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Women to Know 2020, Christina Jackson Scott

Source: iOne Creative Team / other

Christina Jackson Scott

Chief of Staff, She Should Run

From the boardroom to the ballot, Black women are often underrepresented in politics. Christina Jackson Scott is looking to change that as Chief of Staff at She Should Run. The nonprofit provides women with accessible and approachable tools to become elected officials.

Her career didn’t begin in politics, though. Scott previously worked as a high school teacher and a Master Teacher, mentoring University of Maryland, College of Education candidates. She managed to fuse the skill set she developed in the classroom as she transitioned into consulting work and ultimately politics.

Scott holds a bachelor of arts in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also received her M.B.A. from Marymount University.

MadameNoire: Tell us about your journey into politics.

Christina Jackson Scott: I got into politics through education. I was raised by a single mother who really ingrained in us that education is the key to any progress or being productive in life. The more educated you become, the more aware you become and the more my consciousness grew, because it just changes your thinking, that for me, led to an understanding of the importance of civic engagement as a primary lever for social change. So civic engagement for me looked non political and political.

I started off in more of the community partnership realm of civic engagement, and that’s when I was working with a lot of nonprofits and then that ultimately led me to, She Should Run, who’s a nonprofit who also is focused on getting women elected to public office.

MN: Prior to your career in politics, you worked as a teacher and a professor. Can you talk about the courage it took to shift career fields?

CJS: This goes back to education being key for me. At first I wanted to be a teacher because that’s the first level of education where I learned. I wanted to be in the classroom and be able to have that experience with students and give them that same thoughtfulness and creative thinking and love so much because I do believe that’s where you get to have an impression on youth, in people’s thinking and awareness.

As I moved outside of the classroom, I went into community partnerships, worked with community partners in the nonprofit space and focused on education. The skill set that I learned in each of those organizations groups in the same direction, which is really organizational development and business operations and making sure organizations know how to function well, so that they can be around for the long haul and see the change that they’re working to achieve.

My skill set transitioned to doing that same type of work in a political organization as well. Although I changed the space that I was in from education to politics, I still had to have the same skill set and because of how She Should Run is structured. A lot of what we do is educating. So I just found that way of educating in a different space.

MN: Can you share some of the obstacles you’ve overcome working as a Black woman in such a high leadership position?

CJS: Always having high ambition and wanting to be in decision-making roles, as a Black woman, it’s hard to get into leadership positions. You have to build trust. A lot of times, there are not many people who look like you, so building trust in those environments takes additional work. It was very hard sometimes to always be, or feel like I had to be at 150% when other people around me may not have been. And again, that was my perception of it.

Also often being one of the few or only Black women in the room, just carried with it a lot of weight, like a feeling like I am representative in some way of all Black women. And so always feeling like I need to be on my best behavior, so to speak. And then also trying to find mentors, you know, a lot of leaders are built because they have great mentors in their lives and finding a mentor that looked like me was very challenging.

MN: Can discuss the importance of mentorship?

CJS: I do believe that we, as individuals, can work hard and should work hard on our own. We can have our formal education, we can do our formal training, but you grow to your best ability when you have a community around you.

It‘s important to see yourself in someone else and see those role models. And then not only see them, but then hear from them personally. A lot of times we think people are just successful overnight, but that’s not the case. People work hard. You don’t know those personal stories of what they have to do to get to where they are and mentorship gives you the insight to understand what it really takes and the role model that you want to work toward becoming.

MN: Earlier, you mentioned the importance of building trust as a black woman in a leadership position. Can you talk a little bit more about some of the positive experiences you have as a Black woman in a leadership role?

CJS: When I think about trust, I think I always tie that to trust being earned and the way to earn it is to show up and be prepared. My experience and my own mantra has been get prepared; stay prepared so you’ll always be prepared. And when you show up prepared, then that should make you confident. And then when people see your combination of preparedness and confidence, it builds that trust.

I’ve had a lot of positive experiences of having a manager or supervisor who just sees the evidence of my preparation and then gives me an opportunity to take that next step or do something with more responsibility because they now have evidence that I’m going to at the very least show up prepared.

MN: What inspires you?

CJS: I really do start by looking around at what I can be grateful for first and foremost in my life. We are living in a world where there’s so much that needs change and it has conflict and it’s putting people in really bad positions. In order for me to have the energy that I need to continue to work toward the social changes that I want to see, I need to take care of myself by one, acknowledging all the places in my life where I do need to remain grateful. And then two having those moments where  you can’t just pull back completely and just disappear for a week and not be involved and engaged, but give yourself grace, when you do need to take that hour to not be reading the news cycle and watching what’s happening and staying up to date. So then you can be recharged and come back to continue to fight towards some of those social ills that we’re seeing.

MN: She Should Run encourages women to pursue political activism. Is there any advice you could offer someone who wants to go for it?

CJS: This is a saying that we say at She Should Run a lot, which I truly believe, “If you care, you’re qualified.” A lot of women, especially Black women, women of color, believe that you need a certain level of qualification before you can run for office or before you can represent your community and that’s often not true.

There are some barriers that are systemic and real, but some of the barriers that we face to not stepping up is because they’re self-imposed, they’re our own thinking and we believe that we just don’t have the qualification to do it. If you care about your community and you want to see a change that is all you need often to at least start at the local level and get involved in your community and, you be a political activist.

MN: How do you stay hopeful in spite of the political climate?

CJS: I stay hopeful because I see the people I work with. I see the people on my team. I see how hard they work. I see real conversations happening for people to have true understanding instead of just stepping back and deciding that something is too hard. I see people really digging in right now, as many challenges as we have. I also see that many more people who want to make a change and I really just believe in the people to do it.

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