Resting on the pavement outside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., 17-year-old Jazmin Kay set aflame an ambitious dream. Marveling at the sheer physical and symbolic enormity of this hallowed establishment, Kay turned to her mother and said, “Imagine if one day I would be able to go inside those gates.”
Less than two years later, dressed in her white blazer and armed with her signature black tote bag, she flashed her intern ID and watched in amazement as the White House gates opened before her. What was once an utterly hypothetical notion was now a breathtaking reality. Yet her awe-inspiring internship experience in the Obama Administration represents just one major milestone in Kay’s impassioned pursuit of her life’s calling to empower the voices of others.
Kay can trace the roots of her political fascination back to her earliest days, growing up in the mountains of Woodstock, New York. The community of people that helped shape her worldview were less worried about what specifically they wanted to do and more focused on how they could make the greatest impact.
Her parents were two of her most prominent influencers; her mother is a journalist, author, founder and executive director of Feminist.com, and her father runs the environmental website Ecomall.com and works in solar energy. “Both my parents were online before Google,” Kay says.
From a young age, Kay’s primary objective was not ascertaining a defined career path but discovering how many people she could help. For Kay, this journey began with a pen and paper. She began freelance writing in 2013 for HuffPost and kept a collection of notebooks that documented her musings on “lofty topics” such as world peace.
Writing became a way for her to contrive and confront ideas about how to enhance the world she observed around her. Kay’s enthusiasm for problem-solving drew her to the political realm in high school where she became actively involved in student government and eventually elected president.
She pursued higher education at George Washington University, just a few blocks from the White House and the National Mall. Eager to involve herself in a cause-based organization that would merge her interests in progressive issues, Kay found the College Democrats, or “College Dems.”
She quickly deepened her involvement, holding a position on Freshman Committee her first year before rising to campaign director her sophomore year during the 2016 presidential election. In that role, she helped send students on campaign trips to Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
“During that cycle when I was campaign director, we knocked on 7,600 doors, made 23,000 calls and sent, I believe, a total of 190 College Democrats,” Kay says. “That was a really tangible experience that I had in College Dems that enriched my experience with the organization.”
Kay proceeded to take on the role of vice president of political affairs in the second semester of her sophomore year and ran for president that spring, a position she’s held ever since. Her leadership role in College Dems introduced Kay to a wide array of students with varying degrees of political interest and experience.
“I’ve seen some of the freshmen this year who saw 2016 and they wanted to get involved in the political process. I think that those are the people I’m most excited about engaging, because I think that college is such an incredible experience to be able to try something new and take on some of these issues,” Kay says. “Some of the most fulfilling experiences for me have been trying to bring in as many people as possible to the political process and people that also never considered themselves to be political, never considered what political party they were…and open up a space and a conversation for them to engage.”
Kay is now press secretary for College Dems at the national level as of this past November. In this position, she strives to represent more than 100,000 students in College Dems nationwide.
But operating at the national level is not new territory for Kay. At 18 years old, the youngest eligible age to intern, Kay worked in the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House, which she said was somewhat of a “startup” at the time and allowed for much “creativity and innovation.”
“That, overall, was one of the most inspiring experiences, to see the breadth of what government can do in a positive way and all of the people that we were able to engage with from the White House, and then deepen that engagement through digital means,” Kay says.
Kay’s dedicated activism and influential leadership caught the eye of Her Campus, the “#1 new-media brand for the empowered college woman,” according to the organization’s website. Since 2015, Her Campus has recognized forward-thinking college women making incredible strides in a multitude of fields in its “22 Under 22 Most Inspiring College Women” program, and selected Kay as a 2017 honoree.
In accepting this honor, Kay reflected back on a moment when she truly grasped the impact she could have on young women. At 17 years old, Kay wrote an article for Seventeen titled, “How I Learned to Love My Stretch Marks,” and the feedback astonished her.
“I had women from all over the country, and I think globally too, reach out and saw, ‘This is something that I was struggling with, but hearing your voice now makes me feel more comfortable,’” Kay says. “I think the quote that ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ is really important.”
Kay herself has been strongly influenced by a number of empowering female role models, from her own mother to trailblazing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This past semester, Kay had the opportunity to intern under Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, her lifelong political inspiration and even the subject of her college essay.
Further expanding her network of distinguished women, Kay became a member and 2017 scholarship recipient of the New York Women in Communications (NYWICI), a premier organization connecting women at all stages of their careers. She received the Carlozzi Family Scholarship, which is awarded to a student who “demonstrates notable accomplishment as a writer, both inside and outside of the academic environment, and who intends to pursue a career in which writing will be central,” according to the NYWICI website.
With a resume already brimming with outstanding accolades, Kay looks to what lies ahead, but with an understanding that her route is subject to drastic change. “In terms of the future, one of the biggest things that I have always lived by is that you can’t have a five-year plan when you’re talking about impacting the lives of people because you never know, especially in the reality we’re living in right now with this current administration, when there is something that is really important and that we need people on the front lines of,” Kay says.
Come what may, Kay’s unyielding devotion to her fellow citizens and her unmistakably fierce voice will continue to ring out for the causes closest to her heart. “Young people are not the future, they’re the present,” Kay says. “And we need to be investing in them.”