When I was coming up in politics, I made some mistakes. I used to think that because I was an athlete, I had to beat my opponent. And as I’ve gotten older, I decided I need to not just beat my opponent, but learn from my opponent.

I’m so glad I learned that lesson, because throughout my life I have fought great battles for civil rights and equal justice under the law. In trying to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, we needed Ronald Reagan. Working with John Lewis and others to extend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we needed George Herbert Walker Bush and George Walker Bush.

And on that note, I’ve got to tell you my greatest story of humility. It was the night that Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast. And like many Louisianans and people from the Gulf, my family was dispersed. Those who could afford to leave had left. But it was the end of the month and when you’re working paycheck to paycheck, you’re waiting for that eagle to land — Social Security, VA benefits, whatever. And so a lot of people couldn’t leave.

I found myself in a position where I knew people in the Bush administration. And rather than go on national TV and criticize the failure to rescue people or provide them with water, I went on national TV and said, “Mr. President, how can I help you?” For over three years I sat in the Bush White House more than I ever had in Bill Clinton’s White House. And I realized that God had put me at that table for such a time. For me, it was a time to tell people and remind them that I was one of those poor kids who grew up on the bayou, that I was born at Charity Hospital that was no longer there.

Sitting across the table from the president of the United States, I could ask him to give us another hospital, so that poor kids like me would have a place to come into this world. I was a kid who could go to President Bush and say, “We need to fix the levees and rebuild the schools and bring people back home.”

On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I flew down to Louisiana on Air Force One with President Barack Obama. When he asked me to come with him, I said, “I’m going to start the morning off with you in the Ninth Ward in downtown. And then I’m going to welcome the president and Mrs. Bush to my hometown.” And they both came with me. Nobody booed. We played music. The president did his best dance. And I look forward, if God allows me, to the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina next year to bring both my presidents back home because we’ve made a lot of progress.

As divisive as things are today, we must remember that Democrats and Republicans are minority parties. Neither one of us represents the majority. The majority of voters are unaffiliated. They don’t want anything to do with Republicans or Democrats. The problem is the system that we have in place does not allow them to actually make choices until the general election in most states. So we’ve got to find ways to get the unaffiliated voters back. We’ve got to make sure that they’re able to help us make big decisions with regard to the primaries, or to change the system. I think the other critical shortage we have is we need more candidates. We need more people willing to step up and run for office. I tell my students: “Why you? Because there’s no one better. Why now? Because tomorrow is not soon enough.”

When I was a child, my parents were always working late, a second job or the third job, and my grandmother would call us together by name and read us something from the Bible. When I think of her, and think of our current political moment, I think of the book of Galatians, Chapter 6, Verse 9: Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season you will reap a harvest, if you don’t give up.

I am never going to give up on America. I am never going to give up on community. I’m never going to give up on our ability to transform and to make progress.

So America, don’t give up. Our best days are ahead.

Donna Brazile is a political strategist and former chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Adapted from an evening forum at the Washington National Cathedral sponsored by Deseret Magazine, the Wheatley Institute at Brigham Young University and the Wesley Theological Seminary.

This story appears in the April 2024 issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.