U.S. representative, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors chair help deliver inaugural awards
The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the Virginia Leadership Institute (VLI) launched the inaugural Trailblazers in Politics award Wednesday, honoring diverse GSPM students and alumni who have made significant contributions to the field of politics.
This year’s winners are DeJuana Thompson, M.P.S. ’17; Samantha Joy Fay, M.P.S. ’17; Keysha Brooks-Coley, M.A. ’00; and Jeanine Henderson Arnett, M.A. ’04. The four women have led drives for change inside and outside of local and federal government.
The Trailblazers in Politics award was born from the desire of GSPM and VLI to recognize and amplify the message that governments that reflect the diversity of their communities better serve society.
“Leadership is a collection of character traits, and it comes in all packages. If we’re going to have a country that represents all people, we need to recognize leadership in everyone that steps up to the plate,” said GSPM Director Lara Brown.
VLI founder Krysta Jones said the idea for her institute was born from a GSPM project. During a thesis discussion with a professor, Ms. Jones noted that Northern Virginia’s political culture was much more homogeneous than surrounding areas such as the District and Prince George’s County, Md. “My professor said instead of making a thesis why don’t you do something to solve the problem. VLI comes directly as a result of my GSPM education,” said Ms. Jones.
The organization currently has a goal to help elect 500 black officials in Virginia by 2026 by providing training and resources for candidates.
This year’s honorees were introduced during a ceremony at GW's City View Room by colleagues and mentors from the highest levels of government and advocacy.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) was on hand to present the award to Ms. Fay, who serves as a legislative aide in his office. He said that in politics “it is easy to lose faith, but when I see young people and the people in this program…I am optimistic.”
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall presented the Trailblazers award to Ms. Arnett, her former chief of staff who is now the executive director of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Ms. Randall said that the essence of politics is “working hard for the many people who need us the most. The ones who don’t know we’re even doing it.” She said that Ms. Henderson Arnett embodied that ethos through her work for the county and her role as a mentor.
A leadership and mentorship role was key in the success of honoree Ms. Brooks-Coley, director of Federal Relations at the American Cancer Society Action Network. “I have never seen her turn down a request for an informational interview. She leans in. She’s a connector,” said Dick Woodruff, the society’s vice president of Federal Relations.
Ms. Thompson gave back to her community through politics and public service, serving as a senior adviser for Public Engagement at the U.S. Small Business Administration and the national deputy director for Community Engagement at the Democratic National Committee. “She is one of the most tireless workers in the field to push for change to ensure that communities of color have a space, access, and opportunities,” said Stephanie Gidigbi, a former colleague and director at the National Resources Defense Council.
GSPM and the VLI have committed to working together to train and advocate for the next generation of political and advocacy leaders, and the first generation of Trailblazers in Politics award will be there to help lead the charge.