It came as a bit of a shock to some on Monday when writer, cultural critic and most recently VP of Men’s and Lifestyle programming at NewsOne, Jamilah Lemieux, announced that she would be joining the New York gubernatorial campaign of progressive candidate Cynthia Nixon.
“I am thrilled to have Jamilah join the campaign as our Communications and Engagement Advisor,” said Cynthia Nixon in a press release. “Her addition to our team will help us make the state of New York fairer for all.”
We reached Lemieux by phone on Monday to get the skinny on her boss moves. Below is our Q&A, edited for clarity.
The Root: After being a writer and editor so long, why’d you make the jump to politics?
Jamilah Lemieux: I didn’t “move into politics” per se, but I am excited to be working as a consultant with this particular campaign. I decided not long ago that I would not again seek full-time employment as an editor or in a role similar to my last one. The more my career progressed in media, the less I was able to write, create content and lean into what I think is the best of my skill set.
I think I have a wealth of knowledge on a number of things—the needs and concerns of millennials, young women, young parents in particular, and black people. I’ve done some off-the-record consulting and crisis-management work in the past with high-profile individuals and organizations, and I’m in talks with other organizations outside the political space around engagement, audience development and strategy. I’m also finishing a book proposal and doing some freelance. So I’m not a one-desk girl anymore, and I’m really excited about that.
TR: What about Nixon’s campaign spoke to you?
JL: Even though I had no particular desire to work in and around politics, I was immediately drawn to Cynthia’s campaign for her stance on the legalization of marijuana, which is an issue very close to my heart. I am both a medical marijuana patient living with a chronic injury and someone who sees marijuana as a critical issue of racial justice.
As a longtime New Yorker (I’ve lived in Brooklyn for 11 years) I’ve watched the MTA service, which most New Yorkers rely upon, deteriorate and the wait times increase. I’ve been late, I’ve had to pay serious consequences for the inability for the trains to arrive on time. Cynthia Nixon has held Governor [Andrew] Cuomo’s feet to the fire about public transportation and that was something that struck me. Also, L. Joy Williams is a dear friend and colleague of many years, and I trust her judgment and leadership. And if Cynthia Nixon was a leader she was serious about, I felt comfortable giving her serious consideration myself.
TR: What will be your duties?
JL: I will be helping to engage a number of critical demographics, with a focus on black voters and millennials as well as [working on] communications. That includes how policy plans are rolled out and how we talk to the press and to potential voters. It also will be helping to direct social media efforts and creating digital content and preparing for and scheduling media appearances and planning events. Basically, meeting people where they are.
TR: As a well-known black feminist, do you think your work with Nixon underscores the alliance or hopeful alliance between black and white women?
JL: Black women have been a dutiful and critical voting block for the Democratic Party for quite some time, and we haven’t seen a return on that investment. I wouldn’t take seriously any candidate that didn’t engage black women in a meaningful way or count them among their campaign leadership.
Cynthia Nixon is not hiding from these complicated conversations of race and gender, how they intersect, and what they mean for women of color, black women in particular.
The progressive politics that often unify black women and white women politically don’t always translate into mutual respect, and the more privileged group oftentimes disregards or is unable to recognize what progressive politics and actions should look like for black women’s lives; that is, what we need, how were disenfranchised, etc.
My enthusiasm for Cynthia stems largely from her ability to think beyond her own experiences and to trust those who are impacted by the sort of inequity that she seeks to correct as governor.