Closing The Gap

Meet the 32-year-old nurse who just became the youngest black woman in Congress

Members-elect Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., and Colin Allred, D-Texas, arrive for New Member Orientation at the Courtyard Marriott in SE, on November 13, 2018. 
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

When the 116th Congress was sworn into office on Thursday, the class made history as the most diverse group ever with a record 127 women.

Among those women was 32-year-old Democrat Lauren Underwood, who etched her name in the history book as the youngest black woman to be elected to Congress.

Underwood, who graduated from the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University, is a registered nurse who now represents Illinois' 14th Congressional District. Her transition into politics began in 2010, when she joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

According to her website, she played a crucial role in implementing the Affordable Care Act. In 2014, she was appointed by the Obama administration to help with public health emergencies and disasters across the nation, including the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Lauren Underwood, Democratic Congresswoman-elect of the 14th Congressional District, pauses before stepping on stage to give her victory speech at her Election Night party at the Kane County Fairgrounds on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in St. Charles, Ill.
Chicago Tribune | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

Born in Ohio but raised in Chicago-suburb Naperville, Illinois, Underwood says her inspiration to work in healthcare came from the doctors and nurses who helped her fight a heart condition she was diagnosed with at age 8. As someone with a pre-existing health condition, she says she knows first-hand how important it is to enact laws and policies that preserve and expand healthcare for Illinois families.

"I have a two-year opportunity to make a real difference and represent the people of the 14th, and they have placed their faith in me," The Chicago Tribune reports Underwood saying at a recent Congressional Black Caucus event. "They've given us a chance. I have to prove myself, and we will, beginning on day one, where I'm leading an effort to reform this government."

In addition to Underwood, several other Congressional newcomers are making history, including Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim women in Congress; Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first Native American women in Congress; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman in Congress; and Jahana Hayes, Connecticut's first black woman in Congress.

When asked by a reporter if she was excited to make history, Underwood said she was excited to be part of "a moment in history." She explained at a CBC event that this new class of Congress "is what [she] always hoped the United States Congress could always look like."

"Diversity of thought, geographic diversity, age, race, gender, life experience are all great things that we each bring to this Congress of the United States," The Chicago Tribune reports her saying. "I'm really proud to be part of a caucus where I'm not 'the only.'"

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