A force for change

2/16/2023, 6 p.m.
It’s not too unusual these days to read about young people who, rather than sit on the sidelines doing little ...

It’s not too unusual these days to read about young people who, rather than sit on the sidelines doing little to enact economic, political or social change, devote much of their lives to serving the public.

On Jan. 3, 2019, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, was sworn in as the youngest woman and youngest Latina ever to serve in Congress.

She was 29 years old.

That same month and year, Democratic Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, elected to serve Illinois’ 14th Congressional District, was sworn into the 116th U.S. Congress, becoming the first woman, the first person of color, and the first millennial to represent her community in Congress. She also is the youngest African-American woman to serve in the United States House of Representatives, according to her official biography. She was 32.

In November 2022, 25-year-old Matthew Frost, an Afro-Cuban progressive activist from Orlando, Fla. was elected to represent Florida’s 10th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. As the youngest member of Congress, Mr. Frost also is the first member of Generation Z to serve.

Nearly 20 years ago, Virginians may recall another young woman who entered the state’s political arena filled with fresh ideas and an eagerness to serve.

Her initial run for office was inspired by her parents, who filled her ears with conversations about how public policy had an impact on their lives and, subsequently her life, too.

“They grew up during the depression and Jim Crow,” she told the Free Press in an early morning text. “They saw the best of government in the New Deal and the worst of government in Jim Crow.”

(For the unaware, Jim Crow was a derisive slang term for a Black man during America’s segregated era. It came to mean any state law passed in the South that established different rules for Black people and white people. Jim Crow laws were based on the theory of white supremacy and were a reaction to Reconstruction.)

Her parents’ stories, she said, coupled with her research and studies at Chesterfield County’s Matoaca High School, the University of Richmond and the University of Virginia’s School of Law, “showed me how public policy and politics impact people’s lives.

“That’s what made me want to be a part of government and making it a force for helping people and solving problems.”

Recounting how her mother, Lois D. McClellan, grew up in a small Mississippi town with just one school for Black children that ended at the eighth grade, the only jobs available to her mother’s siblings were as domestics, military service or factory work.

“Only by working to save enough to move to Jackson, Miss., was (my mother) able to attend high school and ultimately become the first member of her family to go to college.”

Her father’s (Dr. James F. McClellan) experience, while somewhat different, still was steeped in segregated Southern conditions, she recalled.

“My dad’s grandparents founded a school for Black children in Alabama where he and his sisters went, so that taught me the impact that education has on economic opportunity for individuals and communities.”

Her mother eventually became director of the Trio Program at Virginia State University, and her father was a professor and director of testing at the university. Dr. McClellan also served as interim pastor of Petersburg’s Westminster Presbyterian Church.

With those stories anchoring her, 34-year-old Jennifer L. McCLellan stepped out on faith, first being elected to the House of Delegates in 2005, as we note on today’s Free Press front page. She kept running and kept winning. She joined the Senate in 2017 after winning a special election to replace A. Donald McEachin when he won the seat she now seeks.

Next week she is poised to become, at age 50, the first African-American woman to represent Virginia in the current 118th Congress.

Her record is solid and her purpose is clear. Sen. McClellan, as states her official biography, has earned a reputation as a strong legislative champion for Virginians, passing landmark laws to protect voting rights, safeguard abortion access, tackle climate change, rebuild crumbling schools, expand Obama- care in Virginia, protect workers’ rights, and reform Virginia’s criminal justice system.

The Richmond Free Press fully endorses Jennifer L. McClellan in her quest to become the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first Black Congresswoman.

We encourage our readers to vote for Jennifer L. McClellan on Tuesday Feb. 21.