Last week a political magazine published a list of top 25 political rising stars and failed to name one African American to the list. Many of my colleagues, who work in the political world, saw this as a missed opportunity for the magazine to produce a list that represents the diversity in a growing pool of rising political operatives. A great majority of political leaders operate under the philosophy that where an opportunity does not exist it must be created. So, here we are.
This generation—my generation—is certainly proof that there is progress in America. In that light, I’d like to acknowledge that while we have made numerous steps forward, there is still a lot of work to be done. For that purpose, emPower magazine is recognizing a few rising political stars who are currently engaged in doing the work it takes to build strong communities. This is not one of those “top” lists of a certain number of people making contributions; this is simply a list of some of America’s best and brightest young political minds—of which we recognize that there are many, many other talented leaders working to move our nation forward.
As you read the biographical sketches of these individuals, I think we should not only applaud their Googleable and written achievements, but also their dogged strength and unwavering commitment to personally keep moving forward. The will to serve their communities serves as the wind beneath their sails and is the reason why these stars are rising.
Like this country’s first African American President, Barack Obama, three members of this list were the “first” to reach certain heights within their own respective communities: Gregory Jackson was the first African American elected as president of the freshman class while a student at the University of Virginia. Rebecca Thompson was the first African American female Student Body President at Northern Michigan University, in the school’s 100 year history. And when the students at the University of South Carolina University elected Jotaka Eaddy to serve as Student Body President, she was the first African American woman to serve in that post. Whenever a member of the African American community is the “first” to reach certain milestones that is of course to be celebrated and also serves as a forecast that there is yet more work to be done as it relates to progress and equality.
As someone who values the art of leadership, I am honored to profile and introduce you to emPower magazine’s 2014 rising political leaders.
Brynne Craig is currently the Deputy Director of Scheduling for Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton. Before that, Brynne served as Executive Director of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s inauguration overseeing the 23 inaugural festivities across the Commonwealth. Prior to this, Brynne was the Political Director on McAuliffe’s successful Gubernatorial bid.
From 2011-2012, Brynne served as the National Field Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee where she oversaw 63 congressional field programs and a budget of $10 million. Her field program played a critical role in picking up eight seats for the Democratic caucus. Prior to assuming the Field Director position, Brynne served as the Northeast Regional Field Director for the Committee and was responsible for Congressional Field Programs from Maryland to Maine.
Brynne joined the DCCC after a year as Northeast Director for Organizing for America. In 2007, she started on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President in Nevada eventually rising to the position of Delegate Selection Director in the state. Brynne joined President Obama’s campaign in the summer of 2008 as Deputy Field Director for Ohio. In that role Brynne was responsible for overseeing the campaign’s activities, staff and offices in the Democratic vote rich area of Northeast Ohio. Brynne graduated from Smith College with majors in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender and Afro American studies.
A. Angélique Roché is the Campaign Manager for Nina Turner for Secretary of State of Ohio. Before joining Team Turner, Angélique worked as the principal consultant for A Squared Strategic Consulting and Campaign Director for healthcare and economic issues for MomsRising.Org. She also previously served as the Associate Director for Volunteer Operations for the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee and in 2012 served as a North Carolina Regional Field Director for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
Angélique also worked for United States Senator Mary Landrieu, where she was instrumental in working to create a unique opportunity allowing young women from DC to gain exposure and experience in the halls of Congress.
Angélique has a Bachelor’s in Arts degree in Mass Communications, Print Journalism from Southern University and A & M College and a Juris Doctorate from the Southern University Law Center. In addition, she earned her Legal Letters Masters (LL.M.) in International and Comparative Law from The George Washington University Law School. In 2011, she graduated from the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University and in 2013 she completed a fellowship with the Princeton Alumni Corps Emerging Leaders Program.
Angelique is a member of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc., Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity, a Truman National Security Project Congressional Security Scholar and former fellow and chapter co-director of the New Leaders Council’s DC Chapter. In 2011, she graduated from the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University and currently sits on their Board of Directors. Angélique is originally from Port Allen, LA and now resides in Cleveland, OH.
Christian Motley is a Democratic political strategist based in Lexington, Kentucky. Southern to the bone, this Kentucky transplant from Alabama got his start as a student organizer from Berea College registering new voters in the West End of Louisville, Kentucky.
Christian currently serves as the Political Director for the Kentucky Democratic Party. The Kentucky state House is the last chamber in the South to be held by Democrats. His political career began as a student organizer registering new voters in the West End of Louisville, Kentucky, and he has since gone on to organize campaigns for the Kentucky State House, Senate, Governor, and spent 2012 presidential election in Pennsylvania. He most recently served as an aide to Acting Deputy Secretary to Jim Shelton at the U.S. Department of Education. Motley’s true passion is engaging young people – encouraging a generation of millennials to organize, and run for office.
Aside from his work in politics Motley is a published poet who has performed in spoken word SLAM competitions across the southern United States and in Paris, France. Christian Motley holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the historic Berea College, in Berea, Kentucky.
Orlando Watson currently serves as a spokesman and Communications Director for Black Media at the Republican National Committee (RNC). Previously, he worked for Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ), where he led the Communications team and served as the primary on-the-record spokesperson as Press Secretary. Prior to joining the Arizona congressman’s office, he served as Deputy Press Secretary for Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) from 2011 to 2013.
Orlando began his political career as a campaign aide on Senator Rand Paul’s successful 2010 Senate bid in Kentucky. Orlando holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy from the College of William and Mary.
Orlando has appeared on MSNBC’s Lean Forward and LIVE with Thomas Roberts and Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor.
Gregory Jackson is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where he obtained a Bachelors degree in Political Science, served as the first African American President of the freshman class and was later elected as the Vice President of Administration for the University of Virginia’s Student Council. Gregory went on to work as an organizational management and policy consultant for government agencies throughout the DC metropolitan area, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Defense, U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Army.
In 2008, Gregory served as the chair of a grassroots volunteer group, DC for Obama and in 2009 as State Field Director for Organizing for America, President Obama’s grassroots organization charged with educating and mobilizing citizens of North Carolina around the President’s Agenda.
In April of 2011, Gregory served as North Carolina’s Field Director for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. In December of 2012, Gregory worked as the Deputy Director of Volunteer Operations for the Presidential Inauguration Committee and effectively oversaw an operation to recruit, train and deploy over 14,000 volunteers to support the execution of the 57th Presidential Inaugural Events. In the spring of 2013, Gregory worked as the Southern Regional Director for Organizing for Action and led their initial organizing efforts advocating for measures to prevent gun violence. After personally surviving a life-threatening incident of gun violence, Gregory then transitioned to working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) with a mission to take back seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Gregory currently serves as the National Field Director at the DCCC and is leading the nation’s largest and most robust field operation in midterm election history.
Gregory commits weekends to tutoring at-risk youth in his local community, through a community empowerment non-profit, called the Grassroots Education Project. Gregory also serves Chair on the Board of Directors of EquityRx, a non-profit organization committed to ending health disparities in America.
Tina earned a B.A. in Political Science and African American Studies from the University of Arkansas and an Ed.M. in Teacher Education from Harvard University. She served as a staff member on President Obama’s re-election campaign, assisting with raising over $20 million dollars in the Mid-Atlantic region. Tina currently serves as a Fundraiser for Lt. Governor Anthony Brown of Maryland who, if elected, will be the state’s first African-American governor.
Before entering politics, Tina served as an educator of government and history at Anacostia Senior High School in Washington, DC where she was named the 2010 Teacher of the Year. She also served as an intern with the Southern Education Foundation, the Congressional Black Caucus on behalf of former U.S. Senator Blanche L. Lincoln and in the Office of the First Lady Michelle Obama.
Tina, alongside her twin sister Trina, was named an IMPACT Leader of the Month in addition to being named to the 93.9 WKYS Top 30 under 30 list. The Fletcher twins are the Founders of Dream Girls ARK (formerly DMV) and the authors of 10 Steps to Succeeding at ANY College. They have traveled throughout the United States and to Senegal and Benin inspiring and empowering young girls and women to diligently strive to achieve their educational and career goals.
Chelsi P. Henry, J.D., is a policy adviser, public speaker and entrepreneur. She was elected in 2010 as the Supervisor of Soil and Water Conservation District Group 5 in Jacksonville, Florida. She served for three years, where she petitioned and advocated on behalf of her community and was elected on a platform of bringing corporate, executive experience to her passion for natural resource conservation.
In 2014, Chelsi was recognized by CNN as one of 10 “up-and- comers to watch” and as a “Rising Star” by the Republican National Committee. BET.com has named Chelsi as one of 10 “Republicans to Watch” across the nation. She was also selected as one of Red Alert Politics’ “30 under 30” and spoke at CPAC in 2013.
During the 2012 Republican National Convention, Chelsi was highlighted in National Journal, National Review, ABC Action News, MTV, Tampa Bay Channel 5 News, Tampa Bay Times, Jacksonville Business Journal, CBN, Essence Magazine online, BBC, TV One, and The Blaze.
Chelsi has been recognized as a dynamic and motivating speaker. She has spoken to many groups across nation, where she shares her background and values and provides strategies to assist groups with inclusion of youth, women and minorities.
The combination of Chelsi’s political activism, business acumen and legal knowledge will prove to be vital as she continues advocating and educating others on the conservative values and principles she believes in and lives by. Chelsi is originally from Jacksonville, Florida. She is a 2013 graduate of Florida Coastal School of Law. She graduated in 2009 from the University of North Florida with a B.A. in Business Management and a minor in Mass Communication.
Visit www.chelsiphenry.com to learn more about Chelsi and her endeavors.
Renee J. Johnson is a Legislative Assistant/Press Secretary to the Chairman of the District of Columbia Council, Phil Mendelson. Renee hails from Waukegan, Illinois and attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in Science.
After her time at SIUC, Renee attended the University of Maryland Business and Law Schools. Soon after graduation, she began her career on Capitol Hill with Congressman Bobby L. Rush (D-IL). Renee previously served in the offices of U.S. Senator Roland W. Burris (D-IL), and Assistant Majority Leader of the United States Senate, Richard J. Durbin (D-IL). Her policy interests include high school truancy, tax law and matters of the judiciary.
In 2012, Renee was chosen out of thousands of applicants to attend the Women’s Campaign School at Yale Law School. In addition, Renee was the District of Columbia’s representative to the Platform Committee at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Renee is a member of the DC Chapter of Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc. D.C., Woman’s National Democratic Club, the Women’s Information Network, The National Council of Negro Women and the National Council of Black Women.
For more than three generations, Rebecca Thompson’s family has called the East Side of Detroit home. Raised by a single mother with three siblings, she went from growing up in a thriving working class family to one struggling with unemployment, poverty — and at times — homelessness. Despite those challenges, Rebecca learned the value of hard work and determination early.
That same determination led her to the campus of Northern Michigan University. While at NMU, Rebecca was active in numerous student organizations and was elected the first African-American female student body president in the school’s 100-year history and then became the Chair of the Association of Michigan Universities, which represented all 15 public universities and over 350,000 students across the state.
Rebecca began her career as the Legislative Director for the United States Student Association — the voice of students on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and the Department of Education. In this role she fought to increase funding for Pell Grants, to lower student-loan interest rates, and expand student loan forgiveness to public service employees. Rebecca has also been featured on C-SPAN, in the Washington Post, and the New York Times discussing college affordability and access issues.
Rebecca has also served as the Program Manager for the District of Columbia Youth Advisory Council and as the Director of Young People For, a national leadership development initiative that works to identify, engage and empower the newest generation of progressive leaders to create lasting change in their communities.
Rebecca currently serves as the Senior Director of Engagement at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan where she oversees the organization’s community engagement and public policy and advocacy efforts.
Jotaka L. Eaddy is the Senior Advisor to the President and CEO and Senior Director for Voting Rights for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), directing external affairs and strategic initiatives on behalf of the Office of the President and CEO and leads the NAACP’s strategy to defend and expand access to the ballot box.
Eaddy has traveled extensively, serving as a guest lecturer and strategist on human rights and progressive policy reform at various institutions and universities covering 49 states and 25 countries. She has advocated on numerous death penalty cases, coordinated national lobbying efforts, and managed grassroots campaigns on wide range of progressive issues. Additionally she has lobbied within various international forums including the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Organization of American States, Council of Europe, African Union, and the U.N. World Conference Against Racism among others.
Eaddy has served as the Senior Field Manager for USAction and USAction Education Fund where she worked to implement and coordinate strategies to galvanize grassroots support to advance effective civil and human rights legislation in Congress. Prior to her service with USAction, Eaddy served as Domestic Program Director for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. During her tenure, Eaddy advocated and lobbied for progressive criminal justice reform including death penalty repeal measures. In 2004, she directed the national lobby and international advocacy campaign against the juvenile death penalty in the United States. Those efforts contributed to the 2005 landmark US Supreme Court decision Roper v. Simmons which abolished the juvenile death penalty in the United States.
As a student at the University of South Carolina, Eaddy served in a number of leadership capacities, including tenure as student representative on the University’s Board of Trustees. As a student senator, she authored legislation and coordinated strategies that resulted in the passage of the University of South Carolina’s resolution calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House Dome. Most notably, Eaddy was elected Student Body President, becoming the first and only black woman to be elected to the position in the University of South Carolina’s 213 year history.
Justin G. Tanner serves as Senior Advisor to the Associate Administrator in the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Within SBA’s Office of Government Contracting and Business Development, he works to assist small, disadvantaged, woman-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned and HUBZone businesses as they compete annually for more than $500 billion in federal government contract awards.
Prior to joining the Obama administration, Tanner worked in external affairs for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, where he helped cultivate and maintain the City of Atlanta’s relationships at the state, local and federal levels of government. In the first two years of the mayor’s initial term, Mr. Tanner worked as a communications aide in the Mayor’s Office of Communications; and before joining City Hall, he served as Director of New Media on Mayor Reed’s 2009 citywide campaign and 2010 Inaugural Planning Committee. In the private sector, he also gained experience working with corporate law firms, Fortune 100 companies and small/medium-sized businesses.
In 2013, Tanner received the distinguished “Dr. Joseph Draper Service Award” from Morehouse Alumni Association’s Atlanta Metro Chapter. He has been profiled in the Atlanta Business Chronicle (40 Under 40), Atlanta Tastemaker Magazine (Top 20 Influencers of ’13), Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine and Who’s Who in Black Atlanta (14th and 15th Editions). He’s a graduate of Leadership Buckhead (’13), LEAD Atlanta (’12), Outstanding Atlanta (’11), New Leaders Council-Atlanta (’11) and the Truman National Security Project (’10). He also serves as an ambassador on NLC’s National Strategic Advisory Council.
He received his J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, TN and his B.B.A. from Howard University in Washington, DC. While matriculating at Howard, he became a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. – Alpha Chapter.
With a decade of political experience working at both the state, local and national levels, Patrice D. Taylor currently serves as the Director of Party Affairs and Delegate Selection at the Democratic National Committee.
As a member of the Senior Leadership team at the DNC, Taylor is responsible for managing all institutional Party functions and coordinating the presidential nominating and delegate selection processes. Prior to joining the DNC, Taylor worked as a Special Assistant in the Virginia Liaison Office and in the District Office of Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott
Raised in Hampton, Virginia, Taylor received her B.S. in Sociology at Hampton University and is a graduate of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. Taylor is member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
A Senior Associate in the Dewey Square Group’s State and Local Affairs practice, Alix Dejean provides strategic guidance to clients, building upon deep relationships with mayors, Congressional members, governors and other elected and community leaders across the country.
Prior to joining DSG in 2010, Alix had already proved himself as an accomplished political and fundraising strategist. He was a principal consultant with the Dejean Group working with non-profit, political, corporate, and issue advocacy clients. From 2007 to 2009, Alix served as the finance director for the African American Leadership Council (AALC) at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Obama Victory Fund, also working as the AALC’s liaison to the Congressional Black Caucus.
Alix worked at the DNC as Southern Deputy Finance Director and later as Northern Deputy Finance Director, focusing on grassroots outreach and donor relationships. Previously, Alix worked for the presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry in Florida as a liaison to local-elected officials and a local director of the state’s GOTV effort.
Alix is a board member of Democratic Gain, Episcopal High School‘s The Promise Campaign, and the Jessie Banks Scholarship Foundation (NJ). Raised in South Carolina, Alix is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA and is completing a Masters of Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary. He currently lives in Washington, D.C.
A Canton, Mississippi native, Waikinya Clanton is one of Washington’s youngest women to watch. With several years of Capitol Hill experience, Waikinya currently serves as the Executive Director of the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL Women).
Waikinya has been named as an emerging leader by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and was certified as a campaign expert from the Congressional Black Caucus Institute’s Political Education and Leadership Training Program. Waikinya has also been profiled in the National Journal, co-authored articles for Politico365.com and named as a Capital Cause, Inc. Featured Young Philanthropist.
Prior to joining the NOBEL Women organization, Waikinya previously worked for the United States House of Representatives in the office of Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (MS-2). Waikinya served on the Executive Board of the CBA for three years and as its President for two consecutive terms. Waikinya is also a member of the African American Women on the Hill Network (AAWHN), a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and served as coordinator of the Deltas on the Hill (DOTH) network.
In her current position as Executive Director of NOBEL Women, Waikinya is committed to ensuring that the organization continues its focus on increasing and promoting the presence of black women in government as well as corporate and non-profit leadership; protecting the public interest of women and families; and supporting policy initiatives that contribute to the enhancement and sustainability of the black community.
Waikinya is a 2008 Cum Laude graduate of Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi. She is a lifelong member of the Mt. Able Missionary Baptist Church in Canton, Mississippi but attends and is a member of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia while in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area.
Jermaine House currently serves as the Communications Director in the office of Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Financial Services and the House of Representatives’ most senior African American woman. Prior to joining Rep Waters, House served in several communications roles with numerous campaigns, spanning the Midwest and Northeast.
In early 2011, House was a member of the communication team that produced several radio advertisements for Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Later that year, House produced the first television ad for a newly formed political party in The Bahamas, the Democratic National Alliance, featuring their candidate for Prime Minister, Branville McCartney.
In 2012, House served on the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama, as the Deputy Press Secretary for the state of Michigan. Following the Obama Campaign, House returned to the Washington area and joined D.C. Democratic Party Chairwoman Anita Bonds’s campaign as Spokesman/Press Secretary in the race to fill a vacated at-large Council seat. The Washington Post Editorial Board quoted House in a March editorial defending Councilwoman Bonds against the mischaracterizations of comments she relayed to a local radio host regarding race and District politics. Bonds won the campaign by ten points.
After Bonds’s successful race, House was tapped by DC’s longest serving Councilmember and longtime chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee, Jack Evans to lead his communications efforts in his second bid for mayor of the District of Columbia. As Communications Director, House was responsible for policy, research, and media outreach for the entire span of the DC Mayoral Democratic Primary. Following the democratic primary, House completed a short stint at the DC Council before returning to the U.S. Congress.
Shermichael Singleton studied Political Science at Morehouse College in Atlanta. While working on his bachelors of arts in Political Science, he was a class president and co-founded a successful college Republican chapter at the historic HBCU. While attending Morehouse Singleton began working with candidates running for office on every level, serving as deputy campaign manager for several U.S. Congressional campaigns.
He has worked across the country – the most notable being on the election of Virginia Governor Bob McDonald, Georgia U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss and the Presidential campaigns of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan. Currently, he is working with America Rising, LLC, the Republican opposition research firm started by Mitt Romney’s former campaign manager, Matt Rhoades.
PS. Shout out to Tara Bardella for helping me to edit these amazing profiles.