Real Talk with Karine Jean-Pierre

Meet the White House press secretary.
By TFK Kid Reporter Audrey Owolo
A Black woman and girl standing together in an office smiling.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and TFK Kid Reporter Audrey Owolo stand for a picture together during their conversation on May 7.

TFK Kid Reporter Audrey Owolo visited the White House, in Washington, D.C., to interview Karine Jean-Pierre about her job and career path. As the White House press secretary, Jean-Pierre serves as the spokesperson for President Biden and his administration. Read the transcript below, which has been edited for length and clarity, to learn about Jean-Pierre’s job and her career journey, in her own words. 

What’s it like to be the White House press secretary?

It is an amazing honor and privilege. I get to stand behind that podium to speak on behalf of the president of the United States. What happens in that briefing room every day, when I have the press corps in front of me, is that we exercise the freedom of the press in our democracy. That press briefing is telecast, and it speaks across the globe on behalf of the leadership of the United States. It is incredibly cool.

What’s your daily routine?

I wake up around 4:15 or 4:30 a.m. I always meditate and work out. It’s important for my self-care. Then I read and watch the news, read my emails, and get ready. I try to be here [at the White House] between 6:45 and 7:15. My first team call is at 7:30. Then I have an 8:00 call, then an 8:15 call, then an 8:40 call. After the 8:40 call, I start preparing for the press briefing. 

I usually spend four or more hours preparing for the press briefing. Then I have the press briefing. Almost every day I have meetings with the president. Sometimes, we travel. And that’s kind of the job. You’re traveling; you’re working 12- or 15-hour days; you work six, seven days a week. I have two cell phones. One is a personal cell phone, one is a work cell phone. It’s an all-hands-on-deck job.

What’s one quality of a good press secretary?

You’re trying to share with the American people, through the reporters in the room, what the president is doing. I’m not speaking for me, I’m speaking on behalf of him. Being able to do that clearly and concisely, being a good communicator, is really important.

Can you talk about the path that led you to the White House? 

It was not a straight line. It was like a zigzag. When I was your age, I thought I was going to be a doctor. That's what my parents wanted me to be. When I graduated from college, I realized I didn’t want to be a doctor. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I spent about a year and a half, almost two, working for a non-for-profit, trying to figure out what to do next. 

I had two mentors who own the educational non-for-profit that I worked at. One of them had gone to Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. He said such amazing things about his experience. I realized that I wanted to change policy. I wanted to get a master’s [degree] in public administration, public policy. So I went to Columbia. 

Then I had two more amazing mentors: David Dinkens—who had been the first Black mayor of New York City and was up at Columbia teaching—and this amazing professor named Ester Fuchs. They encouraged me to try politics. After I graduated, I worked for two city council members. I worked for Obama's first campaign, in 2008, and then went into the White House to work for Obama and then–Vice President Biden.

Eventually, almost 10 years ago, I started doing communications and press a lot more. I was a spokesperson for an organization. And because I had a relationship with Vice President Biden, he asked me to work on his campaign in 2020. We stayed in touch, and when he came [into office], he said, “I want you to be my spokesperson.” 

So I came in as a deputy press secretary. After that, I got elevated to press secretary. So it’s a long story. But it’s a story of how important it is to follow your dreams. Follow what you’re passionate about. And don’t worry about if the doors are going to open. If you love what you do and you’re passionate, if you stay very focused and you work really hard, I promise you, those doors will open.

Can you share what it means to you to be the first Black person to serve as the White House press secretary?

It’s very meaningful to me. There’s a lot of weight to it. It’s important. I know that I stand on the shoulders of so many that came before me, so many people of color, Black people, women, who came before me and sacrificed. I’m learning from their brilliance. I’m learning from the trail that they blazed. It’s always an honor, every day. I know the different communities that I represent. It’s not lost on me what it means for people when I stand behind the lectern, and they see me speaking on the behalf of the president.

What has been the most rewarding part of your job?

Being able to bring my daughter to my job. She can see what I do, meet the president, meet the First Lady, meet the vice president, and be able to experience a little bit of this with me. I hope that, as she gets older and goes about her career, she can take that with her and know that she can do whatever she wants to do.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?

I think it is just exhausting. It’s a tiresome job. You’re not given a lot of grace if you make a mistake, right? Understandably. Everybody listens to what I say at the podium. Everybody listens to what the White House press secretary has to share on behalf of the president. So you have to really be clear-minded. You have to be very precise and very careful, because any word that I say could be misconstrued. It’s hard to present yourself with clarity and be factual at the same time. And that is important, as I am representing the president. 

What advice do you have for kids who aspire to work at the White House?

Work hard. Follow your dreams. Follow your passion. Mentors are really important, and [so is] building a community around you that supports your goals. If you can get an internship in the White House, if you can get an internship within Congress, when you’re old enough, [and] experience what it's like to live in D.C. Anything is possible.