Deja Foxx was unpacking her dorm room at Columbia University when she got a DM from Meena Harris. Vice President Kamala Harris’s niece was looking for someone to join her aunt’s presidential campaign on the digital team. She sent Deja a job description, and the then-19-year-old started brainstorming some friends that would fit the role.
“‘Oh, I have some friends that just graduated. Let me send you some recommendations. I know some people that would be a good fit,'” Deja recalled during a conversation with POPSUGAR for Instagram’s Creator Week. “And [Meena] stopped me and said, ‘I think you would be a good fit. Have you considered it?’ And I said, ‘I’m packing my dorm up. I’m repacking. Don’t even worry. I’m on my way.'”
Fearless. The word sums up Deja’s decision to dive headfirst into a new political role, and, funnily enough, it’s also the word she has tattooed on her arm — in Kamala’s handwriting. But Deja’s fearlessness didn’t start as the VP’s youngest campaign staffer. She’s well-practiced in making courageous choices, as evidenced by her famous confrontation of Jeff Flake in 2017.
At 16 years old, Deja asked the Arizona Senator to explain his stance on Title X. “I come from a background of poverty, and I didn’t always have parents to guide me through life. You come from privilege. So I’m wondering, as a Planned Parenthood patient and someone who relies on Title X, who you are clearly not, why it’s your right to take away my right?”
“I’m questioning what being an expert looks like, feels like, how we justify who’s qualified.”
A clip of her question quickly went viral. Reflecting on the past few years, Deja recalls how “exciting” and also “unsettling” it was to see her life explode overnight. “I’d learned how to tell my story. I’d learned the power of media and the landscape around reproductive justice. But that doesn’t change the fact that when I woke up in the morning, I was still a 16-year-old girl who was really scared that so many people now had access to me being my most vulnerable self.”
Deja’s vulnerability became her superpower. As an activist, the founder of Gen Z Girl Gang, and an influencer, she built her platform with authenticity at its core. Deja purposely poses in bikinis and promotes vibrators on her account to show she’s not interested in hiding who she is. Politicians aren’t usually known for being genuine online (although Deja spotlights Alejandra Campoverde, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Jon Ossoff, and of course, Kamala among the few who are), but she has plans to change that with her own future presidential campaign.
“I’m really challenging what it means to be respectable, what it means to be taken seriously,” she said. “And I think that that’s incredibly powerful. I’m questioning what being an expert looks like, feels like, how we justify who’s qualified. And I’m doing that in so many ways. Not just by the way that I dress, the way that I look, the way that I talk, but also the background that I come from and the way that I bring that community and that experience into my work and integrate it into being a whole person.”
Deja thinks we should all be reframing the way we look at elected officials. “At the end of the day, they are representatives, and they should be representative of people,” she explained. And that’s where her calling lies. “When I think about what I want to be in this life, it’s not president. It’s not a content creator. It’s not famous or rich. It’s a good role model.”
“When I think about what I want to be in this life, it’s not president . . . it’s a good role model.”
But even with her pledge of authenticity, Deja recognizes the value of boundaries, especially on social media. The online dialogue around politics is a breeding ground for trolling and harassment, along with the immense pressure of expectation, which means Deja has been forced to put careful practices into place. “I’m not perfect at this. I don’t think anybody is. I get lost in my own comment sections and spiral out about the one thing that someone said about me,” she admitted. In these cases, she relies on the valuable advice of her eighth grade teacher: “Other people’s opinion of you is none of your business.” Deja keeps her friends close who can step in and check in on her, sometimes even taking over her accounts to put distance from hateful comments.
“You’re just a person. You’re going to make mistakes, just like everybody else. And so knowing that that’s a weight too, and acknowledging that it is a toll to be a role model, it is a toll to set an example, it is a toll to share your story, that those are all work, and to acknowledge that.”
This acknowledgment is just another example of Deja’s fearlessness. She presses onward, knowing she’ll mess up along the way. It’s a brave, tireless effort, something the ink on her arm will forever remind her of. And, hey, perhaps on her own Inauguration Day, Deja will finally be able to show Kamala how her words literally left their mark. Until then, Deja will continue fighting for the an evolved future. “I hope that by the time I run for president, I’ll have set an example that changes society’s expectations of women and women of color and, more importantly, changes the way that they see themselves in leadership across any discipline.”
Image Source: Deja Foxx