WASHINGTON - The following is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights the work of African Americans from across the Administration who are contributing to the President's goals for winning the future.
As Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Policy and Special Projects for the First Lady, I help oversee the broad issue portfolio of the First Lady, including her work on childhood obesity, military families, mentoring, and work-family challenges. This role provides a unique vantage point from which to advance the President’s vision, particularly the goal of improving and strengthening the lives of young people. In our Let’s Move! initiative, we focus on educating youth about living healthy lives and making healthy choices. In our military families work, we focus in part on ways to improve the educational opportunities and experiences of military children, and ensure they have the supports they need with one or both parents serving in the military. In our mentoring initiative, we focus on exposing young people to new educational, career, and skills-building opportunities. In all of this work our goal is to inspire young people to be all they can be, to take advantage of every educational opportunity, and to remind them that they are not defined solely by their circumstances but have unlimited potential.
As a native of Washington, DC, working in the White House today is a special privilege -- something I dreamed about doing as a young person but was never quite sure truly would be possible. My greatest influences growing up were my parents, both of whom worked for the federal government like so many in DC, and family members. All believed in a strong work ethic and the power of education. My parents made huge sacrifices to give me a wonderful education, from the National Cathedral School here in Washington, to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Harvard Law School. Along the way I met teachers and professors and colleagues who encouraged and challenged me and helped open my eyes to new opportunities.
What sustained me then -- and now -- were those values instilled by my parents early in life. Those that stressed the importance of fairness and mutual respect, commitment to community and our obligation to give back, having a healthy dose of humility and recognizing our own imperfections, and reaching for your dreams.
Black History Month often prompts me to reflect on these core values because they define so much of the African American experience. The month helps showcase the important role of African Americans in the life of our country, but it also reminds us that this history should be celebrated throughout the year as an integral part of our American story. I try to celebrate Black History Month by taking advantage of special programs in the community, or learning about figures that are not necessarily widely recognized. One of the best parts of my job is that I have had the opportunity to shape a Black History Month program for participants in our mentoring program. This year the mentees attended a performance by the groundbreaking Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre at the Kennedy Center; last year they toured the Capitol and saw the bust of Sojourner Truth, and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.
For those looking for advice, I would say there is no magic formula for landing a particular job or opportunity. There certainly was not one for me. Take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself no matter how insignificant it may seem, and value and nurture the relationships you build in life. You never know who will be part of your future. Ultimately, everyone has to map out their own course. No one should feel compelled to follow the same career path as others. Figure out what excites and interests you and seek out opportunities that allow you to tap your own potential.