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Using her experience as a campaign manager and a bit of Vulcan philosophy, a Richmond woman works toward a functional democracy in war-torn Croatia.

Infinite Diversity

As a veteran advocate and lobbyist, Sarah H. Jenkins knows the value of the democratic process. As a 51-year-old African-American woman, she also comprehends the bitter legacy of ethnic strife and discrimination. The latter has sharpened her commitment to the former, and led her thousands of miles from home to work in an Eastern European region that in the past few years has been shredded by ethnic intolerance and alternating political anarchy and bloody retribution.

Jenkins is the director of political training for the Zagreb, Croatia office of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a democracy building project in Zagreb, Croatia. This week, Jenkins is focused on the May 7 local elections in Zagreb, Croatia's capital, for which her office has been training local members of political parties in the methods of outreach to new voters.

A graduate of Armstrong High School in Richmond, Jenkins graduated from Fisk University with two majors: political science and philosophy. She went on to study with a full scholarship at The George Washington Law Center in Washington, D.C., which led her to work briefly after graduation with the high-profile civil rights law firm of Hill, Tucker and Marsh in Richmond.

She then became a lobbyist with the National School Board Association, and eventually went on to start SHJ and Associates, a company that specialized in lobbying, political training and minority business development, which eventually led to her work overseas.

In an interview conducted via e-mail between her training courses and regional travels, Jenkins updated Style Weekly on her international activities.

SW: What were some of the political campaigns you were involved in while living in Richmond?
SJ: SHJ and Associates was involved in several campaigns in the area, most notably acting as campaign manager and media consultant for the current Mayor of Richmond, Tim Kaine, in his first campaign for a seat on the Richmond City Council. During this time I was also traveling throughout the country on behalf of the Women's Campaign Fund and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), training women politicians and novice political activists in the theory and practice of effective campaign managing.

SW: How did your work in Richmond lead you to this position in Croatia?
SJ: A dear friend who had traveled the world as an election observer, monitor and as staff for several international NGOs [non-government organizations] asked me if I wanted to work in Bosnia as an election supervisor. My first question was, "where is Bosnia?" And the second was, "are there any black people there?" [While working in Bosnia] I heard of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), which was in Bosnia working with civic groups and political parties to assist them with democracy building activities.
I worked in Bosnia from October 1997 through December 1998.
In March of 1999, I joined the Croatia political party program as director of political party training. The NDI mandate in its work in Croatia and elsewhere is to work to strengthen and expand democracy worldwide. I do my small part in this effort by working with political parties at the local, district, regional and national levels to share information and experiences — never money — which our political partners can then refine to meet the specific needs of their parties and communities.

SW: What part of your daily life now is in stark contrast to the way you lived here?
SJ: On a day-to-day basis I do not see or run into people who look like me, walk like me, or talk like me. In short, there are times when I miss my family, friends and community. I compensate for this by attempting to schedule trips home every six months. I also brought with me lots of music, videos, and my mother's favorite recipes.

SW: You were part of the Leadership Metro Richmond (LMR) course in 1990, a year-long civic leadership development training program. What did the LMR course do to prepare you for this position?
SJ: The LMR course reaffirmed for me my belief in diversity and its importance within society. In fact, when working with young political activists in Bosnia and Croatia, one of the cornerstones of my program is the "Vulcan Code — IDIC." As explained by Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek television show, IDIC means infinite diversity in infinite combinations — which could also be the creed of the LMR program. Many of my colleagues thought I was quite mad when I incorporated the creed into my programs, however they were more surprised when the young people accepted the creed and acted on it.

SW: What does your family think of your work?
SJ: I'm 51 years old — a real-life baby boomer — and this is about my fourth or fifth career change. I am divorced. My son Rob visited me this past summer and spent two months here. He worked with a local NGO, setting up their Web site and creating their database as they prepared for the upcoming parliamentary election. Robby has always traveled the campaign trail with me. Prior to his arrival in Croatia, he said the trip would be like any other campaign for him: He just wanted know where he would be

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