Symone D. Sanders, the former chief spokeswoman for Vice President Kamala Harris and recently announced a host of two national television shows, was honored Feb. 24 by the Omaha Press Club as the 167th Face on the Barroom Floor.
An honor she called humbling and unexpected.
“It means so much,” she said. “I have always thought the peak for a Nebraskan is getting your face on the barroom floor.”
Her mother, Terri Sanders, served as the emcee and the No. 1 roaster.
“She knows all the deep, dark secrets,” Sanders said. “She’s the perfect emcee.”
Sanders knew as a child that she had something to say. Standing in her family’s north Omaha home, she used a wooden spoon as a microphone to “report” as journalist “Donna Burns.”
Sanders quickly found a real mic – at 16, nearly upstaging President Bill Clinton at a Girls’ Inc. event – and soon a national stage.
Sanders is already working for MSNBC, where she will host two shows on the network and the Peacock streaming platform’s “The Choice.”
Her activism started in Omaha with the Empowerment Network. Next, she helped then-Mayor Jim Stuttle survive a 2011 recall attempt, followed by work for Chuck Hassebrook’s Nebraska gubernatorial bid. Her campaign work throughout college led her to races in many states.
By age 25, she was calming crowds at Bernie Sanders rallies as the youngest national press secretary for a presidential campaign. For the 2020 election cycle, she served as a senior advisor in the Biden campaign.
“When you are putting your head down and doing the work, it’s easy to forget that a lot of young people get to do some of the things that I have gotten to do,” she said.
Along the way, she served as national chair of the Coalition of Juvenile Justice Emerging Leaders Committee as a member of the Federal ADVISORY Committee on Juvenile Justice. She was a principle of the 360 Group, helping find solutions to political and social problems.
She has provided political commentary for CNN and is a resident fellow of both the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School and the University of Southern California’s Center for the Political Future.
She is most proud of her time as the vice president’s chief spokeswoman.
Sanders said she would remind herself and others, “We’re not just witnessing history. We are actively making it.”
“I had the immense opportunity to help craft so many historic moments for the vice president of the United States.”
Now at 32, Sanders is in a position of offering opportunities to other young people.
“I am not the youngest person in the room anymore,” she said. “I need to elevate young people because someone did that for me. I have a lot of people in Nebraska for that.”
In 2020, she published what could be considered a handbook for young people on how to make their voices heard; “No, You Shut Up; Speaking Truth to Power and Reclaiming America.”
The roasters for the event included: Terri Sanders, emcee, publisher, Omaha Star; Emily Mwaja, director of programs, Girls Inc. Omaha; Brenda Council, a former elected official; and Thomas Warren, chief of staff, Omaha Mayor Jean Stohert; retired chief, Omaha Police.