take action wherever they are,” she said.

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