Black History 365: Val Demings
We are highlighting examples of Black excellence throughout the year! Feel free to send us suggestions!
Congresswoman Val Demings represents Florida’s 10th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rep. Demings is a lifelong public servant who broke numerous glass ceilings in her rise through the Orlando Police Department and her election to Congress.
Today, she works on the House Judiciary, Homeland Security, and Intelligence Committees. In 2020, she broke another glass ceiling and continued her career as a guardian of the law when she became one of the first women and one of the first Black Americans to prosecute a presidential impeachment before the U.S. Senate.
Rep. Demings shared a two-room home in Jacksonville, Florida with her six older siblings. Her parents, Elouise, a maid, and James, a janitor, instilled in their children a deep respect for hard work, decency, and responsibility.
Rep. Demings got her first job at age 14. She worked, saved, and with the sacrifice and hard work of her parents became the first in her family to graduate from college. Her chosen field of study was guided by her parents’ lessons and the police procedurals she had watched on T.V. as a child, which had instilled in her a fundamental sense of right and wrong. With her parents proudly at her side, she received a B.S. in Criminology from Florida State University, then went on to receive a Master’s in Public Administration.
Rep. Demings began her career in Jacksonville as a social worker, working to protect foster children. Then, in the early 1980s, Rep. Demings was inspired to move to Orlando to join the police force. Despite institutional resistance to the idea of women in law enforcement, she determinedly pushed forward, graduating from the police academy as class president, receiving the Board of Trustees’ Award for Overall Excellence, and earning the reputation of a smart, tenacious, no-nonsense cop.
During her distinguished 27-year career with the Orlando Police Department (OPD), she served in virtually every department, including serving as Commander of the Special Operations. In this role, she was responsible for some of Orlando’s highest profile tasks, including special events and dignitary protection.
In 2007, Val Demings made history when she was appointed to serve as Orlando’s first female Chief of Police.
When Chief Demings took office, she launched into a relentless campaign to reduce violent crime and build new connections with the community. Through the work of Chief Demings and her dedicated officers, OPD reduced violent crime by more than 40 percent.
By making the Orlando community a partner of the department, Chief Demings made the concept of “protect and serve” a tangible presence in Orlando’s most dangerous neighborhoods. She launched innovative programs like Operation Positive Direction, a mentoring program that empowers at-risk students through tutoring, community service, and positive incentives. She also launched Operation Free Palms, a project focusing on rejuvenating Orlando’s most crime-ridden housing complex, the Palms Apartments. By focusing on unorthodox strategies like access to childcare, building playgrounds, a GED program, and job skills training, OPD created an alternative to crime and improved the quality of life in Orlando’s most distressed community.
Rep. Demings is married to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, is a proud mother to three sons, and proud grandmother to five.
Rep. Demings holds an honorary doctorate of laws from Bethune-Cookman University, as well as honorary doctorates from Florida Technical College and City College Fort Lauderdale.
Rep. Demings is an active member of St. Mark A.M.E., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Orlando Chapter of the Links, Inc., NAACP Silver Life Member, Florida Bar Citizens Advisory Committee, Florida Police Chiefs, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, National Congress of Black Women, and numerous other affiliations.
Rep. Demings enjoys spending her very limited free time riding her Harley-Davidson Road King Classic motorcycle. She has completed the O.U.C. half marathon as well as the Walt Disney marathon.
Rep. Demings sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (Subcommittee on Intelligence Modernization and Readiness; Subcommittee on Defense Intelligence and Warfighter Support), the House Judiciary Committee (Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security; Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law), and the House Committee on Homeland Security (Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security).
She is Chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.
Demings is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Women’s Caucus, and New Democratic Caucus. She is a member of the Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery Review Board and the Elections Security Taskforce. Besides serving as a Subcommittee Vice-Chair, Congresswoman Demings’ leadership positions include serving as Assistant and Regional Whip for the House Democratic Caucus, Co-Chair of Candidate Recruitment for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Vice Chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.