Editor's Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, highlighting the contributions of African Americans whose work is helping advance the President's goal of winning the future.
My parents had the greatest influence on who I am today. My father was a Tuskegee Airman and earned a PhD in Physics, and taught college for many years. My mother, also a World War II veteran, was a school teacher and taught me to read and write. They both instilled in me the values of hard work, honesty, and being humble; as well as my faith. My mother completed college while I was in elementary school, and I remember studying history together. She would check out children’s books covering the topics she was learning about. Growing up when I did during the height of the Civil Rights movement and the 100th anniversary of the American Civil War were important influences on me.
I was born in Washington, DC and attended the public elementary schools in Northeast and Southeast Washington before my family moved to Norfolk, and then Virginia Beach. After high school I attended Williams College, and then graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There I earned a Masters and PhD in economics, served as the co-president of the Teaching Assistants’ Association, American Federation of Teachers Local #3220, and most importantly met my wife of 25 years.
For six years I headed the National Urban League’s Institute for Opportunity and Equality, which was the Washington office for the National Urban League. As the Director I had the opportunity to hire and work with and learn from some amazing young bright minds including Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, a noted and outstanding voice on important issues to the African American community; Cheryl Hill Lee, who now heads the U.S. Census Bureau’s office on state and local finance; and Dr. Valerie Wilson a noted young economist and current Research Director for the National Urban League. And it was a big honor to be mentored by Hugh Price, the President of the National Urban League during most of my time there. The opportunity he gave me to work with the League placed me working alongside the Congressional Black Caucus, Civil Rights icons like Dr. Dorothy Height and Rev. Joseph Lowery, and labor leaders like Norman Hill and Bill Lucy.
I am on leave from the Department of Economics at Howard University, and have taught over 2,000 African American students economics and statistics at North Carolina A&T State University, Norfolk State University, and Howard.
To me Black History month means trying to write African Americans back into the history books. It means correcting myths and stereotypes that make African Americans less a part of American history, and Africans less a part of world history. It means celebrating all that America can be, and lifting up all that humans can be.
The Department of Labor plays an extremely valuable role in accomplishing lifting people up and I’m proud to be part of a team that is helping get America back to work, expanding opportunities for all Americans, keeping workers safe, and ensuring that you can provide for your family and keep what you earn.
That means paying special attention to fairness in hiring practices of those companies that benefit from government contracts, developing the best policies to get disabled Americans a fair chance at work, connecting our Veterans to job opportunities, and insuring women are treated fairly on the job. That also means providing support to states to help the unemployed, grants to provide job training, and running successful programs like Job Corps to help disadvantaged young people get a solid footing on their future.
As Assistant Secretary for Policy, I have the opportunity to help develop policies, evaluate programs, and shape regulations that are doing all of this – and strengthening the workforce of tomorrow. That workforce is going to be much more diverse than today’s. As we work to win the future, it’s important to me that we build pathways to support that diversity and ensure that we’re helping all of our communities.
Dr. William Spriggs is the Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Labor