November 3, 2020, marked a day of profound transformation in my life. Most of my colleagues in the political arena awoke that morning with fervent hopes for a new direction in our country through the election of Joe Biden over Donald Trump, and I also embarked on this day with a sense of purpose. I was determined to play my part in shaping our nation’s destiny.
I began by visiting polling locations alongside the candidate I was working with at the time. As was my custom, I also reached out to my family to ensure that they all had a well-thought-out plan for casting their votes. My day was consumed by the election. After completing my rounds at the polling stations, I returned home to make calls and send texts on behalf of Democratic candidates across the country. I watched CNN relentlessly, eagerly seeking any tidbit of election coverage. Little did I know that my world would be shaken by a single text from my grandfather, bearing the heavy news that my grandmother had been placed on life support, bravely fighting for her life.
This unexpected message compelled me to halt everything I was doing at that moment. I lowered my head into my hands and wept in a way I hadn’t in a long time. Just two months prior, we had bid a farewell to my uncle, my mother’s brother and my grandparents’ only son. The news of my grandmother’s dire condition couldn’t have been more unforeseen, and the weight of it was crippling. While my grandmother had battled cancer for over a year by this point, she had shown signs of improvement in the months leading up to her passing. She was known for her unshakable strength, even in the face of adversity, and had admirably held our entire family together while arranging her son’s funeral. Thus, I had not entertained the thought that we would lose her just two months later.
I often tell people that my family wasn’t deeply engaged in civic matters when I was growing up. But as I reflect on my grandmother, I realize this is not entirely true. My grandmother had a long and dedicated career at the State Department. I recall seeing pictures of her with Secretaries of State such as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice throughout my childhood. As one of her colleagues put it in her memory, “‘Jo Jo’ was a devoted public servant, the consummate team player.” Without realizing it, I had witnessed my grandmother’s commitment to public service and how she showed up for our country every day.
In 2018, on Election Day, I had the privilege of picking up my grandmother and voting together. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, as it allowed me to bond with my grandmother over something we both cherished deeply: fulfilling our civic duties. Over the years, as I worked on campaigns across the country, my grandmother would continually inquire about the progress of my candidates. I now understand that her interest extended beyond my well-being; she genuinely cared about the candidates I supported because she grasped the implications of their election. The night Senator Doug Jones secured victory, my grandmother was the first to call me, breaking the news to me before I could even see it myself. I recall talking to her for over an hour as I journeyed home from Boston, a few days after being part of Congresswoman Ayanna Presley’s historic election. During the 2020 presidential cycle, when I had the privilege of working on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, my grandmother sent me regular texts inquiring, “How’s our girl Liz doing?” Her investment was unwavering because, like me, she understood that working for these individuals would offer the opportunity to make a real impact, especially if they won their elections.
As the 2020 election cycle drew to a close, my grandmother and grandfather kept the family updated on the presidential election, diligently tuning into CNN, MSNBC, and even occasionally watching Fox News. I knew I wouldn’t have the opportunity to vote alongside my grandmother in that election since I resided in a different state. Still, I found comfort in knowing that my grandmother and grandfather would ensure our entire family made it to the polls. I also held onto the hope that I would get another chance to vote with my grandmother, cherishing the memory of one of my favorite experiences shared with her.
Regrettably, that opportunity never materialized. My grandmother passed away before the 2020 election, leaving me with the knowledge that she would have been immensely proud of our country’s choice to elect Joe Biden. She would have been equally proud of the work her grandson had poured into these past four years. Though I never had the chance to cast my vote beside her again, I take solace in the fact that she was proud of my work. She showed this pride with every check-in text and phone call. I am grateful that my grandmother served as a role model, not only in public service but also in her unwavering commitment to her family, ensuring that we always had a plan to vote.
As another Election Day draws to a close, I implore you to seize every opportunity to vote with your family and friends. It’s not only crucial to ensure that their voices are heard, but it also serves as a poignant reminder that we never know when our last chance to do so might arrive.