Karine Jean-Pierre MPA ’03 is the chief public affairs officer for MoveOn, an NBC and MSNBC political analyst, and a SIPA lecturer. Her memoir, Moving Forward, chronicles her experiences growing up in New York’s Haitian community to working in the Obama White House.
My story is an immigrant story. It is the story of a family that came here wanting the best, wanting to be patriots, wanting to be citizens. So many people have that story and I wanted to remind people—this is part of the DNA of this country.
Both my parents were born in Haiti, which was a dictatorship when they were growing up and it was tough. They weren’t able to do what they wanted for their family. And, so we ended up coming to Queens, NY—212th Street and Jamaica Avenue and that community, that immigrant story, really had an effect on me throughout my life.
I promised my parents that I was going to make sure that I got my master’s because they really believed in an education. And I applied to the School of International and Public Affairs MPA program. And when I got in, it was such an amazing feat. You know, Ivy League education, when my parents heard that they thought “Oh, wow—everything that we've worked for you have managed to achieve that.” And, so, when I got to Columbia, I decided to take it on. I ran for MPA president of SIPASA, I did a documentary about Haitian Americans living abroad and got to go back to Haiti. I had two wonderful mentors in Professor Ester Fuchs and David N. Dinkins, the former mayor of New York City, who encouraged me to go into politics. And I wouldn't have gone into politics if it wasn't for SIPA.
I got to give one of the speeches at the graduation and I talked about idealism and I talked about how when you're young, you're going through school, you want to make the world a better place. And you get into the workplace and things are hard. You get knocked down, and my message was “don't lose the idealism that you have.” Continue to be idealistic, we need that, especially now.
I want people to feel hopeful. There are many of us out there who want the same thing and have their heart and soul in it as well.