Jerika Richardson – CUP Fellow Spotlight

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?

I am a communications strategist, and I currently serve as Special Advisor to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. In this role, I assist with media relations and oversee strategic communications and planning in the areas of public safety and criminal justice. I was always interested in pursuing a career that sat at the nexus of law, press, and politics, and I have moved back and forth throughout those worlds for the better part of my professional career. I was first exposed to public service when I interned on Capitol Hill with civil rights champion Congressman John Lewis. After graduating from college, I worked as legislative aide to a member of the Georgia General Assembly and then spent several years as a broadcast journalist - covering politics and law and justice news while picking up my law degree along the way. In 2011, I transitioned back into government and went from reporting on the Justice Department for ABC news to joining it. I accepted a public affairs position with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. While there I served as the Senior Spokesperson and Director of New Media for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara – training the Office’s public affairs team in strategic communications and outreach to both the press and public – before taking on my current role at City Hall.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?
Making sure that the public is informed about the great work the Administration is doing in creating bold programs and policies targeted to address income inequality and usher in criminal justice reform is a big challenge, particularly in an era where the 24-hr news cycle is more often than not focused on controversy rather than progress. But I feel it’s a message we must continue to push because it’s clear that our accomplishments in these areas really impact the lives of everyday people.

What is your proudest achievement?
My involvement in voter registration and election protection efforts are definitely among my proudest achievements. In the 2000 general election, I felt devastated after being disenfranchised at age 18, along with many of the members of my freshman class. But instead of allowing that experience to cripple me, it spurred me into action. I learned more about election law, worked on voting rights related projects with Congressman Lewis, and got more involved in working to help register others to vote and ensure that their votes were actually counted.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
There are many wonderful leaders and thinkers that I admire, but Judy Smith is a woman for whom I have a profound admiration. Her work inspires me professionally every day. And she is a brilliant communicator and strategist who has been a trailblazer in so many arenas.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In 10 years I see myself running my own communications firm and multi-media production company. The communications branch of my business would advise nonprofits, elected officials, and candidates for public office on branding and assist with their media relations efforts and political strategy. The multi-media production branch would support the efforts of the communications team by creating PSAs and innovative campaign ads/videos for distribution across a variety of print, broadcast, and digital platforms. This business venture is essentially a marriage of my passion for advocacy and my talent for storytelling.

Did you have a mentor or do you mentor someone else? How has that experience changed you?
While I have had many mentors in my life who have constantly encouraged me and challenged me to reach for the stars, I credit the mentoring I’ve received through my involvement with CUP, particularly from many women both in and outside of my field, for helping me in attaining my current position. The support I received was absolutely phenomenal.

What do you hope to gain from your CUP Fellows Program experience to help you make a significant and positive impact in your community?
I have already gained so much from my participation in the CUP fellows program. It’s been instrumental in helping me forge my own professional path and connecting me with a group of individuals who share my passion for civic engagement. I know the career mentoring, guidance, and practical training that I will continue to receive through CUP will prepare me for leadership and aid in helping me develop a strong coalition that will work together to support transformative projects focused on criminal justice reform.