Val Butler Demings is a lifelong public servant who 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 worked as a maid, her father James as a janitor, landscaper, and orange picker.
She became the first in her family to go to college. 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. 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 graduated as class president, earned the board of trustees award for overall excellence, and went on to serve 27 years at every rank level in the Orlando Police Department. In 2007, she made history when she was appointed to serve as the city’s first female Chief of Police.
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 pushed through the financial crisis and did more with less, driving a strategic focus that crushed violent crime by 40%. She deployed new community rejuvenation strategies like youth mentoring, access to childcare, a GED program, and job skills training.
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, and served on the Committees on Judiciary, Intelligence, Homeland Security (chairing the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery) and Oversight and Government Reform. She earned widespread acclaim as an impeachment manager prosecuting former President Donald Trump.
In 2020, her record of national leadership earned her consideration as running mate to President Joe Biden, and in 2022 she ran for the U.S. Senate in Florida, capturing hearts and minds across the country in a campaign rooted in her parents’ lessons about service, truth, justice, decency, and the American Dream.
Throughout, she received voluminous awards and recognitions and has engaged locally and nationally with numerous organizations, including Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, and others. Val Demings and her husband Jerry 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 always remembered her parents’ lesson: never tire of doing good.