Last night, Director of the Urban and Social Policy Program at SIPA Ester Fuchs discussed her new book, Moving Forward, A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America. Bwogger Miyoki Walker recounts the details. TW: Depression and suicide.

Karine Jean-Pierre holds many titles including campaign organizer, MSNBC political analyst, Chief Public Affairs Officer for MoveOn, and SIPA professor and Alum. Returning to Columbia last night, Jean-Pierre spoke amongst students, family, and mentors about her journey to success and all of the obstacles she encountered along the way. 

The night began with a heartfelt introduction from moderator and Professor Ester Fuchs, who taught Jean-Pierre in 2002. Filled with gratitude and pride, Fuchs asked Jean-Pierre to tell the audience about her life story and the reason she got into politics. 

Jean-Pierre’s parents were born in Haiti during a dictatorship. They left, first to France and then the States, “carrying the family to the American Dream.” Eventually settling in Queens, Jean-Pierre’s parents enrolled her in a Catholic school where she could focus her attention solely on academics. 

There, Jean-Pierre’s parents were set on her working to become either an engineer, lawyer, or doctor. Although Jean-Pierre didn’t want for herself what her parents did, she followed along until she couldn’t. 

While working on her medical degree, Jean-Pierre could not shake the feeling that she was a disappointment. Taking a break from school, Jean-Pierre struggled to manage her mental health and attempted to take her own life. Although she’d never felt comfortable enough to talk about her depression before, Jean-Pierre eventually started therapy and came to Columbia after vowing to her parents that she’d return to school. Here, she says, she found her purpose. 

Although Jean-Pierre fulfilled her promise to finish school, she did not continue to study medicine. Instead, Jean-Pierre got her MPA. At Columbia, she was able to make connections with students and professors like Professor Fuchs that would become life-long mentorships. Her experience also connected her to future employers and advisors, namely activist Bertha Lewis and former Mayor of New York City David Dinkins, who were both in attendance.

In the Q&A portion of the event, Jean-Pierre answered questions about the upcoming 2020 election, being a black woman in the political world, and how she stays sane in the current climate. 

Firstly, Jean-Pierre said the biggest issue for the presidential candidates to tackle in the next year is health care, as it has recently been energizing the masses more than any other issue. There is also the problem of getting people to the polls. Jean-Pierre believes that the key to avoiding previous mistakes will be motivating people to vote because, in 2016, more than four million people did not. 

In reference to her own position as an MSNBC political analyst, Jean-Pierre criticized the biased framing and selective journalism inherent in the television formula. Sensationalism leaves important issues with little to no airtime, which often frustrates her. 

In terms of being not only a woman but a black woman in the political sphere, Jean-Pierre has had to fight tirelessly for a seat at the table, which does not work for everyone. To deal with this, she finds hope and motivation in her mentors and supporters. The top priority should always be taking care of yourself and your own mental health. 

To end the night, Jean-Pierre again spent time thanking Lewis, Professor Fuchs, and Mayor Dinkins for inspiring her and others like her to keep fighting. Organizing and maintaining motivation is no easy feat, but it is often the most rewarding.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons