Despite her initial hesitancy to work in politics, the Elon alumna and former multimedia journalist has found the right position for her skillset and faith, as well as a politician and message she believes in.
Long before Eugene Goodman faced down a crowd storming the U.S. Capitol Building last month – his response widely hailed for its heroism – the U.S. Capitol Police officer was already known to Janae Frazier Bowens ’13.
As digital director for U.S. Senator Tim Scott, the Elon alumna is responsible for cultivating the South Carolina politician’s online presence, disseminating news of his legislative efforts and informing his constituents on social media and elsewhere. As Bowens sees it, her role is to “show how human Senator Scott is,” the broadcast journalism major said. “He is a regular person who is also a politician.”
And few interactions are more human than banter between friends – like the moments Scott and Goodman have shared regularly in the Capitol’s hallways, hiking up a pant leg to commend one another’s colorful socks.
“Every time they see each other, they have to compare their socks,” Bowens said. “It is really quite funny.”
A few days following the breach of the Capitol Building, Scott tweeted out his gratitude to Goodman, thanking him for his “cool head in the midst of unbelievable pressure!” Accompanying the text was an undated video of the duo standing shoe to shoe, flashing their fashionable socks.
While Bowens has worked in Washington, D.C., for two years – the past 12 months on Scott’s communications staff – the former television reporter admits she hasn’t completely assimilated to the city and her new career path.
“I like to say that, ‘I’m in politics and government, but I’m not of politics and government,’” she said, emphasizing the italicized words. “What I am is a believer in Tim Scott. I believe in his message. He is a man of great character – of great faith. It is easy to work for an individual like that. And I want to do all that I can to help spread his message.”
Building a digital presence
With support from Scott’s communications staff and director Sean Smith, Bowens has brought life to the senator’s video presence and social media platforms, developing ways for him to connect with communities in Washington, D.C., South Carolina and elsewhere.
Bowens oversaw the launch of a video series titled “Two with Tim,” where the senator addresses his legislative work and current events in bite-sized, two-minute segments. She also led the creation of an Instagram Live series hosted by Scott that has welcomed a star-studded lineup to discuss political, health and safety topics. Guests have included actor Chris Evans, former professional athletes Magic Johnson and Emmitt Smith, Anthony Fauci and Ivanka Trump. Stephan Hahn, FDA commissioner, has been a frequent participant to discuss the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Bowens said she views her position as a way to “bridge the gap” between political parties and inform all audiences.
Initially, Bowens was hired as Scott’s press secretary in February 2020, but her creative talents convinced the senator and his communications staff to create a new digital position for her a few months into the job.
“With my television background, I have a lot of on-camera experience, and I know how to tell stories,” Bowens said. “After a few months, they saw what I could do and my skills, and we realized this role was a better fit. I have been able to help shape it and create it, which has been a lot of fun. I am all things video, social media, graphics, pictures – all of that falls under me.”
Bowens’ digital experience became invaluable following the onset of the pandemic, allowing Scott to reach his constituents despite travel restrictions. In December, Bowens helped Scott launch a nationwide Virtual Opportunity Zones Tour, highlighting development projects in economically distressed communities. This undertaking, a bipartisan initiative authored by Scott and enacted through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, is the senator’s “signature legislation,” Bowens said, and it spotlights his intentions to uplift the nation’s most distressed zip codes.
Bowens is heavily involved in the creation of the video tours, helping individuals on site compile video content, providing interviewing questions, editing footage, and distributing the final product online. In the coming weeks and months, the senator and Bowens plan to host similar virtual tours, sharing a glimpse into counties throughout South Carolina.
“The senator’s mission is to help people get out of poverty and get jobs,” Bowens said. “He is someone who wants to work across the aisle, and someone who truly cares about people.”
Reconsidering her path
Bowens never envisioned her career leading her into politics and Washington, D.C. In fact, the opportunity found her.
After graduating from Elon in 2013, where she completed an internship with “NBC Nightly News,” Bowens embarked on a television reporting career, beginning with a two-year run at WECT News in Wilmington, N.C., before leaving for WLTX in Columbia, S.C.
For two-plus years she served as a multimedia journalist in South Carolina’s capital, which included extensive coverage of the trial of Dylann Roof, the convicted mass murderer who perpetrated the Charleston church shooting in 2015. The circumstances of the trial weighed heavily on the young reporter.
“I often say that was the beginning of my end,” Bowens said. “I was a little bit burned out after that experience. I needed to take a break from the madness of a newsroom.”
Uncertain of her next step, Bowens landed a communications job for a South Carolina nonprofit organization, while scratching her creative itch with an inspirational YouTube show. She recalled that at one time she considered a plan to relocate to Los Angeles and work in the entertainment industry, but eventually fate intervened.
Out of the blue, Jack Minor Jr. ’13, a fellow Elon alum and classmate, reached out. He was working for Mark Walker, a Republican congressman representing North Carolina’s 6th District, and he wanted to gauge her interest in a potential job. He got the idea from his wife, Elon alumna Kacey Stark Minor ’13, who had been following Bowens’ self-created content online and was impressed. And Walker agreed.
“Janae’s personality, poise and energy on camera, paired with her understanding of the local media landscape and experience reporting on politics in South Carolina, made her an excellent candidate,” Jack Minor Jr. said. “Another reason I knew Janae would be a good fit in our congressional office was her journalism training at Elon. Much of legislating and communication around policy requires taking complex themes and actions, and describing them in digestible and understandable themes that connect with your audience.”
Despite Minor’s pitch and Bowens’ seemingly perfect background, her initial reaction was a polite “no.”
While she covered a presidential inauguration as a student journalist back in 2013, she couldn’t see herself in D.C.
“I honestly wasn’t interested,” Bowens said. “I was never all that interested in politics and government. I’m more of a happy, easy-going person. I thought politics was a little too divisive.”
After “much prayer and thought,” Bowens reconsidered.
For a year, she served as a press secretary for Walker, handling press releases, newsletters, social media and interview requests. She found comfort in the role, but when Walker announced he wouldn’t seek reelection, she began to look for her next opportunity. A friend connected her with Scott’s office, which eventually led to a job offer and position. Surprisingly, Bowens had never met Scott will working as a reporter in Columbia.
“I came to realize that this is where God wanted me to be,” Bowens said. “I never thought this would happen – and it happened because Jack reached out. He didn’t know I was looking. It was a divine moment. It proves that you never know who is watching you on social media.”
Bowens’ contributions over the past two years have validated Minor’s prediction that she’d thrive in Washington. Minor could tell that from the moment they started discussing a position on Walker’s staff. Instead of politics, their conversations focused on Bowens’ faith and sense of purpose.
“Janae lets her faith guide her and once she knows what direction she is going, she focuses in and gets the job done,” Minor said. “Her skill set in communication and understanding of the media landscape, paired with her determination, ability to learn quickly, and drive to make a difference has propelled her career on Capitol Hill. I can’t wait to see where it continues to take her!”