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.