She still 'gets goosebumps' one year since becoming Virginia's first Black congresswoman

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Posted at 6:58 PM, Mar 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-07 19:05:06-05

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In celebration of Women's History Month, CBS 6 spoke with Chesterfield native, Jennifer McClellan exactly one year after she made history as the first Black congresswoman from Virginia.

"It blows my mind that Congress is like 235 years old and that I’m the first one from Virginia," said McClellan.

When McClellan graduated as valedictorian from Matoaca High School, the self-described history nerd had dreams of one day becoming a lawyer to help congressional leaders.

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"I was the kid who watched presidential debates and watched C-SPAN and in particular was fascinated by Congress and the legislative branch," she said. "When I graduated high school my dream job was to be a congressional staffer."

McClellan said she never imagined she’d actually be sitting in the seat of a congressional member, let alone making history by doing so.

"When the constitution was written, 'We the people' didn't mean me, and now to be here upholding the constitution and serving the people, I get goosebumps thinking about it," she said.

Elected as the first Black congresswoman from Virginia in a special election in 2023, it’s been exactly one year since the veteran state legislator stepped into her new role in the U.S. House of Representatives. "It’s felt like a week and 100 years all in one," McClellan described.

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She said her almost 20 year tenure at the state level really helped prepare her for this position.

"Coming from state government, I see more clearly the partnership between local, state and federal government," she said. "Whether it’s access to housing, healthcare, childcare, a lot of the same things I worked on in the state but just on a different level."

While there are still several issues McClellan said she hopes to address in this upcoming year, she said she feels empowered heading into it knowing the shoulders of the giants she stands on.

"I think about and sometimes get frustrated that I’m fighting the same fights they fought but then I get inspired because I’m fighting them from a place of power they never dreamt about and I fight those fights so that my kids don’t have to," she said.

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Despite "the first" never being a line she imagined adding to her title, she hopes her story inspires others on their way to doing the same, to never give up.

"I’m here in a way that I didn’t dream about, and my parents and ancestors definitely didn’t dream about," McClellan said. "There’s always a first, there’s always a second and just because it seems like a big dream doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish it and you belong here."

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