- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A black single working mother will be part of the White House inner circle for the first time in the nation’s history.

To President-elect Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, 52, is a longtime mentor and likely his closest personal friend among his political advisers. To her fans, her elevation to senior adviser in the White House is a significant milestone in an administration built on groundbreaking moments.

“It’s a very big thing. This is a continuation of black women’s growth and development in the political arena,” said Cathy Hughes, founder of the Maryland-based Radio One conglomerate.

Leana Flowers, an executive vice president at Chicago-based ShoreBank, said she thinks Mrs. Jarrett’s promotion will offset the influence of “negative images” young black people absorb in rap-music videos and other forms of media.

“As a black professional with two grandchildren, it’s huge that we can hold her up as a model,” Miss Flowers said. “Our children are exposed to a lot of negative images.”

Mrs. Jarrett is one of three people named as White House senior advisers, along with campaign strategist David Axelrod and Pete Rouse, an old-hand congressional aide who knows Capitol Hill inside and out. The only other people expected to have the same access to President Obama as those three will be White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and possibly the national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones.

Several other high-profile black working women said Mrs. Jarrett’s inclusion in such exclusive and powerful company sends a compelling message to other black female professionals.

Adrienne Pitts, a 40-year-old attorney in Chicago, said Mrs. Jarrett’s ascent through the political and legal worlds of Mr. Obama’s hometown paved the way for other black working women.

“Her role was a very high-profile role, and it let people see, ‘Maybe there’s a Valerie Jarrett in my law firm,’” said Miss Pitts, who counts Mrs. Jarrett as a mentor. “For that we are absolutely indebted to her, because she has been that face for African-American professional women in Chicago for many years. And so now she will be that face for African-American women all across the nation.”

“Young African-American college women and high school students, when they go to the White House, they will want to see the president,” Miss Pitts said. “But when they see [Mrs. Jarrett] in the meetings, and they see the people that the president surrounds himself with, she is at that table.”

“That’s a great event,” she said.

Mrs. Jarrett was married to William Robert Jarrett from 1983 to 1988, and after their divorce, she raised their daughter, Laura, who is a student at Harvard Law School.

“There is a legitimacy in single motherhood in our culture,” said Melody Spann Cooper, president of Chicago’s Midway Broadcasting Corp.

The 2000 Census found that 5.8 million black children lived with single mothers, compared to 4.1 million who lived with two parents.

“But we can’t look at it as doom, gloom and despair. They are women who are capable of multitasking. They can sit in the boardroom and then go home and take care of their children,” Miss Cooper said.

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