This year marked the 11th annual HBCU Foreign Policy Conference hosted by the Office of Public Liaison in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs held on Friday, February 14th in the Loy Henderson Auditorium. The theme for this year’s conference was Cultivating a Culture of Diplomacy: Securing the Future of Foreign Policy inspired by the Department’s Ethos “One Future” pillar. Students participated in policy breakout discussions on the Department’s foreign policy priorities including economic prosperity, human rights and democracy, STEM, and other policy topics throughout the day.
Traditionally, the Conference takes place in February and has come to be known as the Department’s signature Black History Month event. Students and faculty from HBCUs are invited to engage with Senior Department officials and gather information on study abroad opportunities and careers.
This year, the Conference delivered on its promise to provide access to Senior Department Officials. Bureau of Global Public Affairs Assistant Secretary Michelle Giuda, Bureau of Economics and Business Affairs Assistant Secretary Manisha Singh, and Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Assistant Secretary Robert Destro.
Because of overwhelming interest and support across the Department to participate, this year the Conference featured two power panels. On the #STEM@State Power Panel, Senior ranking officials discussed Department STEM priorities and career opportunities in STEM at State. Panelists included Ambassador Deborah Birx with the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator & Health Diplomacy, Science and Technology Policy Advisor Aubrey Paris, and Division Director Gharun Lacy with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Gharun Lacy is an HBCU Alum of Howard University.
The second Power Panel featured African American Trailblazers in Foreign Policy where senior African American officials in Foreign Affairs shared their paths to success and stories of overcoming adversities. This inspiring panel included Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and Environmental Science Affairs, Reta Jo Lewis, Director of the The German Marshall Fund, and Ambassador Sylvia Stanfield (ret.), President of Black Professionals in International Affairs. Ambassador Stanfield’s domestic postings included that of Diplomat-in-Residence at Florida A&M University and at Spelman College.
In recent years, the activities around the Conference have been re-invigorated. Several factors that have led to this renewed commitment to the Department’s engagement with HBCUs. One of the driving factors is that this Conference advances the White House Initiative on HBCUs efforts. In a recent speech at the World Economic Forum, President Donald J. Trump mentions the investment his administration has made towards HBCUs. “This Conference fulfills the Secretary’s mandate to educate the American public on foreign policy priorities,” says Candace Helton, Winston-Salem State University Alum and co-coordinator of the 2020 HBCU Foreign Policy Conference. “The conference helps maintain partnerships with universities while affording African American students the opportunity to be informed about U.S. foreign policy objectives and careers in international affairs.”
Another reason excitement within the Department is re-energized around HBCU initiatives is because of the employee engagement around this Conference. “Two years ago, we started engaging and recruiting volunteers and HBCU Alumni at State to help execute the Conference,” said Barbara Alston, Jackson State University Alum and co-coordinator of this year’s Conference. “Employees help spread the word with their alma matters and we are seeing how employees are encouraging their Bureaus and offices to be involved. HBCU Alumni and volunteers who didn’t attend HBCUs are excited to tell their stories of the impact they are making in foreign policy to students.”
For example, HBCU Alumni Panelist and Spelman Alum Djenaba (Daj) Kendrick, shared stories of how her work is making a significant impact in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. “One of the foreign policy achievements I’m most proud of is helping Ghana become compliant with intercountry adoptions, allowing them to become a member of the Hague Convention,” explains Kendrick who is a Country Officer in the Bureau of Consular Affairs in the Office of Children’s issues. “Spelman well prepared me for my current position at State. I was a French major and international studies minor. I was afforded the opportunity to study abroad in college. I strongly urge students to study abroad.”
The Department recognizes the significance and importance of the HBCU Foreign Policy Conference at State and other diversity and inclusion initiatives. According to Barbara Alston, “The recent launch of the Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Task Force (DISP) shows that the Department is aware that it has historically had a diversity problem. It’s encouraging to see the department organize to institutionalize diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at the Department. The HBCU Foreign Policy Conference is a tool for implementing for the Department’s strategy.”
“The HBCU Foreign conference is a great recruiting tool for students to learn about a foreign affairs career,” says Daj Kendrick.” A lot of people don’t have an international career even on their radar especially African American students. This Conference a starting point for getting students interested and in the door and for students to see that there are HBCUsAtState working here who were once in their shoes too. It is an attainable goal for them to aspire to.”
About the Author: Rainy Young is the Director of the Office of Public Liaison.
The Global Public Affairs Bureau’s Office of Public Liaison connects the Department of State to domestic audiences, directly engaging the American people to explain the Department’s policies and priorities at home and abroad. We engage civil society through briefings, conferences, and other events in Washington, D.C. and around the country. Stay connected by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org and following @EngageState and @EngageStateDept.