Petersburg native Jewel Bronaugh makes history as first Black woman in top USDA role

The Tri-Cities

PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC)– A Petersburg native, Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, has been sworn-in to President Joe Biden’s cabinet, becoming the first Black woman to ever hold the Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) title.

She is not only a Petersburg High School graduate, a former VSU Dean of Agriculture and the most recent Commissioner of Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, but her latest achievement may just be her biggest accomplishment yet.

“I, Jewel Bronaugh, will support and defend the constitution of the United States,” she said while being sworn-in Monday. Her family, friends and colleagues watched the ceremony on zoom while her husband stood at her side.

“Dr. Bronaugh has done exceptional work for the Commonwealth and we have no doubt that she will continue to do so at the federal level,” said Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, in a joint statement.

“To be at this level, to be able to serve people at this level, but also to be able to work with a lot of great people at this level, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she told 8News.

Dr. Bronaugh was nominated by Biden in January and quickly soared through confirmation hearings in recent weeks. Now, her four-year term is just getting started. “The gravity of this is more than you can even imagine, “she said.

This week, she became the first Black woman to hold the title.

“A historic moment for the department,” said Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, at the swearing in ceremony.

Dr. Bronaugh said she’s in an important position to reach marginalized farmers and others within the industry who haven’t been heard.

“As an African-American female in this role, I’m a voice,” she said. “to speak up for these groups, trying to ensure that these groups get the resources, get the support that they need to be successful,” she said. “My voice in this role is going to be very important and I need to use it effectively and in a way that’s gonna be advancing groups that have not been heard.”

Dr. Bronaugh said she truly fell in love with the agriculture industry when she took a job at VSU in 4-H youth development.

“I was really excited about that job,” she said.

Eventually, she became dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University and said it all just “felt right.”

In 2018, Governor Ralph Northam appointed Dr. Bronaugh as Commissioner of Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer services.

“As Commissioner of VDACS, Dr. Bronaugh has been a true leader—promoting the agency’s core mission while taking on new challenges, including our COVID-19 pandemic response and farmer mental health, focusing economic development to improve food access in underserved communities, and engaging youth in the field of agriculture,” Governor Ralph Northam said in a January 2021 statement.

“I am proud that she will be representing the both the Commonwealth and all Americans in such a critical role at USDA and in this new Administration,” Northam said.

Dr. Bronaugh is proud to be born and raised in Petersburg.

“My friends from Petersburg are still my best friends today,” she told 8News. “You remember the teachers that took that extra time to make sure you had it right, that you knew how to sit properly, that you knew how to speak properly. They were our teachers at school but our parents, kind of, because you’d also see them at church on Sunday,” she laughed.

However, she said growing up in Petersburg where crime has historically been high, she would “hear that message that we might not be successful.” However, Dr. Bronaugh said she would always look around and “see success everywhere,” she said.

Young people in her home town can take it from their new Deputy Secretary: “you don’t listen to what you can’t do but you show them what you can do,” Dr. Bronaugh said.

“Congratulations Dr. Bronaugh on her confirmation as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. I’m so thrilled to have one of Virginia’s own serving in this critical role,” Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger said in a recent statement.

“As the first Black woman and woman of color to serve as Deputy Secretary — and just the fourth woman to hold this title, Dr. Bronaugh’s confirmation is a historic moment for both Virginia and our nation. Dr. Bronaugh has a proven record as a champion for America’s rural communities and America’s farmers, and I look forward to working together as we bring Central Virginia’s farmers, ranchers, and agricultural producers to the decision-making table at USDA.”

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