Throughout February, in recognition of Black History Month, DSS Public Affairs is collaborating with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s (DS) Council for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) to highlight the professional experiences and contributions of many of our African American colleagues. The mission of CDI is to provide support to the DS leadership on matters pertaining to diversity recruitment and retention, cultivating an inclusive and tolerant work culture, and fostering the diversity of the DS workforce.
As part of the commemoration of Black History Month, DSS posed the following question to several African American staffers: How has your heritage as an African American helped you in your work with DS and how has it helped advance the DS mission? Following are their responses.
Diversity serves as a catalyst for growth, understanding, and success
Deputy Assistant Secretary International Programs
I have grown alongside Diplomatic Security (DS) for the last 20 years, and it is an amazing organization. Our success stems from employees with diverse backgrounds and cultures supporting the U.S. Department of State domestically and in more than 170 countries. Our diversity is enhanced by the experiences we share with others from different educational, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds.
Throughout my life and career, I have seen race, gender, and religion play major roles in how people view and treat one another. While at times concerning, these elements have also served as catalysts for growth, understanding, and success. Diversity has made us better at facilitating U.S. diplomacy around the world and has helped us hone a stronger DS.
My journey started at Fayetteville State University, where I learned to commit to a cause greater than myself, uplift others, keep an open mind, and continue to learn. These values have allowed me to grow within DS and make positive contributions toward building a stronger and more diverse organization.
My heritage helps deliver better DS “foreign” service
Assistant Regional Security Officer
My Sudanese American heritage has enhanced my skills as a DS special agent domestically and as an assistant regional security officer overseas. It is a remarkable feeling to work on the continent of my heritage as a member of the U.S. Foreign Service. My heritage informs daily decisions and actions toward delivering the best customer service possible. This service delivery is how we provide a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
My parents took the risk of moving a young family overseas, and it paid off for us and all the immigrants who made the journey to the U.S. in the 20 th century. The reason I consider our work “service delivery” is because when we approach our work as service, we find many ways to be creative and solve the problems our country faces domestically and abroad. This is directly because of the Department’s diversity.
Diversity offers perspective to tackle issues in advancing our mission
Supervisory Special Agent
One of the early lessons taught to me by my family, from the rural south, was that I had to be not only as good as my friends, but even better in order to get the same opportunities. This lesson manifested itself as I grew up playing baseball, often the only black person on the team, through college and beyond. That lesson is integral to who I am today.
I take pride that I am a living example of Martin Luther King’s dream and reflect America’s diversity. This helps me tackle the issues faced by each of us as we advance the DS mission. I strive to embody the examples that my family and my mentors set before me. I look to expand the recruitment pool and remove barriers for candidates to succeed. I also work to create an environment of inclusion, one where team members know they are valued and respected. I take these values and combine them with other tenets such as respecting and engaging others and learning constantly when building relationships with our foreign and domestic partners. This approach has led to greater trust and collaboration as we work toward the same ends of safety and security.
Diversity is the norm across the world—and we should reflect it
Security Engineering Officer
I gravitated toward a career in DS because I was offered an opportunity to represent our country while living abroad, I have shared my African American experience with many different cultures of this world, and, at the same time, I have learned from theirs. These cultural interactions are what makes DS one of the most unique law enforcement agencies in the world.
As a member of the global majority, I do not consider myself a minority when posted overseas. Serving in majority, non-white posts has been liberating in terms of not being considered a minority outside of the walls of the embassy. I am proud to be representative of this diversity, knowing it is the norm across the world. I would like the State Department to take even more aggressive hiring actions to ensure that DS is reflective of the world we serve and the country we represent. While I continue to be one of less than a handful of African Americans at most of my overseas posts, I look forward to the day when our staffing at least begins to meet the racial make-up of the United States.
Attending an HBCU gave me a strong foundation for learning
Senior Desk Officer
I am proud to be the descendent of a long line of strong African Americans, specifically with rich southern roots. My grandparents and parents instilled in me a strong work ethic, the importance of academics, and the invaluable lesson of high performance.
I’ve taken my upbringing to heart and apply it in the workplace. Attending an HBCU also gave me a strong foundation for learning in an environment that was nurturing, as well as demanding, in order to prepare me for a challenging career. I am proud to be a part of Diplomatic Security, working alongside a cadre of outstanding professionals promoting safety and security for our diplomatic missions. I feel that I bring a wealth of knowledge and a diverse perspective that adds to the breadth of the organization.
We all have a responsibility to protect and uplift our community
Human Resources Assistant
My culture is grounded in unity, creativity, self-determination, and resilience. From an early age, I was taught that we all have a responsibility to protect and uplift everyone in our community. I carry these values with me to this day. That is why I pursued a career in DS, and I am happy to assist with the DS mission to recruit and develop the most talented and diverse team.
As I celebrate my ancestors, I also want to recognize the contributions and the sacrifices that were made so that I could have the opportunity to share my own story. For they have walked, so that I can run. I am truly honored to be a part of the DS recruitment team during this defining moment in our nation’s history.
Religion and Education are key components of my heritage
Personnel Security Specialist
Religion and education are key components of my heritage as a Black American, and my parents instilled in me the importance of both in my life. When I was a young teenager, my parents enrolled me and my sisters in a private religious high school, and I became the first Black American to graduate from the school in 1981. I wasn’t particularly pleased about being the only Black in a predominantly White class, but I acclimated to the challenging curriculum and excelled. I was the first Black American to be inducted into the National Honor Society and the school’s first Black homecoming queen.
I cherish the sacrifices my parents made to give me an excellent education, which propelled me into a successful and satisfying career in the federal government, where I have served since 1984. I feel that I can encourage others who are facing challenges in their lives—and hope I have made an impact on others through my own life story. My life experiences have led me to where I am today.
Cultural competence is a skill we need to advance our mission
Being half African American and half Japanese provided me with the ability to adapt from an early age, as I learned to navigate in two different worlds. As DS agents who serve in over 170 countries, cultural competence is just one of the many skills necessary for us to carry out our broad mission.
Being African American often means to shape and shift to succeed and sometimes, survive. I am often the only African American in certain situations. This requires me to be conscious of how people perceive me and tactful in my approach to problem solving. Having this skill has allowed me to better manage relationships, integrate into new environments, be more creative, and develop a greater sense of empathy. My African American and Japanese heritage has allowed me to enhance the diversity of the Department, which is at the core of building a strong, effective, agile, and modern government.
Education creates opportunities not available to past generations
I am not only a DS special agent, but I am also a reminder that America is, in fact, a land of opportunity, even for those of us from historically marginalized communities. My grandmother was born, raised, and died on a Mississippi plantation as a domestic worker. She did not have the opportunity for a formal education, but was able to see her grandson become one of the first in the family to graduate college and then go on to law school and join the U.S. Foreign Service.
My humble upbringing has tremendously impacted how I engage foreign audiences who often view American diplomats through a lens of wealth and affluence. In many places people are chained to the conditions in which they were born, and it has been important to showcase that in America we strive to ensure everyone has an opportunity to create their future.
My heritage has fostered resilience, hard work, dedication
Industrial Security Specialist
I take pride in my African American heritage, because it has fostered a sense of resilience, hard work, and dedication within me. As a result, I retired from the United States Army with 20 years of service and became my family’s first college graduate.
My family instilled in me to be proud of who I am. I came from humble beginnings, and my parents were not able to finance my college aspirations but wanted me to have a career. So, at the age of seventeen I enlisted. My military service fostered my love for country, duty, and service. I have served in the security field for over 29 years. It is rare to see African American women in positions of senior leadership in my field. I hope to shatter that glass ceiling or a least support others in doing so. Being a woman and African American has made me even more resilient.
Why who I am matters for what I do
Supervisory Special Agent
As a person of color serving as a Diplomatic Security Service special agent and a member of the Foreign Service, I have a responsibility to use outreach opportunities to represent American people of color.
In my service overseas, I have, on many occasions, been the first American person of color that a local national has ever spoken with. In some instances, that person’s only knowledge of a Black American has been from television or other media, and unfortunately, most often negative racial stereotypes. I use these opportunities to discuss my heritage, my experiences, and further their knowledge of Black American culture. At home in the United States, I have sought out personal and professional opportunities to discuss who I am, what I do, and share my experience. I believe that seeing someone of the same ethnicity and background hold a position can give a person the initiative to aspire to do the same.
My heritage helps me build trust, maintain relationships overseas
Security Engineering Officer
I joined Diplomatic Security as a security engineering officer (SEO) 18 years ago. With my husband, who is also an SEO, I served in Pretoria, South Africa; Cairo, Egypt; and Beijing, China. My African American heritage serves as a conduit for building trust and maintaining meaningful relationships within the embassy and expatriate communities.
Overseas, I hosted locally employed colleagues in our home and introduced them to the cultural values in the African American community. Within the diplomatic community, I organized African American themed events to explore the rich history of the African diaspora. All of these experiences helped me to share African American history and customs and forged cross-cultural connections. When I reflect on my time with DS, I am confident that each exchange supported American diplomacy and enriched my Foreign Service career.
My heritage helps me to persevere and uplift others
My African American heritage consists of strong leaders who have been the epitome of diplomacy and integrity. These leaders led by example and paid it forward by paving the way for those who looked like them.
As I grow within Diplomatic Security, I aim to have a similar impact. Although my DS experience is limited, my drive to persevere and uplift others will be the catalyst that propels Diplomatic Security’s mission and our communities forward.