The longstanding tradition of first ladies hosting special guests at the annual State of the Union address is in safe hands.
Jill Biden will be welcoming eight Americans in the viewing box for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, according to a press release from the White House.
Among them will be Joseph “JoJo” Burgess, a steelworker from suburban Pittsburgh who first crossed paths with President Biden earlier this year. Burgess and the other eight people in Jill Biden’s viewing box “were chosen by the White House because they represent policies or themes to be addressed by the President in his speech,” the press release said in part.
Burgess, the lone Black person invited to sit in Jill Biden’s viewing box, will likely be referenced by the president when the State of the Union address turns to the topic of infrastructure, which goes hand-in-hand with steelwork and has been a major priority of the current administration.
The choice of hosting just one Black person is a curious one considering President Biden’s stated commitment to the inclusion of African Americans in nearly everything he does. The man who Jim Clyburn allegedly dubbed “an honorary Black man” has seemingly gone out of his way to include Black people in his political equation, from choosing Kamala Harris as his vice president to most recently nominating Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court.
This is Biden’s first State of the Union address, so there is no historical precedence to cite. Nor is there a set number of racial representatives expected to be present. But, considering the above, hosting one single Black person among the first lady’s special guests does seem a bit unexpected.
Back in January, Burgess introduced the president at Mill 19 in Pittsburgh and credited him for helping to invest in jobs for not only steelworkers but also veterans. Burgess is proudly both, having served in the military for seven years, including a tour of duty during Operation Desert Storm.
“I’m beyond grateful to President Biden for his leadership in getting the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed,” Burgess said at the time. “It was a victory that was long overdue. Manufacturing in this country will benefit from it.”
Burgess is also a proud union man who has been a member of the United Steelworkers (USW) in the Pittsburgh area for two decades. Currently working at the U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works facility, Burgess is a new employee organization trainer.
The active member of his local NAACP branch said he is the son of two steelworkers and now his own son has also become a steelworker, which he says has made him very proud.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides about $1 trillion for upgrading critical infrastructure in the U.S., something USW readily welcomed.
“Our members stand ready to produce the essential building blocks of a modern infrastructure, as we begin making long-overdue upgrades to the nation’s roads, bridges, broadband, public transit, ports, power grids, and more,” USW said in a statement last November. “Our elected leaders have long promised this kind of transformational infrastructure investment but ultimately failed to deliver. Now, thanks to President Biden’s vision and leadership, Congress has finally come together and passed bipartisan legislation that will directly benefit American workers and ensure a brighter future for generations to come.”
Burgess will be joined in Jill Biden’s viewing box by seven other special guests: Joshua Davis, a 7th-grade diabetes advocate who attends Swift Creek Middle School in Midlothian, Virginia; Refynd Duro, a progressive care unit nurse at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center in Galloway, Ohio; Patrick “Pat” Gelsinger, the Chief Executive Officer of Intel in Santa Clara, California; Frances Haugen, a former Facebook lead product manager on civic misinformation in Iowa City, Iowa; Melissa Isaac, Gizhwaasod (“Protector of the Young”) at the Michigan Department of Education’s Indigenous Education Initiative and founder of Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe (SCIT)’s Project AWARE Program in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan; Danielle Robinson, the widow of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson in Columbus, Ohio; and Kezia Rodriguez, a student-parent at Bergen Community College in North Bergen, New Jersey.