Profiles in Leadership: The Honorable Jennifer Rouse, Councilwoman, City of Virginia Beach

As we continue our Profiles in Leadership series, highlighting a few of the many leaders making a difference and impacting our communities, we are pleased to feature The Honorable Jennifer Rouse, Councilwoman, City of Virginia Beach.

As an educator, what is your perspective on creating equitable opportunities through education? Why is it important for children to have equal access to education?

What a timely question, especially with so much national and state attention on schools. As an educator, I recognize that the history of our school systems, just as with our country, is a history of exclusion. The origin story of education is a story of power — who “deserves” and “should” be educated, and who is considered unworthy. For whom would education be a “waste” of resources, whether answered by social class, gender, race, ethnicity, or mental or physical ability. Considering that education was not available to everyone, I think it’s so important to ensure that today — after all the hard-fought victories for equality and inclusion across social institutions — all children have access to quality education to they see themselves reflected in the curriculums. There are people of all ethnicities, race, gender, and abilities who have contributed to our country, and children need to see themselves reflected in schools so they have an image of how they can grow up and contribute to our society. Schools not only prepare children for their adult working lives, but when done well, they also prepare students to live in a diverse, democratic society. It’s such a precious time of academic, psychological, and social development, and I believe our schools deserve full investment to keep functioning towards those goals. Education should not be a commodity in which those who can afford it get the “best,” and everyone else gets an inferior experience. Education is an equalizer, and I’d love to see our communities, our states, and our country devote equitable resources to ensure all our kids have equal access to quality education.

Can you talk a little bit about leadership from your perspective — in what ways can elected officials work to build trust in their communities? How will you create a cohesive community with citizens living in Virginia Beach’s 10th District?

From my perspective, effective leaders are servant leaders. Leadership isn’t found in a title but in a vision. Where are you going? What are you trying to create, and why would people join you? Elected officials can work to build trust in their communities by being accessible. Leadership shouldn’t separate you from the people you lead. Be present. Attend sports games. Support local businesses. Visit civic leagues. I plan to create a cohesive community by being in the community with my District 10 neighbors.

In what ways are you most proud of your District as you navigate post-pandemic economic, educational, and social challenges? What opportunities do you see for your community’s growth?

District 10 is characterized by housing. Most of the land use is devoted to high-density housing, with some economic corridors on the periphery of the District (around Holland Road and Princess Anne Road). I am proud of our schools and teachers, who did their best to keep students engaged during the pandemic and are working hard to help students transition back into the classroom. I see opportunities for development in some of the vacant storefronts in my District and making residents aware of grants to help rehabilitate their aging infrastructure.

What is one goal you want to accomplish during your tenure as councilwoman?

I share Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of a “beloved community.” A community in which everyone is cared for, absent of poverty, hunger, and hate. I want to build that in my District and across the city. I believe some of the priorities I campaigned for (affordable housing, workforce development, and supporting our public schools) will help us get there.

What are you most looking forward to in 2023?

I’m most looking forward to settling into this role as a city council member. I feel like a freshman in college all over again — being new to this role and the governing work, I am both excited and hopeful about all I’ll learn and what I can achieve with my council colleagues and our community.