Fighting for the American Dream
Former Congresswoman Val Demings shares the poignant messages her parents taught her about the American Dream, and how she has carried them through her incredible career as the first female Chief of Police in Orlando to the House of Representatives. Demings makes a powerful case for the American Dream – and how we can all keep fighting for it – in this uplifting talk.
The Future of American Democracy
Former Congresswoman Val Demings has a unique perspective on the threats against American Democracy, and the strategies for preserving and protecting democracy at home and abroad. Demings shares her illuminating insights and keen analysis in this talk.
Innovative Ways to Strengthen Our Communities
When former Congresswoman Val Demings served as Orlando’s first female Chief of Police, she took an unorthodox approach to making a difference. Leveraging her background in social work, she knew that increasing public safety was deeply related to issues like access to childcare, educational opportunities, and job skills training. In this eye-opening and uplifting talk, Demings shares how she improved the quality of life in Orlando’s most distressed community through innovative thinking.
Political star Val Demings shares her vision of the American Dream – and why we need to keep fighting for it
Former Congresswoman VAL DEMINGS learned from her parents about the American Dream. They didn’t have much: two parents and seven children in a small wood-framed house in Jacksonville, Florida. “Work hard and play by the rules,” her parents taught her. ”Have faith.” “Treat others as you want to be treated.” “Never tire of doing good.” In America, these were the building blocks of a successful life. Demings took her first job at 14 as a dishwasher, and was the first person in her family to go to college – working her way through at a fast-food restaurant and eventually earning her Master’s in Public Administration.
Demings made history when she was appointed to serve as Orlando’s first female Chief of Police and went on to serve Florida’s 10th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, sitting on numerous key committees and even earning consideration as a potential running mate for President Joe Biden. Throughout her groundbreaking career, she has never tired of doing good, the lesson taught to her by her parents in their home in Jacksonville. Demings has never given up on the promise of what America could be if we have the courage to fight for it, and she shares her incredible story and insights in uplifting talks.
Watch Val Demings share her own American Dream story at HRC’s Time to Thrive Conference >>
“Everyone counts, and everyone is accountable,” says Val Demings. Today, she’s a lifelong public servant who broke numerous glass ceilings in her rise through the Orlando Police Department, her election to Congress, her appointment to prosecute the (first) impeachment of former president Donald Trump, her campaign for Senate in Florida, and her consideration as potential running mate to President Joe Biden.
Val Butler Demings learned from her parents about the American Dream. They didn’t have much: two parents and seven children in a small wood-framed house in Jacksonville. Her mother Elouise Butler worked as a maid; her father James as a janitor, landscaper, and orange picker — as many jobs as it took to get by. “Work hard and play by the rules,” they taught her. ”Have faith.” “Treat others as you want to be treated.” “Never tire of doing good.” In America, these were the building blocks of a successful life.
She took her first job at 14 as a dishwasher. Became the first in her family to go to college, showing up with $50 in her pocket and working at a fast food restaurant to pay her way to a B.S. in Criminology from Florida State University and a later Master’s in Public Administration. She became a social worker, working to protect children in broken homes. Then, dismayed at a system that was leaving too many families behind, she signed up to become a police officer — an officer with a social worker’s heart.
It was a tough path, and tougher still in the 80s for a woman and Black American in a profession that had few of either. But 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 bold, creative cop willing to take on conventional thinking and the toughest parts of the city.
Chief Demings served 27 years and at every rank level in the department. She commanded the Special Operations division and handled the department’s highest-profile tasks. She coordinated the response of the Airport Division on 9/11. And in 2007, she made history when she was appointed to serve as the city’s first female Chief of Police.
The eyes of the city were on her. The financial crisis was squeezing budgets. But by taking the tough fights head-on, she did more with less, kept officers on the street, and crushed violent crime, reducing it by 40%.
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, she improved the quality of life in Orlando’s most distressed community.
In 2016, Chief Demings was elected by the voters of Florida’s 10th District to serve in Congress. She swiftly gained a reputation as a tireless champion for public safety, civil rights, the rule of law, and the American Dream that had given her a chance to succeed. She gained widespread acclaim for her conduct as a deliberative and justice-focused impeachment manager during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
In Congress, she served on the House Committees on Judiciary, Intelligence, Homeland Security (chairing the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery) and Oversight and Government Reform. She was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Women’s Caucus, and New Democratic Caucus, a member of the Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery Review Board and the Elections Security Taskforce, and served 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.
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.
Val Demings and her husband Jerry Demings (currently serving as Mayor of Orange County) have been blessed with three children and five grandchildren. When she’s not fighting for our democracy and spending time with her family, she rides her Harley-Davidson Road King Classic.
Through all of it, she has never tired of doing good, the lesson taught to her by her parents in their home in Jacksonville. She has never given up on the promise of what America could be, if we have the courage to fight for it.