The nation's preeminent conservative think tank has named a black, conservative, Christian woman, Kay Coles James, as its new president, a selection, she says, made not on her race and gender but on who was most qualified.
Kay Coles James, 68, will begin her tenure at the top of the Washington D.C.-based Heritage Foundation beginning Jan. 1, 2018. She will replace current president Edwin J. Feulner, who stepped back into the role after Jim DeMint, a former U.S. Senator from South Carolina, was ousted earlier this year. She will be Heritage's sixth president.
Here are 4 things you should know about the lady who will be at the helm of one of the most influential policy organizations in the United States.
1. She is a devout Christian and respected leader in the African-American community.
Kay Coles James is the president and founder of the Gloucester Institute, a leadership training center for young African-Americans.
The Gloucester Institute is housed in a Georgian mansion called Holly Knoll in Gloucester, Virginia near Richmond and is considered the cradle of the Civil Rights movement. The building fell into disrepair over the years but James and her husband formed a non-profit organization to refurbish it and raise up a new generation of minority leaders as a way of reclaiming this legacy of this historic site.
She said in a recent CBN interview of the Gloucester Institute: "I think God placed it in my heart to restore the property and the vision. My husband and I formed the nonprofit, and have dedicated our lives to restoring, not only the bricks and mortar, but also the vision as a gathering place for racial reconciliation where we can deal with the important issues of the day; a place where politics are left aside, and we come together as people who want to find solutions."
A graduate of Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia, she has been awarded several honorary degrees, including a Doctor of Laws from Pepperdine University, the University of Virginia's Publius Award for Public Service, and the Spirit of Democracy Award for Public Policy Leadership from the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
She has also served on the Fairfax County School Board in Virginia and on the board of evangelical group Focus on the Family.
The D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship honored James with their Distinguished Christian Statesman award in 2003.
She has authored three books including an autobiography titled Never Forget (1993); Transforming America from the Inside Out (1995); and What I Wish I'd Known Before I Got Married (2001).
James and her husband Charles have three grown children and five grandchildren.
2. She has a long career in public service.
From 2001 to 2005, James was director of the United States Office of Personnel Management under President George W. Bush.
She also served as secretary of health and human resources under former Virginia governor George Allen, implementing Virginia's landmark welfare reform initiative, affecting fourteen state agencies and over 19,000 employees, her biography states.
In 2017, together with former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III, James led President Donald Trump's transition team for the Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, and General Services Administration.
James told journalists Tuesday she was "blocked" from joining the Trump administration, saying she was "extremely disappointed that I didn't have the opportunity to serve there."
"I'm probably able to do far more from this post [at Heritage] than I could from there, so it's all good."
She has also been a dean of Regent University's school of government and is presently a member of the NASA Advisory Council.
3. Reaction from Christian and conservative circles has been positive.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention tweeted his delight with Heritage's choice:
"I have long respected @KayColesJames, both for her intellect and for her commitment to Christ. Congratulations @Heritage on an exciting choice for president."
Likewise, Robert P. George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, expressed their excitement, cheering the think tank's selection of James as a "brilliant" pick.
Said one of the conservative think tank's staffers to The Washington Examiner: "It's amazing to have a leader of Heritage who can talk about learning to fight for what's right as a 12-year-old girl in an all-white school during desegregation and that she's fought for what's right ever sense and will continue to do so as president of Heritage."
"The whole building is super pumped."
4. She originally led the search team to find a new president.
James' history with the conservative think tank goes back 25 years, having served on the organization's board of directors. When DeMint was ousted in May, she led the search committee to find a new president and reportedly sifted through around 200 potential names and resumes. When one board member suggested her name and she became a serious candidate, she stepped down from the search process.
In an interview with The Daily Signal Tuesday, she explained that she hailed from a broken home, with her father absent and her mother on welfare.
"[F]or me, policy isn't just about the white papers that we produce, but it's what's behind those papers. The lives of people that can be changed with the excellent policy that we produce here. And in no small measure, I really feel like everything in my life has been gearing up for this moment," James said of her new job.
"You know what I'm so excited about. The fact that I'm a woman and African American? I don't think anybody on the board cared. It is absolutely not in their DNA and I think we did it the right way. I think that they were looking for the best and the most qualified person and you know, it's like it was an afterthought."