Redefining the Run for Political Office
On March 14th at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, I was elected Running Start’s #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador by a room full of Washington’s most influential political power players.
Yet my journey to become Running Start’s #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador began long before then. Three years ago, I was (and still am) a young woman who did not have the financial backing or resources to pick up and move to DC to take an unpaid political internship. Running Start provided me the opportunity to work as a fellow for Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. I also received political mentorship, leadership training, free-of-charge housing, and a stipend for my work. My Capitol Hill fellowship, sponsored by Walmart, helped me be more prepared and competitive when I applied for a White House internship. Because of my strong experience, I was selected as the only White House communications intern to serve in the Chief of Staff’s office during my time in the Obama Administration.
I have always been grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Running Start family. So, when I received word of the Running Start #ILookLikeAPolitician campaign simulation contest, I decided to enter. The contest included fundraising and garnering support and votes. Like many women who are deciding if they want to run for political office, I too was a little bit apprehensive. I wondered if I knew enough people, if they would donate, or if I would be successful. A beautiful lesson in that experience is the need for us to take risks. As one of my Spelman College sisters Sammye Scott so eloquently stated, “Taking risks in life is pertinent. Risks help cultivate your character and embody fearlessness. When you take a risk, you build the courage to fight the fear of the unknown.” That is exactly why it’s important for women to run for office. Like so many of my peers, I would soon realize I was underestimating myself and was more than qualified to enter the competition.
At the beginning of 2018, I began my campaign and pledged the first 10 days of the new year to raise $1K for Running Start. In just over 10 days, I was able to raise $1.2K to train women who aspire to run for office, which made me the top fundraiser in the competition. My fundraising success further confirmed that I was indeed underestimating myself and strengthened my confidence in situations where I was leery of the unknown.
My fundraising success led to me being selected as one of the seven finalists from across America to present a competitive speech at the Young Women to Watch Awards a few weeks ago. With votes from the attendees, I was elected the #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador. The audience used a ranked choice voting system (powered by Opa Vote), that organizations like FairVote and Represent Women argue creates a better, fairer platform for voting, and which eliminates the need for runoffs.
In a room full of opportunity, I was inspired not only by my fellow finalists, but by the limitless possibilities presented when all people — regardless of gender, ethnicity, or economic background — join together for equality. Though the people in the room that night were supportive of women leaders in politics, my fellow finalists (who are also very accomplished and qualified) and I know the world we live in today does not mirror that room. We all have dealt with obstacles rooted in sexism.
My obstacles, however, looked a little different. In 2016, I was crowned Miss District of Columbia. Despite many who encouraged me not to, I competed with my natural hair at Miss America and even won the swimsuit competition. I am sure it confirmed to many that as a beauty queen, I did not look like a politician. However, as a military kid from Georgia and a graduate from Spelman College, I know better than to believe those who doubt me. If I listened to every person who doubted my intelligence, I wouldn’t have graduated from the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University. If I listened to every person who doubted my strength, I wouldn’t have become a fellow for Congresswoman Gabbard. If I had listened to every person who doubted my resilience, I wouldn’t have become the only intern in my class to serve in the office of President Obama’s Chief of Staff.
For this reason, I encourage every person to never listen to their haters, naysayers, non-supporters or even their own self-doubt. Only you were given the vision into your future and greatness. You, and only you, know the gifts you hold. It is our responsibility to develop our gifts and let our own light shine.
I share my story to redefine what it means to look like a politician — not just for myself but for all women. I know when I let my light shine, others will be encouraged to let their light shine too. I am honored and look forward to furthering the mission of Running Start to train young women to run for political office.
Cierra Jackson is a proud alumna of Spelman College and the Women’s Campaign School at Yale. Also a proud military kid from Georgia, Cierra moved to DC to pursue a career in politics. She served on Capitol Hill and the Obama Administration. In 2016, she was crowned Miss District of Columbia and competed for Miss America. Cierra is an avid speaker and vocalist by trade. She has hosted galas and even performed in the Obama White House. You can find more information about Cierra at cierrajackson.com. Follow Cierra on Instagram @cierradjackson and on Twitter @Cierradjackson_ .