For 16 legislative sessions, Jenn has walked past the statue of former senator and segregationist Harry Byrd in Richmond’s Capitol Square knowing that she is his worst nightmare: A Black woman, a descendent of enslaved people, and the daughter of parents who endured Jim Crow, working to eradicate the very inequity and oppression that Harry Byrd worked to create and maintain. Jenn has spent her career dismantling the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow that still impacts communities today.
Jenn’s career is one of many “firsts.” In 2010, Jenn became the first member of the House of Delegates to serve the Commonwealth while pregnant. She was asked: “Are you retiring?” while an expecting father also serving office with her was not. This moment served as a reminder of the gender-based bias and inequities that continue to exist in our workplaces and lives. As the Vice Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and Chair of Virginia’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission, Jenn has led efforts to tell the complete and accurate story of Virginia’s past while working to achieve Dr. King’s vision of the “Beloved Community” through her community conversations, legislative, and policy efforts.
Jenn would be the first Black woman elected to Congress in Virginia history, and would use the opportunity to lift other Virginians up and ensure that all Virginians have a seat at the table for making policy.
As a legislator, Jenn:
- Led and passed the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, the first state-level voting rights act in the South
- Introduced and passed the Senate resolution to make Virginia the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment
- Spearheaded legislation repealing Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage and was a chief copatron of the Virginia Values Act, making Virginia the first state in the South to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity
- Patroned a 2021 criminal justice reform bill allowing people with intellectual/developmental disabilities and mental illness to provide evidence of their conditions at trial
- Patroned The Pregnant Worker Fairness Act which extended protections against discrimination for pregnant and nursing workers and new mothers
- Passed the bill to reform outdated and ineffective 1980s-era laws that criminalized HIV
- Led a Senate bill to strengthen protections from workplace sexual harassment
- Championed protections for immigrants and new Americans – fighting to ensure their access to voting rights and economic opportunity through legislation to increase interpretation and translation services to access state resources, improve health care options for undocumented children and pregnant people, and enable undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses
- Passed legislation that added specialized personnel to schools to give support to serve special education students
- Passed legislation to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately criminalizes students of color and students with disabilities
- Passed a bill that required the state to publish data that showed Black and Brown students, and students with disabilities were being disproportionately suspended
- Advocated for Indigenous communities, working closely with the Chickahominy Tribe in her Senate district to establish the Virginia Indigenous People’s Trust Fund – which will disburse a portion of the Commonwealth’s gaming revenues to Virginia’s six recognized Tribes
- Was integral in the Senate passing the legislation to ban the gay/trans-panic defense
- Protected LGBTQ+ youth by cosponsoring the bill that made Virginia the first state in the South to ban conversion therapy for minors, and introduced and passed the bill to define and address bullying in schools
- Pushed to increase funding for supported employment to ensure workers with disabilities were paid competitive wages
- Successfully repealed vestiges of Jim Crow in Virginia law – repealing segregation laws, such as exemptions to worker protections through the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights
- Reformed the criminal justice system by passing legislation to raise the felony larceny threshold, end mandatory minimums for suspended drivers licenses, and expand parole eligibility for hundreds of incarcerated Virginians trapped in a legal loophole
- Co-sponsored legislation to increase state employment with individuals with disabilities
- Passed a law to expand eligibility through the Virginia Historical African American Cemeteries and Graves Fund, enabling Woodland Cemetery in Henrico County and other cemeteries established from 1900 to 1948 to receive support for maintenance and preservation.”