From local politics in her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, to working the presidential campaign trail as National Press Secretary for Bernie Sanders, and working her way to the White House as Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief Spokesperson and Senior Adviser for Vice President Kamala Harris, Symone Sanders has been a powerful voice in politics since her 20’s. Now, the 32-year-old is stepping into a new chapter as host of her own show, Symone, on MSNBC.
“When I made the decision to leave the White House, it was for my mental health,” said Sanders to BET.com exclusively, “I’ve worked nonstop for the last three years, from a campaign to a transition, to a very grueling year in the White House, coming in under COVID — doing something that no other administration had done before. I was ready to try and do something different.”
Her new chapter will entail more than this new role. “I'm getting married this summer,” she said, “I thought about how I wanted to enter into that new phase of my life. I wanted to be present at this moment, in this time, but I still wanted to be able to use my voice.” When asked how her colleagues and Vice President Kamala Harris took the news, she says, “They were so supportive. I think everybody understood that I had been on a non-stop ride, hopping on and off planes, for the last three years.”
In the move from the White House to her show, Sanders had a lot to consider. “More than a few people told me, ‘No one is going to give you a show. I think you should be a little more realistic.’ Someone suggested I try to do something else because they didn't really see me as a host and that maybe I could try to go more the culture route,” she said. But when she sat down for her conversation with MSNBC President Rashida Jones, the feeling was different.
“Rashida believed in my voice.”
With regards to the state of representation of Black women in media, Sanders says, “A lot of gains have been made, but there's still more work to do. When you can name on one hand the number of Black women or people of color in primetime television across the board, it’s an issue. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Change is never going to be made overnight — it takes time.” In acknowledging the work that needs to be done, Sanders is encouraging folks to celebrate the gains that have been made. For instance, Jones, who, in February 2021, became the first Black executive to lead a major TV news network, has led to Sanders speaking of how her leadership has influenced these major gains in media representation.
Symone also believed it was about more accessibility when considering her next move. As someone who has been steeped in politics since her twenties, she recognizes the role that streaming plays when it comes to reaching more audiences. “I might not turn on the TV when I wake up in the morning,” she said, “[But] I know so many people, myself included, who, first thing in the morning, check their phone to see what’s trending.” She went on to say, “I wanted to go somewhere that had a track record on streaming because I think, while what is on television is still driving a number of conversations that we have, streaming is not just the future, it is also actively happening right now,” she said. For those who might not consider themselves news junkies but still want to know what’s going on, Sanders wants to talk to them, too. Soon, on Saturdays and Sundays, starting May 7 at 4:00 p.m. ET on MSNBC and on-demand via MSNBC’s app and Peacock, she’ll begin doing exactly that for an audience of millions.
“‘Symone’ is the news you need to know, from politics to pop culture. We’re going to unpack today's headlines, but we're going to go deeper. We’re going to get into the weeds. We're going to talk about the stories that people across the country care about.” She’s excited about having the opportunity to elevate the stories that are driving the conversations being had in communities nationwide but might not make it to cable news. “There are so many times where we just mirror what we’re seeing on Twitter when only about 22% of Americans use Twitter. This is not representative of the people, so I’m excited to delve a little deeper and pull the curtain back.”
While keeping viewers informed, Sanders aims to give them hope. “Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, someone with no affiliation — how can we expect people to want to be good stewards and citizens in their communities if the picture that we are painting as a media apparatus is nothing but doom and gloom? Terrible things are happening in the world. That’s for sure, but everything is not all bad. There's a responsibility to give people hope. To shine a spotlight on some of the great things happening in our world and in our communities across the country so that folks know that we're going to be alright at the end of the day.”
Aside from sharing her perspective and voice, Sanders also hopes to make a change by simply being herself. “My hope is that me showing up every day as my authentic self, continuing to keep the bar high and substantive, not [as] a caricature of what people think I am, but truly just being myself — is opening up the door for other young people to step into their respective workplaces, wherever they are, and be comfortable with who they are. To be comfortable with speaking up and sharing their voices and their opinions because their voices do matter,” said Sanders. “I'm a bald, curvy, Black woman from North Omaha, Nebraska, with a bedazzled nail, and I like a bold lip — and that's what I'm going to continue to be.”
Jameelah Nasheed is an op-ed columnist for Teen Vogue. She covers news, politics, race, and culture. Follow her on Twitter.