by John Jones
I grew up in a predominately black working-class neighborhood in a diverse town called Piscataway, New Jersey which borders the city of Plainfield. My studies were something I did not take seriously enough growing up, no matter how much my parents would lecture me about the importance of doing so. My focus as a young person was mainly directed towards hanging out with friends whose concerns, along with mine, were sports, the streets, and at times youthful rebelliousness. No matter the mistakes I made as a youth, I always felt loved and cared for by my parents. Some of my friends grew up with out the parental direction that was conducive towards a secure and nurturing environment. At times I thought they had such “cool lives” because they had no adult to answer to, or, discipline them. When I matured I realized that those friends of mine, who were left to be raised by the streets, were yearning to have a parent or any adult in their life that cared about their well-being.
I was a football star at Piscataway High School where I was one of only two sophomores to be a Varsity starter. I was a team captain, and I made a couple of all-star teams. Frankly, if it wasn’t for my mother constantly calling my teachers to make sure I was on top of my studies, a guidance counselor who believed in me, and the fact that I was a football star, I probably wouldn’t have graduated high school in four years.
Scholar and Civic Leader
Fortunately, I did graduate and was recruited to play football at a private junior college in Scranton, Pennsylvania called Lackawanna Junior College. I played football for a year and was able to travel around the country and I played in a bowl game in Las Vegas, Nevada. However, what I enjoyed most as a student-athlete for the first time in my scholastic career was the classroom. I took criminal justice as a major and I developed a liking to debating in class. I also developed strong relationships with my professors, and I received A’s on the majority of my exams and papers. I was enjoying my work, so therefore I studied and excelled.
I can recall when the football coach announced the name of the player with the highest G.P.A. The coach yelled, “The best G.P.A. was achieved by Mega-bolt”. Mega-bolt , was a football nickname that I acquired because of my tremendous amount of energy. When it was revealed that I had the highest G.P.A. every player and assistant coach turned around and stared at me in astonishment. Why? I guess because I was a joker, I dressed like a street kid from Jersey, and because my academic achievement wasn’t something that I bragged about.
Many of my fellow black teammates looked at me with astonishment and pride when my name was read. A deceased rapper by the name of, Notorious B.I.G. had a famous line, “If you’re from the hood, either you sling crack or you got a wicked jump shot.” Translation – In order to make it out of a black low-income environment you must be a drug dealer or a sports star. Many of the young black males whom I played football with were from the tough streets of West Philadelphia or Newark, NJ, country ghettos of Norfolk, Virginia, or the many of the other poor underprivileged communities throughout the East Coast. Most of these young men had hopes of making it ‘‘pro’’, and moving on to a better life.
Many of my teammates started to come to me and ask for help with their studies and I initiated around the clock tutoring sessions. I would tutor players on effective academic studying strategies, and assist them with their history and law courses, and other subjects. I recall working with these young men and realizing that a lot of these kids were very smart, but the schools that they attended back home were either poorly funded, poorly administered, or they had poor teachers. Nonetheless, the education they received was far from sufficient. By assisting many of these young men, I had helped some realize that they were intelligent and capable, but that intelligence hadn’t been drawn out of them in their educational or home environment.
Since I was a scholar athlete, on the Deans List, and tutoring my fellow teammates, the administration of the school realized that I could help with their public relations efforts. The vast majority of the African-American students at Lackawanna were on the football or basketball team. The football team through the years had various problems with players not making the grade, not getting along with the locals, and some even got into trouble with the law. Needless to say there was a degree of animosity towards black student athletes who were viewed as outsiders and only necessary for their labor, which in a sense, was sports and entertainment. If one black player was arrested, then the perception was that all or most of the black players were criminals. The administration saw me as someone who was helping the athletes keep their grades up and as a positive representation of a responsible student athlete. I was even asked to by the local government to serve on a civic advisory board that worked toward encouraging diversity and understanding in the community. The name of the committee was called, ‘‘Leadership Lackawanna’’.
Participating in Leadership Lackawanna was essentially my first taste of public service and I really enjoyed it. I met local leaders and discussed efficient strategies to build relationships that could heal ethnic divisions in the city. I also was able to communicate to white residents the feelings of a young African-American male living in a unfamiliar environment, whom was forced to adapt, succeed, and at the same type deal with local prejudice, whether it was being talked down to in a condescending way by a store clerk, or being on the receiving end of racial slurs screamed out of the window by white males from their pick-up trucks, (after the first few times, I would return these slurs with an obnoxious smile and wave).
Honor student, student leader, civic leader, all of these new labels were opportunities that I took full advantage of, because, every last one embodies something that I realized I was moving in the direction of becoming; a public servant.
In due time I realized that since I wasn’t getting any faster, and my height would probably stay the same, and most importantly since I had found a new passion which was education and public service, I felt it was time to hang-up my football cleats, and move on to a more prominent institution of higher learning.
My next chapter in life would begin at Clark Atlanta University (CAU) in Atlanta, Georgia. CAU is a Historically Black University and with Morehouse University, Spellman College, and the Interdenominational Theological Center makes up the Atlanta University Center, the largest African educational complex in the world. Being a student at Clark was an amazing experience from an educational and social standpoint. From an educational standpoint I had the opportunity to learn American and world history from a different point of view. Socially, I was living in a city that produced giants such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Vernon Jordan, and where W.E.B. Dubois taught from 1869 to 1910, (at then Atlanta University).
Although I graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Criminal Justice, it had been my political science and history courses that I found the most exciting. These classes allowed me to broaden my horizons and gather a deep understanding of how African-Americans and persons of African descent had contributed to the development of American and world civilization.
While growing up I learned about Napoleon Bonaparte, but I hadn’t learned much about Toussaint L,Overture, I learned about Benjamin Franklin, but not about Benjamin Banniker, I learned about Sir Isaac Newton, but not about Imhotep, the great Egyptian scientist. CAU, gave me the opportunity re-educate, and deepen my knowledge of self.
From a child, I can recall, around my home seeing maps of Africa, statues of Egyptian Pharaohs, drums and spears from Nigeria, and books on African history. When I was in third grade I was given a class assignment that entailed doing a report on any country in the world and to describe the people there. My father had recommended that I do a report on Nigeria and the “Ishan stilt walkers”. My father was not an Afro-centric romantic, but he was proud of his African ancestral roots and he passed this pride on to my sisters and me.
Atlanta is also known for its tremendous social entertainment scene. I will admit that I didn’t participate much in the social entertainment scene because I spent a great deal of time engrossed in my personal studies. I studied the works of the great Pan-African leaders Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. I read everything from Booker T. Washington to W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther King to Elijah Muhammad, Sojourner Truth to Ida McLeod Bethune, and Fredrick Douglass to David Walker. I devoured everything from Pacifist to Radical. I studied the social history of people of African descent from not only the U.S., but from Africa, and across the Diaspora. I was studying black life in Accra, Brixton, Harlem, Kingston, San Paulo, and in many other places throughout the Diaspora. My apartment was littered with history books. I was actually reading more history than the criminal justice and law books I was supposed to be studying. Later, I would read as much European and Western History as I could get my hands on as well. I studied Roman History, the History of the British Empire, German History, in particular Fredrick the Great, Prince Otto von Bismark, and that maniac Hitler. I studied the works of Western Philosophers, like Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel, Leo Strauss, (the political philosopher from the University of Chicago), Marcus Aurelius, and many others.
Through my studies I discovered that regardless of the particular political system black people lived under, whether it was capitalism, socialism, Marxism, or any other “ism”, in South Africa, Brazil, Cuba, or the U.S., black people (in most cases) occupied the bottom of the social structure and were the most likely to be underserved and discriminated against. This discovery stunned me and growing up the youngest in my family, I sense that I had a strong appreciation for what was fair and what wasn’t. Nonetheless, I felt I would have to do my part as other men and women have down throughout history to improve this situation, no mater how big or small my contribution might be.
At Clark I had a mentor named Dr. Viktor Osinubi, a British-Nigerian gentleman. He took a liking to the fact that I was a passionate debater who spoke in terms of self-empowerment and social justice. Dr. “O” and I would regularly talk after class and he was impressed with my interest in African history and Pan-African politics. Dr. Osinubi had been educated in the United Kingdom and he recommended to me strongly that I take the opportunity to go study abroad in the United Kingdom. By the next summer I was studying at Thames Valley University in London, England.
London was an amazing and vibrant city. Living in another country really served to broaden my horizons. I was always determined to get off the “island” of campus life and museum tours and really get out and meet the people, the common folks in the U.K. No matter, if I was talking with city workers in a East London pub or with a few Afro-Caribbean and African gentlemen from Brixton, I found so many of the people to be very welcoming and down to earth.
While in Europe I had the opportunity to travel around the continent. It was during this time that I obtained a real deep appreciation for meeting people from different cultures, and an overall appreciation for international relations. I can recall as a boy, when my father who traveled a lot for business would always give me maps, and one time he gave me a map of the world from one of his National Geographic magazines, and I pasted it to my wall. I would literally stare at that map for hours. I was mesmerized with the idea that a replica of the world was before my very eyes and I would memorize countries, cities, capitals, and bodies of water, and, I always envisioned that I would one day travel the world. Studying abroad gave me the feeling that I was living that goal, and I have been traveling the world ever since.
While attending Clark I subsidized my living partially by becoming an entrepreneur. The majority of my work dealt with designing websites for small businesses and some independent marketing. This was a great experience because being an entrepreneur gave me the opportunity to meet different types of individuals and develop better people skills. I developed websites for small businesses and advised clients from Europe on effective on-line marketing strategies. Not only did I have more disposable income which basically went to books and travel expenses, but I also got the opportunity to travel some more throughout Europe for business and pleasure. I traveled to Paris, Nice, Cannes, Strasbourg, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Warsaw, and Krakow, and many other places. I was advising clients on building websites in Germany and hosting product presentations at Trade Shows in the South of France.
I graduated Clark Atlanta University cum laude, with a 3.7 GPA. Not bad for a guy who graduated high school with a 1.8 GPA. So what was I to do now? I could go find a job in the technology sector in New York City, but I couldn’t bear the idea of banging a keyboard every day like George Jetson “KLANK, KLANK KLANK, KLANK”. I could continue working as an entrepreneur but I wanted more professional experience. Then my mother, who almost as much as my father was curious to know what I was going to do with my life now that I was entering the “real world”, mentioned a Masters Program that she had heard about that might be of some interest to me. “Seton Hall University offers a Masters in Diplomacy and International Relations.” My mother said, “You obviously like the comfort of academia, you love to travel to different countries, you appreciate diversity, and you are without a doubt the diplomat of the family. So you should apply.” I did apply. I was accepted, and in September 2001 I was a Masters Candidate at Seton Hall University’s John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy.
The students at Seton Hall's School of Diplomacy were from all over the world. I looked forward to going to class everyday. At Clark, my attire was usually baggy jeans, a polo shirt, and Timberland boots. At Seton Hall, I was a graduate student and a young professional so I dressed like one. Now my everyday attire was business professional, which comprised a button down shirt, tie, and blazer (not Brooks Brothers though).
It was so interesting debating with students from inside and outside America about free-trade, the never ending “War on Terrorism”, the effects of colonialism (neo and old), and state and corporate corruption. While debating I was firm, passionate, and respectful. The majority of the time I was diplomatic, while some times I wasn’t. Nonetheless, people knew where I stood. I believe that while living in an ever-changing, smaller, ‘globalized’ world, languishing with poverty, discrimination, war, terrorism, and exploitation there is such a thing of being too diplomatic. I have a personal saying, “If my house is on fire - I don’t want someone to tell me diplomatically.”
The accomplishment that I remain most proud of during my time at the School of Diplomacy was being elected to serve as President of Seton Hall’s African Students Association (ASA). The ASA is comprised of undergraduate and graduate students of African descent at Seton Hall. We had members that were primarily from Africa but also from the Caribbean, Latin America, the United States, Canada, and Europe. I was elected with the overwhelming majority of the vote and I was the first Black American to be president of the organization. Prior to my presidency, the ASA had at one time collapsed as an organization, and the year prior to my being elected, the President had been impeached. I was elected on the platform that I wanted the ASA to be the campus’ most active and relevant organization. Moreover, I wanted the organization to be a foundation for all person’s of African descent to work together for our common interest, with the realization that we were all part of the African family whether we were born in Africa or descendents of African slaves brought to the Western Hemisphere.
I wanted to be known as a President who was a leader dedicated to action and not just speeches and ideas. The first task on my agenda was to oversee the completion of a new constitution. I made it a requirement in the constitution that we sponsor an event every 30 days. We held movie nights, seminars on the future of Pan-Africanism, discussions on the African Union, and charity drives. We also sponsored a program on the oil situation in Africa, and invited diplomats from West Africa to debate, present their opinions, and answer tough questions. For every event we sponsored, it was our goal to talk about solutions and ways to move forward and not to focus on the historical injustices that took place in the past, while at the same time not ignoring the destructive effects of the crimes committed against our people.
Every serious organization must have a communication arm. Therefore, I developed an interactive website for our organization. I placed videos from our events on the website, making them viewable to the public. We were the only organization whose website had video footage. This had never been done before at Seton Hall. The ASA gained substantially in membership and our African Heritage Celebration Night, which took place in February, was one of the University’s most attended events of the year.
As President of the ASA, I also sought to build a coalition with other black organizations on campus such as the Black Student Union, the West Indian Students Association, and the African-American Studies Club. I set up an agreement that stated we would not compete for members, but would rather co-sponsor each other’s events and work together in achieving common goals. By the end of the year the ASA was the most popular organization on campus, and we were eventually awarded Seton Hall’s Most Outstanding Campus Organization Award. I left the organization in a much better state then I found it, in addition, my successor, whose candidacy I endorsed, was the first women to be elected president of the ASA.
While serving as President of the ASA no one ever questioned the fact that I wasn’t from Africa per se, because as it was told to me by a member one day, “Mr. President, you are so knowledgeable about Africa and African people all over the world, and when someone such as yourself is so earnest and so dedicated to the cause, you never have any reason to question their right to be your leader.”
In the summer or 2004, I was determined to obtain an internship for two reasons. First, I needed to gain practical experience in politics and international relations and secondly, it was a requirement to complete an internship in order to graduate from my masters program. In the last week of August I saw Congressman Charles B. Rangel of New York’s 15th Congressional District on CNN. I had of-course seen him on television before but this time I was really focused and observed his presentation. He was intelligent, dynamic, and persuasive. I sat back in my futon and said to myself that that is someone that I would like to work for. Within thirty seconds I was on the internet scouring to find the Congressman’s website and contact information. I contacted the district office in New York and interestingly enough it was an intern who picked up the phone. I expressed to him my interest in becoming an intern and I asked him if he could describe to me his internship experience. He described it, and I applied. The very next week I had an interview at the Congressman’s district office in Harlem, New York with the Deputy District Director. I was hired on the spot and it was then, that my career as a public servant shifted onto a most interesting road.
I was now a Graduate Congressional Intern working for Congressman Rangel. As a non-paid intern I received no paycheck, no lunch voucher, no travel stipend, and no financial reimbursement whatsoever. I would wake up at 5 am, and walk a half-a mile to the bus stop in the next town over in Dunellen. Then, take the New Jersey Transit bus to the Port authority bus stop on 34th street in Manhattan. Afterwards, I would take the D Train from 34th street to 59th street, switch off and take the A-Train uptown to 125th Street in Harlem. From there I would walk just a few short blocks to the Adam Clayton Federal Building. In all it was about a three hour commute and I was in the office by 9AM and back in N.J. sometime usually around 9:30 at night.
Walking from the subway station down 125th street as I passed the street vendors selling everything black history books, nationalist lectures, souvenirs, incense and children books; I was struck by the realization that this was “Harlem World” where the greats such as Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and many other great black men and women had organized, lead, and fought for the complete freedom of African-Americans, and Africans in Africa, and the Diaspora. This is where the soapbox orators spoke about the need for change and where the Abyssinian Baptist Church welcomed African Emperors from abroad, and where Nelson Mandela came to extend his appreciation for those who advocated not just for his freedom, but for the freedom of all of South Africa. This was “Harlem World”, where I would begin my career in government service.
As an intern, my responsibilities included assisting the Congressman with research on domestic issues, such as equal access to education, as well as international economic issues, i.e. the effects trade tariffs had on the U.S./EU economic relationship and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which AGOA Congressman Rangel spearheaded. I was also responsible for assisting with constituent relations for Congressman Rangel. In this role, I wrote letters to public officials and constituents on behalf of the Congressman and I helped initiate community contact strategies in the district.
It is not uncommon for interns in political offices to say that their duties might have been minuscule (gofer work) however this was not the case for me. I was assigned serious tasks from the beginning and I completed my projects with the utmost efficiency and dedication. I remember the Congressman’s legal counsel announcing to the entire office, after I completed a research assignment, that I was the best intern in the office because as she put it, “I always did everything quickly, and most importantly, I always did it right.” To hear the Congressman’s legal counsel say something like that about me was very rewarding because it showed that my hard work did not go unnoticed and it made my feel that I was looked upon as someone who was making a significant contribution.
To this day, when I tell friends and colleagues about my experience and my adventurous commute, they’re surprised to learn that I ended up paying almost 20 dollars a day for travel. But actually, I was paid and I was reimbursed not monetarily but through serious professional experience. The experienced I gained working for Congressman Rangel was amazing, I picked up knowledge that I still draw from today as I seek to become a policy maker and an dedicated public servant. Moreover, I made contacts with people with whom I still call my friends today. Most interestingly, it was Congressman Rangel who informed me about an opportunity that would prove to be valuable to my professional development, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Congressional Fellows Program.
Senatorial Intern – All Politics is Local
After my internship at Congressman Rangel’s office I felt it would be a great opportunity to obtain an internship on the U.S. Senatorial level. That’s when I was offered an internship with the office of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (NJ). This experience was dynamic, (not to mention the commute to Newark was much shorter) because I had the opportunity to work for my state Senator. As a Senatorial intern I provided analysis on issues regarding the status of U.S. - Brazilian relations, the Crisis in Haiti, and the Genocide in the Darfur Region of Sudan, and I was treated by the staff as a valued member of the team.
An honor that I was delighted to receive was when I selected to participate in the Governor’s “Future Democratic Leaders” program during the state democratic convention in Atlantic City, NJ in the Spring of 2004. This program, sponsored by the New Jersey Democratic Party, was an eye opening experience. I learned about campaigning, how to utilize media sources during a campaign, and I was given the opportunity to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers in New Jersey Politics.
Some of the staff members had teased me about how networking “supposedly” came natural to me. I would laughingly reply back that I was being schooled in the lessons of diplomacy and that my beloved home state of New Jersey could never be too formal for me. “Come on this is Jersey”, I would reply self-mockingly.
Within this setting I received a new understanding of how personal local or state politics are to Americans. So many people I talked to were so enthused about upcoming elections for U.S. Representative, State Senator, or State Assemblymen; just as much as the Presidential elections. People were as passionate about local and state issues whether it was funding for after school programs, battling state corruption, or local environmental issues, as I was about “international” politics. It was in Atlantic City, where I came to understand the age old political saying, “All politics is local”.
I graduated from Seton Hall earning a Masters Degree in Diplomacy and International Relations, and a picked up a second Masters Degree in Corporate and Public Communications in May of 2004. Okay, now I needed a job!
As I stated earlier while working for Congressman Rangel I was informed about the Congressional Fellows Program, with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Congressman Rangel was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and the Congressional Fellows Program is a nationally acclaimed leadership development program for emerging policy makers of African descent.
During my job search I received a phone call that I was a finalist for the CBCF Fellows program. I went through a grueling interview and later that week that I was accepted into the CBCF Fellowship Program. I, who just one year ago could not decide on an internship, let alone a career path, would be packing my bags and moving to our nation’s capitol, Washington D.C., to work as a Congressional Fellow for a United States Congressman.
I was assigned to the office of Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, who represents the 23rd District of Florida, which includes parts of Broward, Palm Beach, Hendry, Martin, and St. Lucie Counties. A lifetime civil-rights activist and fellow HBCU graduate, Congressman Hastings has served in the U.S. Congress since 1992.
Two weeks into my fellowship I was taken back by an event of particular importance and surprise. I had just returned from a briefing on the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. While I returned to the office, my Chief of Staff Fred, if I had switched desks with Max, the Foreign Affairs Legislative Assistant. I paid the comment no mind, figuring it was a joke. The gentlemen in the office had an unofficial work hard/joke hard policy which created a comfortable workplace environment. A few minutes later, Max approached me and told me that he was leaving in two weeks. I took it as a joke, again, the staff joked a lot. Then he reiterated that he was serious. I was taken back, I had just really gotten to know and like Max. He was intelligent and fun to be around. I am not a “cut-throat social-climber”, therefore, never for one split second did I say, “Oh this is my chance to move up the totem pole”.
I told Max, congratulations, but I would be disappointed to see him go. He told me he wouldn’t be to far away, as he obtained a higher position with another Congressman’s Office. Then, he informed me that I would be assuming all the duties relating to international affairs. To say I was delighted would be an understatement.
Later, David, the Legislative Director pulled me aside and reiterated that Max was leaving and the Congressman was not hiring a replacement, because he and the senior staff were confident in my abilities and that I had proven to them that I was capable of the responsibility. As a fellow with two weeks experience, I was promoted to Legislative Assistant in charge of Foreign Affairs and given a portfolio that covered judiciary, human rights, immigration, small business, law enforcement, and financhial issues. Although, I administered all of my professional duties with the utmost commitment, I was especially excited that the international affairs portfolio was now my responsibility and I was to serve as the foreign policy Legislative Assistant for one of the most active foreign policy experts in the United States Congress.
A few weeks before the 2004 Presidential election I was asked by a leading Democratic campaigner to help with the Kerry/Edwards Presidential campaign in South Florida, (Broward County, to be exact). I remember four years ago staying up to 5 ‘O clock in the morning waiting for the final outcome of the 2000 election, when the allegedly “stolen election” made Broward County notorious in the minds of many. Four-years later I was standing “smack dab” in the center of Broward County helping to monitor any reports of election discrimination or intimidation, assisting with the “Get Out the Vote” campaign in black community, and doing everything that is required of a campaign worker from driving vans filled with volunteers, to locating, and, transporting potential voters to the polls.
Though we were obviously defeated, we did win Broward County and managed to get out nearly 80 percent of the vote. Such an accomplishment was unheard of and astonishing to many and I was honored to be apart of this great campaign in South Florida. Working with all the local campaigners was a great experience, though I really appreciated working with the members of the African-American community in South Florida. I worked with people who were fifth-generation south Floridians, as well as Haitian-Americans, Jamaican-Americans, senior citizens and many young people. Some who were working class, but most were poor. Some who were from the everglades, and many who were from the inner-city projects.
I recall a staffer from a local representative coming up to me and complementing me on how well I was able to get along with the local folks “so to speak”, something that can often be a trying task for the national campaign workers. She said, ‘‘Seeing your demeanor with the people I would have never guessed that you were from D.C. because your absent of the pretentiousness and you lack that ‘Beltway’ mentality.” I thanked her for what I figured was a compliment and stated, although I was excited to be working in Washington, I didn’t grow up in the “Beltway” or in Dupont Circle for that matter. I was born and raised in the black community. My grandfather to this day still lives in the projects and if I ever went before him acting like I was too good for anybody, who would grab his cane and thrash me with it. I told her I get along so well with the people, because THESE ARE my people, and anytime I am able to work along side them, or for them, I feel privileged.
I was a Foreign Policy Aide for a U.S. Congressman, working in Washington D.C, the political capital of the world. I had the constantly recurring opportunity to meet with diplomats, high level foreign policy staffers, State Department officials, and lobbyist representing foreign governments. I was meeting with Ambassadors from all over the world. I attended reception after reception at embassies and at the residences of ambassadors. Through my every day activities on the Hill I realized that D.C. was a town run by lobbyist and interest groups, (labels you always here during an election year). Everybody has a lobby, whether it’s the Energy lobby that supported drilling in the Artic, or the Environmentalist lobby that was against it, the Sugar lobby who was against free trade agreements with sugar producing countries, or Latin American sugar producers who were for them. Everybody and every interest group of importance has a lobby. I recall a meeting I had on behalf of my Congressman with the Peruvian Asparagus Exporters Association to discuss their support for the U.S.-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). Not only does the Asparagus industry have a lobby, but the PERUVIAN Asparagus industry has a lobby.
Still My People
One day, I had a meeting with a representative from a fair housing organization who wanted me to meet some of his “clients who were in need of low-income housing”. It was a group of about twelve individuals mostly poor, black and Latino. One woman was a senior citizen who was a victim of a predatory lending scam, and lost her home, another woman was from Jamaica and had immigrated to America with her son 15 years ago, when he was three. Her son was deported to Jamaica for committing a non-violent crime. This young man was deported to third-world country that he knows nothing about. Another woman was moving from welfare to work, while trying to get a home, and take care of her three children. I listened to their concerns, gave them advice on how to accomplish their goals, and I told him that the Congressman, as well as I, would do everything possible to help them.
I really admired these folks who traveled all the way from South Florida to D.C. to meet with their Representatives and I shared my feelings with them. At the end of the meeting the visitors asked to take a picture with me, which I was humbled to do. At the end of the meeting, on the way out the head of the delegation, the welfare to work mother said to me. “You’re not like so many other staffers on Capitol Hill.”
“How do you mean?” I asked.
She said, “So many workers here with their big degrees, proper sounding English, and professional dress talk down to us, as if there better than us...But your educated, your well spoken, and you dress like a professional, but when you talk to us you don’t talk down to us, you listen, you care, it’s like your one of us. It’s good to know that people like us, in our situation, get to see someone like you on Capitol Hill”.
That was one of the most rewarding moments that I have ever experienced in my, albeit short career in public service, and no award, degree, or any accolade will ever match the pride I felt that afternoon.
In the response to the terrible crisis that was taking place in Haiti, since the forced removal of their democratically elected president I helped draft legislation for Congressman Hastings titled the “Haiti Compassion Act”, which would grant temporary protective status for Haitian Nationals in the United States.
Congressman Hastings represents one of the nation’s largest Haitian-American constituencies. Everyday I would receive calls from crying relatives of deported Haitians whose family members were being set back to a country whose infrastructure was so non-existent, that a state of emergency would be something to look forward to. While, at the same time black Haitians were being sent back to Haiti, white Cubans who were fleeing Cuba, were granted immediate residency, if one foot reached the American shoreline. In black political circles, America's Cuban immigrant policy verses the Haitian refugee policy, was commonly referred to as the “Black-Foot, White-Foot Policy”.
After the Haiti Compassion Act was submitted, the Congressman’s bill received a great deal of media attention. Eventually, I developed a very good relationship with the Haitian-American lobby, and with members from religious and humanitarian agencies who were working on behalf of fair treatment for Haiti and its people. I was asked to speak on radio shows for the Congressman about the crisis in Haiti, NPR dedicated an entire segment about the Haiti Compassion Act on its news program, and I was invited by a humanitarian organization to speak about the Crisis in Haiti and the shortcomings of our foreign policy toward that country. At this event, I stated,
At a time when current U.S. policy is to compel its own citizens not to travel to Haiti, it is unjust for the Bush Administration to continue its hypocritical immigration policies which singles out Haitians from all others and forces them to return to this type of dangerous situation. We all are aware of the history of blatant discrimination and mistreatment of Haitians in the immigration process. The time has arrived for us to offer up some much-deserved compassion and effective action on the behalf of the Haitian-American community. And while we wait to do so families are destroyed, children’s’ lives are for ever altered for the very worse, and therefore, we must act, or for our in-action will be taken as guilt, and rightfully so...
Copenhagen, Denmark – International Public Servant
In 2004, Congressman Hastings was influential in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s decision to invite international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the 2004 Presidential elections. Prior to me going to Florida to work on the campaign, I had been asked to help facilitate and assist with the advising sessions for the international observers. I did everything from helping to distribute literature detailing the history of elections in the U.S., to utilizing my language skills to translate information for French speaking parliamentarians, and assisting panelist with their informational presentations.
During a break in the program I was approached by the Secretary General of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, who introduced himself and asked me if I was adjusting to life on the Hill. He heard of the work I was doing through Congressman Hastings, and said that I would be a good fit for the OSCE Research Fellowship program. He told me I could receive a monthly stipend, an apartment in the Embassy District of Copenhagen, and that I also would get the opportunity to travel throughout Europe. He told me I didn’t have to decide on the spot, but that I should give it some serious consideration.
That winter, after a serious discussion with one of my mentors, Dr. Robert Manley, I applied for the program, and was accepted. I was satisfied with my decision to move to Denmark in the fall of 2005, to being my fellowship because I have an advanced degree in international relations, legislative experience as a Foreign Affairs Aid, and now I would be obtaining professional political experience working in a foreign country. Most importantly, I would have the opportunity to continue my dedication to public service by working for the OSCE, the largest regional security organization in the world.
Life in Copenhagen, working for the OSCE, as a Research Fellow, was a tremendous experience. I drafted speeches, statements, and policy recommendations for the President of the Parliamentary Assembly. I also developed briefing reports for OSCE Field Missions and election monitoring delegations. In addition, I assisted in the planning and execution of OSCE meetings throughout Europe. I traveled to fourteen different countries and my position was that of a junior diplomat and international public servant. My work abroad, once again, proved to be a tremendous and valuable experience.
I hope that my legacy in public service will be that of one who served the poor, the neglected, the undefended, and the forgotten, and of course as one who constantly spoke truth to power, and encouraged others to do the same. Public service is an amazing adventure, but to serve the public is the highest honor. I endeavor to serve humanity faithfully, my ongoing challenge is to continue to find the best way to do so is the most relevant, practical, and effective manner.