Jean-Jacques helps young people plug into government

Anny Jean-Jacques isn’t leaving Boston anytime soon. And that’s a good thing.
“Five years ago I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be better to start fresh, go somewhere new?’” she remembered. “And then I thought to myself, ‘why?’ Why should I leave? This is where I was educated. This is where I was raised. I want to be able to give back to my community.”
Jean-Jacques is the Assistant Director of Governor Deval Patrick’s Office of Community Affairs. Her boss, Ron Bell, has been involved in community outreach for more than twenty years and knows a good leader when he sees one.
“Anny is an emerging leader in the city of Boston,” Bell said. “She’s an inspiring example of someone who went to school here and stayed here to continue her career.”
While earning a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Law Degree from Boston College, Jean-Jacques developed her passion for working with young people. She participated in a yearlong program called the Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project, where she represented young girls caught in the juvenile justice system. Her work continued after law school at the Children’s Law Center, where she advocated for children with special needs.
“Working with and working for young people has always been a passion of mine,” Jean-Jacques said. “It’s truly an honor to work for a governor who is really focused on developing new, young leaders.”
Jean-Jacques and Bell spearhead the Governor’s Statewide Youth Council, an initiative aimed at encouraging young people to get involved in their communities. The Council is comprised of twenty-eight youths, two from each county in Massachusetts. The idea for the Council originated in 2007, while Governor Patrick was attending a meeting in Codman Square about Youth Violence.
“One of the young people stood up and asked, ‘Why don’t we have a statewide youth council?’” Jean-Jacques remembered. “And at that point the Governor charged Ron and I with the task of leading that effort.”
Jean-Jacques is extremely proud of her Office’s emphasis on civic engagement and community outreach.
“Our goal is to be the bridge between the Governor’s Office and the community,” she said. “Our office is pro-active. We want to get out there and get a sense for what’s going on, what the issues are.”
The emerging diversity in Boston is an issue that Jean-Jacques is more than happy to embrace. Her identity as a Haitian-American has allowed her to reach out to Boston’s minority population in an invaluable way.
“It’s not hard to identify somebody who’s been through what you’ve been through,” Bell said. “It can be an intimidating process coming to the State House, but Anny’s love for people really helps with that.”
Jean-Jacques’ parents came to Boston in the 1970s and raised their family in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester.
“Both my parents were educators in Haiti and were living a comfortable life, but they wanted their kids to have an even better opportunity,” she said. “Although we were raised here, it’s always been important to my family that we never forget our roots.”
Her father always encouraged her to give back to her community, a lesson Jean-Jacques now instills in young voters across the Commonwealth.
“In order to take part in government, young Haitian-Americans and others should start by giving back… be it a food bank, mentoring… it all starts with community,” she said.
In addition to civic engagement, Jean-Jacques encourages young people to know who’s representing them.
“People should understand who their elected officials are, your representatives are there for you,” she said.
Jean-Jacques will admit to not having a life-long interest in politics. Her involvement with State Representative Linda Dorcena Forry’s 2005 campaign— and Gov. Deval Patrick’s successful statewide bid in 2006 — changed all that.
“They made government more tangible,” she said. “It wasn’t this big scary thing.” She credits both campaigns with running on a grassroots platform that made government more accessible to a wider group of constituents. Those principles followed her to the Governor’s Office of Community Affairs, where she promotes an open-door policy.
“Our goal is to bring in people of all walks of life,” she said. “All anybody has to do is walk up to our office in the State House and we’re here, ready to listen.”
Bell admires his colleague’s determination to reach out to young voters.
“We’re trying to open our doors to people who have traditionally not come in,” he said. “Anny is very passionate about helping young people help themselves.”
Jean-Jacques will continue to make it her personal mission to work with young people. The city of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is lucky to have her.