She patrols

Congresswoman Val Demings

BY KEISHA BELL | Visionary Brief

How big are your dreams? It is a fair question, one worthy of consideration. When you take a moment to think about the life of your ancestors, of their ability to survive various trials and tribulations for your existence, do you feel a responsibility to defy the odds and enter places once deemed forbidden? She does.

Meet Valdez Venita “Val” Demings (née Butler), a politician who currently represents Florida’s 10th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

Some are born into politically established families. Demings was not. Born March 12, 1957, her family was poor, and she attended segregated schools in 1960s Jacksonville.

Amid the Civil Rights Movements and calls for social justice, Demings was a school-aged girl who had become inspired to pursue a career in law enforcement after serving as a school patrol in middle school.

Who would have thought that wearing an orange safety belt with its accompanying orange hard hat would lead to a place in history books? She did.

Seventeen years after the first African-American undergraduate student was admitted into Florida State University, Demings graduated from there with a degree in criminology. In 1983, she successfully applied to work with the Orlando Police Department. She achieved her childhood dream, but at some point, her goals enlarged.

Demings started on police patrol on Orlando’s west side. In December 2007, she made history by becoming the first woman to lead the Orlando Police Department. She became chief of police and served the Department for 27 years. On June 1, 2011, Demings retired and set her sights on Congress shortly after that.

In 2012, Demings unsuccessfully campaigned to represent Florida’s 10th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives as the Democratic Party nominee. In the General Election, she was narrowly defeated in its slightly Republican District. She was not deterred but afterward initially opted to run for mayor of Orange County in 2014.

Demings dropped out of that election, however. A significant legal change had occurred. The court-ordered redistricting had made the 10th congressional district more Democratic in time for the 2016 election.

Not surprisingly, Demings again won the Democratic Party nomination for that seat. In 2016, Demings won, and by doing so, she became the third Democrat ever to win that Orlando-based district since its creation in 1973.

If Demings had limited her efforts to serve the public by being a law enforcement officer, no one would have found fault. Her life had already turned heads. She was already an inspiration.

Keisha Bell

She was not finished, though. She felt a deeper responsibility to represent the people in her congressional district and of the State of Florida in the legislative halls of Washington, D.C., and she had unknowingly, at least at one time, prepared to do so.

Her inclusion at such decision-making tables was once inconceivable to most. She continues to patrol while defying the odds. That is real progress.

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant.

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