Alumna DeJuana Thompson is changing the South one vote at a time
Birmingham native DeJuana Thompson ’05 is rocking the political boat. Thompson, a 36-year-old with a decade of experience working on Capitol Hill and at the White House, is fighting the good fight for her community
Her program, Woke Vote, has become wildly successful in fulfilling its mission: mobilizing African American millennial and faith-based voters in Alabama.
Thompson says she was motivated by the lack of resources and engagement in Alabama’s sixth district. Growing up in Birmingham, she became increasingly aware that the lack of investment in her community directly correlated to their disassociation with the governmental system. She had grown up alongside an overlooked Black community and witnessed the impact by the same system that had alienated them, sometimes at a greater rate because of their vulnerability. While Thompson acknowledges the street between government and community goes both ways, it was apparent to her there was a great missed opportunity by leadership to interact with and address issues within the community.
“People were still requiring things of my community that they hadn’t invested in.”
After recognizing the need, she had an epiphany that spun Woke Vote into motion. There was a defining moment during the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate when Thompson just knew this was the time to take advantage of the critical opportunity presented.
“I just knew in my gut that if we did the work to organize people, then we could make a major change in our state,” Thompson said.
She spent the next 10 months recruiting support for the program, topped off with a legendary fundraising extravaganza in the last six weeks, where Woke Vote raised $3 million dollars for the launch.
Thompson never expected Woke Vote would develop into an unprecedented movement.
“I just wanted to prove that black voters in the South matter,” Thompson said, and “that black voters in the South know the power of their voice.”
Her approach to the program was a little outside of the box. Thompson knew the need was much greater than just mobilizing for presidential and local election cycles. She wanted to organize for liberation, for education. Thompson was advocating for a collective power.
Advocacy in the making
From a young age, Thompson’s parents instilled in her the value of involvement. She came by the itch for progressive advocacy naturally when her parents left their home church and started a new one. According to Thompson, her parents were part of a group of young people who refused to conform to the single style of worship the church had mandated. Faced with an ultimatum, they left and founded their own church, built upon the principle of community that now has the largest “Back to School” rally in the southeast.
“I care about what happens to people,” Thompson said. “I guess I always knew I would do something for other people that allowed them to speak for themselves.”
Thompson’s dedication to service through creation did not stop with Woke Vote. In 2018, she co-founded Think Rubix, an innovative global social impact firm dedicated to people-centered solutions, sustainability, investment and commitment. Think Rubix offers expertise in a variety of areas, including domestic policy and civic engagement.
Thompson feels Berea gave her the foundation she needed for a successful career. While in school, she was given the opportunity to practice the real-life application of her education while avoiding student debt. A speech and communication major with a minor in African and African American studies, she says Berea prepared her to be competitive.
“Berea gave me a work ethic and a space to develop my leadership skills,” she explained.
During her time at Berea, Thompson was exposed to a wide range of cultures, widening her own perspective. It wasn’t until she left that she realized she was more than on-par with alumni of other leading institutions. “When I met these Harvard, Yale and Stanford graduates,” Thompson declared, “I realized I was not only on pace with them, but I was outpacing them. I was so grateful for my Berea experience.”
After graduation in 2005, Thompson ran out in a hurry; she had a plane to catch, landing her back in Birmingham, where she was a committee assistant to the Birmingham city council president. Others caught wind of her organizational skills, and she was promoted to essential staff, making her available to other districts and council members.
While in this position, Thompson received the call to organize voters for the Barack Obama presidential campaign, rocketing her into the next step of her career. What was supposed to be three months on the campaign trail turned into 10, and Thompson remained a senior staffer for both Obama presidential campaigns.
In 2015, the White House appoint-ed Thompson to serve as a senior advisor in the U.S. Small Business Administration to manage outreach strategy. Shortly thereafter, she served crucial roles in the Democratic National Committee. Her experience on Capitol Hill paved the way for her creative spark in the field, and both Woke Vote and Think Rubix inevitably followed.
Woke Vote made more than 100,000 contacts in the 2017 U.S. Senate race that concluded in a victory for Doug Jones—the first Democrat from Alabama in 25 years. The fellow-ship program, developed to train Woke Vote representatives and leaders, now has 150 participants. It has grown into 18 states and an international chapter in Ghana, West Africa. Think Rubix continues to reach out to the community, providing expertise to create change in politically stagnant communities.
Thompson’s next step is to grow these programs to best facilitate solu-ions and extend outreach globally. While both Woke Vote and Think Rubix have been successful, Thompson is not satisfied with the progress.
“There is still work to be done,” Thompson said. “There are still leaders to train and so many more things to uncover and rectify.”