Black History Month 2011

  • Celebrating Black History Month 2011

    When Carter G. Woodson envisioned that a week be set aside to celebrate African Americans, he laid the marker to commemorate the contributions and embrace the legacy of our Nation’s history. In celebration of Black History Month, we honored the courage and contributions of those that came before us and highlighted the work of today’s leaders by featuring some of the ways that the Obama Administration is empowering communities across America -- not just this month, but all year.

    Every day, featured a guest blog post from African Americans in the Obama Administration whose work is contributing to the President’s goals for winning the future. From major public officials like Attorney General Eric Holder and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, to the staffers and advisors who form the backbone of the Executive Branch, their stories came from every corner of the country, but are tied together by the common thread of service and dedication to moving America forward.

  • Donna A. James' Story: Pursuing Passion Through Business

    Editor's note: This post 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 the managing director of Lardon & Associates LLC., I have the opportunity to serve as a trusted resource and advisor to business leaders on issues related to governance, new business development, strategy, financial and risk management, and leadership development.  This includes serving on the board of directors for Coca-Cola Enterprises, CNO Financial Group Inc., Limitedbrands, Time Warner Cable, and previously Intimate Brands, as well as working with many small business clients. A formal education and beginning as an accounting professional with PricewaterhouseCoopers provided the foundation for my interest and love of the world of business.

    Prior to starting my consulting practice, I served as President of Nationwide Strategic Investments, a division of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. As President, I had direct responsibility for rationalizing and executing growth or exit strategies for five different U.S and global based financial services subsidiaries and affiliates.  Another aspect of my work included a new business innovation team and a venture capital fund with responsibility for discovering, analyzing, and commercializing emerging opportunities in financial services. Prior to this assignment, I served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for Nationwide Mutual and its public company subsidiary, Nationwide Financial.

  • Aaron Williams' Story: The Power of Unity and Teamwork

    Editor's note: This post 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.

    Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to serve people in need around the world.   The eager response to Peace Corps ignited one of the signature service movements of our times.  Since 1961, more than 200,000 Americans have volunteered through the Peace Corps to fight poverty, disease, illiteracy and a host of other challenges in 139 countries around the world.   Although times have changed, the Peace Corps remains true to its mission or promoting world peace and friendship through 3 goals:  1. Helping the people of interested countries meet their needs for trained men and women; 2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of people served; 3. Helping promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans. 

    Every day, I am asked what it is like to volunteer.  Like most returned Peace Corps volunteer I know, we serve as recruiters to the next generation of volunteers through our actions, anecdotes and cross-cultural understanding.  For me, when I was coming out of college a few years ago, I was motivated by the legacy of public service as promoted by President Kennedy and Sargent Shriver.  I was eager to try something new.  The Peace Corps was the beginning of everything.  It was the door to the rest of my life.  I grew up on the south side of Chicago, and I was the first person in my family to finish college.  My family expected me to do something practical with my degree, to start my teaching career.  But I found myself drawn to the kind of public service that I had heard President Kennedy speak about. 

  • Jocelyn Frye’s Story: Inspiring Young People To Be All They Can Be

    Editor's note: This post 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.   

  • Eric Holder's Story: Standing Up for American Justice

    Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's goals for winning the future.

    Nearly 35 years ago, as a newly minted law school graduate, I moved from New York City to Washington, D.C., to begin my dream job as a prosecutor in the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section.  Very quickly, I learned that the Justice Department was – and still is – an exciting and fascinating place to be. As a young lawyer, I was fortunate to work alongside some of the nation’s most talented and committed public servants: colleagues who cared deeply about advancing the Department’s critical mission, as well as mentors and supervisors who were committed to my professional growth and success.

    My early experiences at the Department enabled me to begin looking beyond my next assignment and next case, in order to reflect on the larger responsibilities that guide every Justice Department employee.  I came to realize that these obligations are much larger than any one attorney – and certainly any one Attorney General. Put simply, our chief responsibility is the pursuit of justice – and not justice for some, but justice for all.  Living up to this responsibility begins by focusing on our number-one mission: protecting the safety of the American people.  It also guides our efforts to prevent and reduce violence, crime, fraud, and abuse; to combat the causes and consequences of hate; to safeguard civil rights; to protect the environment; to strengthen the rule of law; to ensure access to legal services; and to maintain the integrity of a system founded on a simple but powerful idea that all people are created equal and deserve the same treatment in the courtroom and in all corners of our society.

    For well over two centuries now, we, as a people, have been striving to build the more perfect union underlying every one of these responsibilities – an America where the words and ideals of our Constitution reach the full measure of their intent.  Black History Month is an important opportunity to reflect on these responsibilities. In that spirit, it is also a critical time to reflect on how far our nation – and, especially, our African-American communities – have traveled on the long road toward equality and freedom.  Although in my own lifetime extraordinary progress has been made, we still have miles to go.  It may be tempting when you look at the diversity of people serving in the highest levels of government – or at the man sitting in the Oval Office – to think that equality has been achieved for all Americans.  But it will take more than my appointment as the first African-American Attorney General – and even more than the election of the first African-American President – to build a nation that in every respect is, in Dr. King's words, "an oasis of freedom and justice."

    Realizing that vision is, and will continue to be, my greatest responsibility – and the paramount duty of our nation’s Department of Justice.  This is a collective responsibility – one that I urge each of my colleagues and fellow citizens to help fulfill.  During this year's Black History Month, let’s commit to this work and to that nation that, together, we can build.

    Eric Holder is the Attorney General of the United States.

  • Matice Wright's Story: Taking Responsibility for American Soldiers and Sailors

    Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's goals for winning the future.

    I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland about 2 miles from the main gate of the United States Naval Academy. My parents taught me at a very young age to be responsible for my actions. They taught me that in order to pursue the big things that I wanted in life, I needed to work hard and be responsible for the little things that I wanted in life. Needless to say when I arrived at the Naval Academy for plebe summer, the values that my parents emphasized about responsibility were greatly reinforced every single day in both the big things and the little things that made up the curriculum at the Naval Academy. 

    I attended the Naval Academy because I wanted to serve my country and I dreamed of flying airplanes.  I earned my wings and I am recognized as the Navy's first African American female Naval Flight Officer. I stand on the shoulders of many African Americans that donned a uniform and flew before me like General Chappie James and Vice Admiral Walt Davis. In my aircraft, I was responsible for a significant part of the overall mission. I worked hard to carry out my responsibilities because in that environment not being responsible for ones actions could easily result in the death of a friend or millions of dollars of damaged flight equipment.

    After leaving active duty, I entered the private sector where my responsibilities quickly shifted from aircraft missions to providing very specific needs for my clients. I earned an MBA from Johns Hopkins University to assist with my transition from the military. As a business woman, my responsibilities were essential to ensuring that the sailors and soldiers that would receive my company's products and services understood how to effectively use those products and services. I worked hard to pay attention to the small things to ensure that the big things that my clients needed would be properly delivered.