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Karine Jean-Pierre, Catholic-raised activist from Brooklyn, named next White House press secretary

President Joe Biden's newest press chief is a Haitian-American LGBT immigrant who was raised in the Catholic Church.

(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

WASHINGTON — Karine Jean-Pierre has been officially announced as the next White House Press Secretary, succeeding Jen Psaki as President Joe Biden’s spokesperson after just six months in the deputy slot.

The move, which will go into effect on May 13th, has been in the works for roughly a year—dating back to Psaki’s announcement in May 2021 that she would leave the position this year.

“Karine not only brings the experience, talent and integrity needed for this difficult job, but she will continue to lead the way in communicating about the work of the Biden-Harris Administration on behalf of the American people,” Biden said in a statement released on May 5th.

“[First Lady Jill Biden] and I have known and respected Karine a long time and she will be a strong voice speaking for me and this Administration.”

Jean-Pierre, a native of Martinique born to Haitian parents, was raised Catholic in New York City and is a graduate of Columbia University, where she studied public affairs and later joined the faculty. She was previously a regional political director for former senator John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign and served in the same capacity for future president Barack Obama in 2008.

Following his election, she became a regional staffer for Obama’s White House Office of Political Affairs and also served on his re-election team. She later served as deputy campaign manager for Martin O’Malley’s unsuccessful 2016 run before transitioning to activism with the advocacy organization MoveOn.

She joined the Biden team in May 2020, serving as his senior advisor and later as chief of staff for Kamala Harris' VP campaign.

Following Psaki’s announcement last year, Jean-Pierre gave a White House press briefing on May 26th, 2021, becoming the first openly gay woman to do so and the first Black woman since Judy Smith—also Catholic-educated—in 1991.

Jean-Pierre’s authorial debut “Moving Forward”, a memoir recounting her rise from poverty in Martinique to educational and career attainment in the United States, was released in late 2019.

Especially notable in the book (and in her public persona) is her status as an LGBT Black woman immigrant, a beacon of intersectionality now making her rise in the ranks of the US government’s public face.

The book also hones in on her Catholic upbringing, which had previously been noted in the media as merely Catholic schooling.

“My confirmation name was Elizabeth,” she says in the now best-selling memoir.

Therein, she also recounts principles she applies from the Ignatian tradition she learned in Jesuit schools, as well as her relationship with Bishop Guy Sansaricq of Brooklyn—the first Haitian-born prelate in US history.

Concerning her new gig-to-be, Jean-Pierre has said it is “a true honor”.

“I look forward to serving this Administration and the American people. I have big shoes to fill.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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