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Karine Jean-Pierre on her mental health struggle and a blueprint for activism


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Many of our viewers known Karine Jean-Pierre as a Democratic strategist and one of our analysts.

In her book "Moving Forward," she shares her personal story about growing up the eldest child of Haitian immigrants.

I sat down with her recently and began by asking her how her upbringing shaped her life.

Karine Jean-Pierre: That immigrant upbringing, growing up in New York, it shaped everything and anything that I'm about, right, who -- the person that I sit here -- that sits before you, my hard work, my perseverance, the way I meet, see people and talk to people.

It has made me who I am, the type of mother that I have become, partner that I have become. My parents, Haitian immigrants, it's like the immigrant experience. They came here for the American dream that in many ways eluded them. They still live check to check, but in their eyes, because I made it to the White house, because their daughter went to Columbia, they have received it.

So it's been interesting watching their experience. They have been knocked down , and they get back up. And so, when I'm knocked down, I get back up. Some that experience with them growing up has really made me so much stronger.

Judy Woodruff: Your family is threaded through so much of this book, your father a taxi driver, but trained as an engineer.

Karine Jean-Pierre: Yes. Exactly. Yes.

Judy Woodruff: And your mother had been a nanny and then a caregiver.

Karine Jean-Pierre: Yes, a caregiver.

Judy Woodruff: Both of them very involved in you life. High expectations for you.

Karine Jean-Pierre: High expectations. And it was overwhelming.

Being the oldest of three siblings, I had to take care of my siblings while my parents were working six, seven days a week. I had to feed them. And I'm 8 years older than my sister, 10 years older than my brother, so I was pretty young when they were toddlers, and make sure their food was cooked, make sure diapers were changed, because they had to provide for the family.

And all of that heaviness, all of that responsibility led to some dark times as well.

Judy Woodruff: You write about secrets in the family. There were things your family didn't talk about.

Karine Jean-Pierre: Yes. Yes.

Judy Woodruff: You write, Karine, about your own struggles at points in your life with emotional difficulties, your own sexuality, coming out as a gay woman, and how your parents responded to that.

Karine Jean-Pierre: Yes. Yes.

So one of the things -- there are so many things that I bring up that you just laid out perfectly, but one of them is mental health. And one of the reasons I talk about it in the book is because there is a stigma connected to mental health.

And people don't want to talk about what they go through when they are in dark times and they don't know how to get out of it. And because of the pressures of me growing up, and just feeling like an outsider all through my growing up, my young -- young days, there was a time where I attempted to take my life. I attempted suicide.

And it was a dark, dark time in my life, clearly. And so I put that in the book. I put it in the book because I want to help people. I want anybody who has ever felt that way to feel like there is a way out and to know there is a way out.

Judy Woodruff: What do you think got you through that?

Karine Jean-Pierre: I think back again -- even though there was pressures from the community, pressures from my family that I put on to myself really in many ways, I think because, growing up, my parents always instilled in me that I was going to survive, that I was going to be a star, that I was going to do anything that I wanted, somehow, somewhere, that was still there, even though I was so down and out.

Judy Woodruff: And you kept pushing through. You finished college. You went on to graduate school, ended up going into politics.

Karine Jean-Pierre: Yes. Yes.

Judy Woodruff: Why do you think you did?

Karine Jean-Pierre: I think I just persevered.

I think it's the being knocked down and going back up again. I now teach at Columbia University, an Ivy League school. I have to mentor and teach young people and help them get through their lives. And I have a 5-year-old. My partner and I have this beautiful 5-year-old daughter.

And I think that helps me persevere, and that helps me understand, what kind of world do I want to leave for her?

Judy Woodruff: You talk about advice to young people, that they don't have to work at the White House, which you said, or the state capitol.

Karine Jean-Pierre: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Judy Woodruff: That they can make a difference in politics and policy at the grassroots level.

Karine Jean-Pierre: Yes.

I believe that they can. The way they're going to make that change is if their voice is in the fight, if they step into the political arena, whether it's working on that issue, or deciding to run themselves, or working for a candidate that they really believe in and want them to decide their future.

And I tell that in my book. And I lay out the blueprint and the playbook for doing that.

Judy Woodruff: In fact, there is a point of the book where you have not only worked for President Obama. You worked for Anthony Weiner. You worked for John Edwards.

Karine Jean-Pierre: I did.

Judy Woodruff: Politicians who didn't exactly end up in the right place.

Karine Jean-Pierre: Yes.

Judy Woodruff: And it's an interesting lesson you learned, isn't it?

Karine Jean-Pierre: Yes.

And I say in my book, don't put people up on a pedestal. Right? Care about the issues, for sure, but don't put people on a pedestal, because people are flawed. We are flawed individuals.

And I also tell young people, if you do end up working for a flawed candidate, make sure you -- you got to make sure you take care of your career as well. Right? You have to make sure that you navigate through those waters, so that you can continue your career.

And so it's just a fine line the walk on, but you have to continue sticking with what you believe in.

Judy Woodruff: You are political strategist. You're a Democratic political strategist.

Karine Jean-Pierre: Yes. Yes.

Judy Woodruff: So I'm not going to let you get away without asking you, how do you believe Democrats can defeat Donald Trump next year? Do you think they have a good chance of winning?

Karine Jean-Pierre: I do.

And the reason why is because we have been energized the past three years, we, the Democratic base, the resistance, if you want to call it that, and we have shown up in races in big ways, in historical numbers.

And there is an energy there. When you look at the polling and it says, what do Democrats want the most, they want somebody who can beat Donald Trump. That's the thing. Whoever is the nominee has to understand it's going to take a movement to beat Donald Trump. It's not going to be easy, but we can do it.

You got to get young people out. You got to get people of color, black voters, black women who have been the backbone of the Democratic Party. You have to get women, educated white women out. You have to get everybody. You have to get that coalition and people who don't normally vote or don't think their vote matters. You have got to convince them to get them out. It's going to take a movement.

Judy Woodruff: The book is "Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America."

Thank you.

Karine Jean-Pierre: Thank you.

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