Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights the contributions of African Americans who are contributing to the President's vision of winning the future through their work.
I was born in Detroit, Michigan to a loving mother and father who moved to Detroit from Arkansas upon their matriculation from college in the mid-1960s. At that time Detroit, the international hub of the automotive industry, was a wonderful and vibrant place. My father, Rawleigh Glendale Lamb, was an executive at Chrysler Corporation until his death in 1990, and my mother, Zinnette McRae Lamb, was one of the brightest and best English teachers in the Detroit Public Schools until she retired. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic and a sense of pride. They also inspired me to believe that anything I set my mind to do was possible. The confidence that my parents instilled in me allowed me to succeed at the University of Michigan and then at Harvard Law School, where I had the opportunity to first get to know a fellow law student by the name of Barack Obama.
Upon graduation from Harvard Law School, I returned to Detroit. Many were surprised that I did not begin my law practice in a major market like the majority of my classmates who were from Michigan and beyond. However, I wanted to use my skills to make a difference in Detroit—to be part of its renaissance. Upon my return, I immediately became active in community and political affairs. I had the privilege as a very young lawyer to serve as the legal advisor to the City of Detroit, during Mayor Dennis Archer’s administration, on its successful Empowerment Zone application. That experience was extremely fulfilling as it immersed me into the Detroit community. I interacted with everyone from corporate chieftains to community organizers and my love for the City and my hopes for its renaissance intensified. While still employed by my law firm at the time, I also had the honor of serving as Mayor Archer’s chief fundraiser and campaign finance chair. My love of politics was solidified by that experience.
My community involvement over the years included serving as a member of the Detroit Housing Commission; as a board member of Delta Manor, a senior citizens’ complex; as vice-chair of the Board of Directors of the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority, by appointment of Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm; as the legal advisor to H.O.P.E., Inc. a 501(c)(3) entity associated with my church, Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church; and as a board member of Dennis W. Archer Foundation. I also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Leadership Detroit; and as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts. Since joining the Obama administration, I have maintained my membership in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the Links Incorporated and Jack and Jill of America, Inc. I am also a member of the historic Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
Above all, my greatest accomplishments are being the wife of John Hale, III, who is also a member of the Obama administration serving as the Deputy Associate Administrator for Capital Access in the Small Business Administration and the mother of two beautiful children, John Hobart Hale, IV (14) and Ashleigh Nicole Hale (10).
Each of my experiences described above have enriched my life in ways that could not be derived from focusing on my profession alone. My advice to young people is to avoid the sidelines and jump into your communities with both feet. You can make a difference!
As a Michigan native, I have seen the highs and lows of U.S. manufacturing. I have witnessed the positive impact of a vibrant manufacturing sector in our communities when, among other things, companies have the means to support the arts and other important causes. Sadly, I have also witnessed the negative impact of job losses in the manufacturing sector in our communities. This experience causes me to be passionate about preserving manufacturing and the services that support it in our country. It is this passion that I bring to my current role as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Manufacturing and Services in the International Trade Administration.
As the Assistant Secretary, I have the opportunity to help the international competitiveness of U.S. industries through the development and execution of trade policy and promotion strategies that help to increase the exports of U.S. industries. I interact on almost a daily basis with businesses large and small that seek opportunities in international trade. Promoting the exports of U.S. industries will help America “win the future” as it showcases America’s global leadership in innovation and technology. It will also help to create the jobs that our country needs. I am proud to have the privilege to serve our country in this role.
Black History Month is a special time of reflection for me on the struggles, triumphs and contributions of African-Americans. However, I believe that such reflection should not be limited to one month out of every year. Day in and day out, African-Americans in all facets of our society make significant contributions to our country that should be celebrated throughout the year.
Nicole Lamb-Hale is the Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services at the Department of Commerce.