Black History Month 2011

  • Dr. Eric Goosby's Story: Fighting HIV/AIDS Around the Globe

    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 live by the motto “To Live and To Serve.”  In addition to the great influence of my mother and father, this perspective has led me to a career that has combined my passions for medicine and public service. After growing up in San Francisco and attending college at Princeton University, I earned an M.D. at University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, where I also completed my internship and residency with a fellowship in General Internal Medicine/Infectious Diseases. As a young physician in the 1980s in San Francisco, I found myself in the middle of the emerging AIDS epidemic in America, which became the focus of my career. I now have almost 30 years of experience with HIV/AIDS, ranging from these early years treating patients at San Francisco General Hospital, to engagement at high- level policy leadership. In the Clinton Administration, I served as one of the President’s advisors on HIV/AIDS. As the first Director of the Ryan White Care Act at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I helped develop HIV/AIDS delivery systems in the United States.  After leaving government, I joined the NGO Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation as CEO and Chief Medical Officer in 2001, where I turned my focus from the domestic epidemic to the global HIV/AIDS emergency.

  • Patrick Corvington's Story: Winning the Future Through Public Service

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

    As a naturalized citizen, born in Africa to Haitian parents, I was fortunate to be raised by a mother and father who instilled in me at any early age, the value of education.  I was also inspired by the example of people like Frederick Douglass, W.E. B. DuBois, Dorothy Height and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who made education the centerpiece of their efforts to build a more perfect union.  Their focus on education and the schools and colleges they have supported have produced generations of leaders and helped build a solid Black middle class.  These American heroes understood something that we have all come to know:  Education is the civil rights issue of our time.

    As the first African American CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), I am proud to stand on such strong shoulders.  Education has always been integral to the agency’s mission.  And as the nation looks for ways to improve educational outcomes for all our children, there is growing awareness from people of all political persuasions and walks of life that citizen service is the “secret sauce” in education reform, especially for youth from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    Each of the agency’s programs address national education challenges in unique ways – from seniors mentoring at-risk youth to AmeriCorps members providing classroom support to Learn and Serve America college students providing literacy training to underserved communities.

  • Dr. Alma Hobbs' Story: Promoting Prosperity on America's Farms

    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.

    From North Carolina to Washington, D. C., my career spans over thirty years with the Department of Agriculture. I grew up in Farmville, a small southern town in North Carolina, and attended a segregated elementary and high school. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic and commitment to service. The foundation laid by my parents empowered me to succeed in earning three degrees. I earned a Doctorate and Masters of Science from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Bachelor’s of Science from North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. I have worked at the local, state and national levels. For me, it has been a long journey from the segregated south to the nation’s capital, but I am proud to serve in this historic Administration.

    My personal and professional goals have always been to positively impact the lives of people through education to ensure they are empowered to reach their full potential. Over my career, I often served as the first African-American or female in the positions I held. After the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act, I worked to integrate USDA county offices and took the first group of black 4-H youth to compete in a state completion. This was an exciting opportunity. Previously, 4-H competitions were segregated and did not recognize black 4-H groups. I later became the first African American to hold a senior executive position in USDA’s Extension Service. Agriculture is typically a male-dominated career, so it was significant when I was selected as the first woman to serve as an Extension Administrator at Tennessee State University. In that position, I provided support for research, education, and extension programs to increase the prosperity, security, and sustainability of America’s families, farms and ranches, business firms, and communities. The experience allowed me to become the first female Dean in Agriculture at Virginia State University. There, I was responsible for providing leadership for agriculture, human ecology, research, and cooperative extension.

    In my current position as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration, I am leading efforts to transform the culture of USDA and carry out Secretary Vilsack’s vision to transform USDA into a model organization, positioned to meet the present and future needs of its employees and customers. During the State of the Union Address, the President laid out a plan to win the future by out-innovating, out-educating and out-building the rest of the world. Through education and outreach programs, we are reforming and transforming our government so that it’s leaner and smarter for the 21st century. It is an honor to be a key player as we improve management and transparency and ensure equal access to departmental programs at USDA.

    Dr. Alma Hobbs is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  • Nicole Isaac's Story: "Making Life a Bit Better for Many Americans"

    Editor's note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights the work of African Americans who are contributing to the President's goals for winning the future.

    I was raised in one of the most violent neighborhoods in the Bronx. My mother is a Jamaican immigrant, and came to the United States to complete her college education. She taught my four brothers and me that education was not only the key to success, but also the one thing that could not be taken away. Given my mother’s core values of education and hard work, I excelled in school from a very young age, and received a full scholarship to attend a private school in Riverdale.  
    I was immediately struck by the differences between the students at my school and those in my neighborhood.  At school, students were the sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers, Members of Congress, and other established professionals.  They knew that they too would grow up and be like their parents, grand-parents, and other relatives.  In my neighborhood, amidst the amazing diversity and predominantly immigrant culture, lived individuals who worked seven days a week and often more than one job at a time.  Because of so many of these and other socio-economic factors, many of the students I encountered were not motivated.  They merely resolved to be alive at sixteen, eighteen, and twenty-one. This juxtaposition forced me to excel, and I resolved to dedicate my life to working towards expanding opportunities for individuals from economically and socially under-privileged backgrounds.  Since I knew that education was very important to achieving this goal, I attended Brown University for undergrad and U. Penn Law School. While at Penn, I was determined to understand the social-economic aspects of civil and human rights, and enrolled in a dual degree program with Columbia, and completed a Master’s in international affairs. Years later, I returned to school to build upon the foundations of both programs, and completed an LLM in international human rights at Oxford.
    For the past seven years, I have served in several capacities in federal government, and most recently as Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs in the Office of the Vice President.  I am responsible for serving as a liaison between Members of Congress and the Office of the Vice President, assisting with the implementation of the economic recovery plan, and providing advice and counsel to the Vice President on legislative issues that are pending in the Senate and the House of Representatives. My previous positions as floor counsel for Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, and as legislative counsel for the nonpartisan House Office of Legislative Counsel, exposed me to the politics and the processes of legislation in the House and the Senate. Combined, these experiences have all taught me how politics, processes, and policies operate in tandem to positively or adversely impact the lives of Americans across the country.  Each and every day in this position has been an absolute honor because it presents an opportunity to apply what I’ve learned, to making life a bit better for many Americans.

    Black History Month is not only a time to reflect upon all of the hard-work of the trailblazers who have preceded us, but a time to ensure that we continue in the tradition to expand opportunities for others throughout the year, and not just during the month.  I try to encourage younger professionals to follow their hearts, but to also work hard and to be open to new experiences.  Life always presents opportunities from which to learn—it’s truly just a matter of whether one is willing to listen, to be better, and to contribute towards something greater than oneself.

    Nicole Isaac is the Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs in the Office of the Vice President.

  • Sudafi Henry's Story: Working with Congress to Win the Future

    Editor's note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights the work of African Americans who are contributing to the President's goals for winning the future.

    I live and breathe Capitol Hill. This passion for politics and public policy is due in large part to my father George. He has always been more than a parent to me. My father taught me not only the value of hard work, but how to be responsible and how to make the most of my potential. He helped me appreciate the nexus between education and opportunity which helped motivate me to attain degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park and the George Washington University School of Law. During these many life lessons, my father also became my professional mentor and I would not be in this job today if not for his professional guidance. He exposed me to Capitol Hill and shared the keys of how to be successful – being true to your word, respecting those with differing viewpoints, and not allowing emotion to cloud your political and policy judgment.

    For most of my professional career, I have worked on Capitol Hill and walked the hallowed halls of Congress. I got my start on the Hill in the early 1990s as an intern for former Rep. Craig Washington and for former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. As a full time staffer, I served as Legislative Director for former Rep. Major Owens and the current Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.  Prior to joining the Obama Administration in January of 2009, I was Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. My work for these Members of Congress prepared me and honed the skills that I use to advocate for the President’s agenda on the Hill.

    In my current role, I serve as the senior advisor to the Vice President on all matters before the United States Congress. As the liaison for the Vice President on Capitol Hill, my responsibilities include developing and executing the congressional outreach and strategic legislative plan for the Vice President. I have participated in White House efforts to win passage of key pieces of legislation including the Recovery Act, the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Financial Regulatory Reform Act, and the extension of middle class tax cuts. Having this opportunity is a dream come true.

    Last month, I had the privilege to see and hear the President’s State of the Union Address in person. With the President’s agenda in hand, I now have the responsibility of arming the Vice President with information and updates as he interacts with his former congressional colleagues in furtherance of the “Winning the Future” vision outlined by the President. However, advancing the President’s agenda will also require me to help shape routine pieces of legislation, such as annual spending bills, that will contain the critical investments necessary to bring the President’s vision to life through becoming law. I feel privileged to play a role, no matter how small, in helping to build a stronger country for my children.

    Sudafi Henry is Assistant to the Vice President and Director of Legislative Affairs in the Office of the Vice President.

  • Bob Stanton's Story: Honoring Our People By Remembering Our Past

    Editor's note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights the contributions of African Americans throughout the Administration whose work contributes to the President's vision for winning the future.

    Black History Month has special meaning to me. As a son of the segregated South, I was twenty-four before I was able to walk through the front door of the café where my mother worked as a short-order cook and I was bused nearly 30 miles away each day for high school under the doctrine of ”separate but equal.” Growing up, I could never imagine the opportunities I had in my lifetime that came from the sacrifices and struggles of those who came before me.

    I worked for the National Park Service for 39 years, the last four of which I had the great honor of serving as the Director. I was the first Director to undergo confirmation hearings before the United States Senate and the first African American to serve in this position.

    At the National Parks Service, we preserve and protect over 390 national parks, three-fourths of which tell the story of our Nation’s history and development.  Some of the stories told or events commemorated in the national parks reflect injustices and wrongs done in our Nation’s history. Nevertheless, they are places that should give us hope that we can move beyond our difficulties “towards a more perfect union.” Moreover, the national parks also help us remember those who have advanced the freedoms and liberties that we enjoy today -- who have come down the pathways of struggle -- people like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mary McLeod Bethune.

    It is a sure sign that we as a people are growing and maturing that we can recognize some of our mistakes with the hope that we can learn and grow from them. May we continue to seek to remember all of our past and honor all our peoples.

    Bob Stanton is a Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar