Nice Work

Jessica Fulton / The Joint Center

Revisit this March 2018 interview with Jessica Fulton to celebrate her new position at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies as their Economic Policy Director. As their twitter description puts it the Joint Center is currently focused on the future of work and congressional staff diversity. Jessica generously gave her time last spring to Framingham State University students seeking to learn about careers in public policy for Black women.

Last month I got to interview Jessica Fulton via Skype to learn more about her career and her work. She is the External Relations Director at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Equitable Growth is a research and analysis organization that is dedicated to finding ways to promote broad-based economic growth. Before Jessica was at EG, she was the Outreach Director at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, an organization that focuses on budget issues for the District of Columbia. Jessica is an alum of the University of Chicago, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Economics, and of DePaul University, where she earned a Masters in Economic Policy Analysis. Our conversation—and the interview below—focused on my desire to get some pointers on how more young women of color can make a difference in social policy.

EO: What are your top pieces of advice to young minority women seeking to work in social policy?

JF: If you’re able, try to get an internship in DC so that you’re able to learn more about how things work here. There are a few organizations and Members of Congress that pay their interns, and that’s obviously ideal, but many don’t. If you’re unable to find a paid internship, and can’t afford to take an unpaid one, consider alternate ways of getting into policy work. I know people who got their start by working in a paid position on a campaign of a candidate they really believed in. Others found entry level assistant positions to get their foot in the door. You can also consider getting an unpaid internship and supplementing it with a part time job, which is what I did.

Also, it’s much easier to get a job in DC if you’re actually in DC. It’s really expensive to live here, but if you can come sleep on a friend’s couch for a bit, you can set up interviews, informational conversations, and networking opportunities that could get you some meaningful connections. You should also try applying for jobs with a local address on your resume if possible.

EO: How do you advise people to zero in on areas of focus?

JF: I think one of the most important things that you can do is to start to get to know people who are working on the topics that excite you most. Ask people you know for introductions to people who might be willing to sit down with you to do informational interviews. If you don’t have connections already, think about your networks. Are there alumni from your university who might be willing to speak with you? Do your professors know people who work in social policy? Talking to those people about what they do and what their days look like can be a great way to figure out what you want to do.

You should also try to sign up for newsletters from the particular policy organizations or Members of Congress that you’re interested in. That way, you can get to know more about the topics different organizations work on and what they actually do. This could be helpful in future interviews, but also may help you to figure out which specific issue areas you have a passion for.

EO: Why are young minority women so important to the work of social policy?  

JF: A good number of social policy issues disproportionately affect people of color, yet there are usually very few of us in the room when the problems or the solutions are being discussed. And while things are slowly getting better, often women of color, especially black women, aren’t at the decision making tables even if they are part of a policy organization. I think that’s actually really important. For example, when I walk into a room, I’m bringing my education and work experience, but I’m also bringing my life experience and that of my friends and family members. The other folks in the room have important perspectives as well, but my friends, family members, and even myself, are more likely to have experienced certain obstacles and situations that are more common in minority communities. So when I’m thinking about problems and solutions, I can’t help but to look at it through that lens as well. And I think in the end, when you consider how any kind of problem solving works, the most effective solution is one where you’ve considered a diverse set of perspectives to arrive at your conclusion.

Jessica Fulton is now Economic Policy Director for the Joint Center.  You can follow her on twitter at @JessicaJFulton, and follow them on @JointCenter. Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern and a 2018 graduate of Framingham State University in Sociology with a minor in Political Science.

And by she, I mean Eunice Owusu, a 2018 Framingham State University graduate. She walked across the stage, shook hands with the president of the institution while her family, friends, and plenty of others who look up to her, support her, and love her, cheered her on. Currently, Eunice is a cheerleading coach for South High Community School, building and creating a group that fosters a positive energy for supporting all of the teams they are motivating at every game. Filling the world and the people around her with positivity is only one of Eunice’s many strengths. Eunice is extremely talented in the art of makeup and began her very own business, Hint of Ebeauty, creating wigs. However, her passions do not stop there. Her interest in Family Law and Policy drives her future for changing the lives of low-income families and immigrant families through looking at the policies that effect these populations. Because of this passion, Eunice plans on attending graduate school next fall. In addition, because of what we learned in our course studying careers of Black women in public policy in Washington, D.C. I had the opportunity to learn more of who Eunice is, who Eunice was, and everything that Eunice will be:

TC: What did you learn through your independent study: From Margin to Center—women of color in policy? Why did you take the course and what did you learn about yourself?

EO: One of the biggest things I learned in this study was that in order to be the most confident Black woman, you cannot be afraid of your own voice. There is so much importance and weight in speaking up for those who cannot be at the table, when the table is full of those can never relate. The very few Black women proves that there is in fact racial disparities in American work life. But it is one thing to sit and complain rather than to become informed and aware. To be informed and aware is to make sure that our faces are necessary and are holding positions that lead to redirection of policy to benefit evenly and equally for everyone while bringing justice. Black women in policy such as Janelle Jones, Valerie Wilson, Angela Hanks, Misha Hill, Cherrie Bucknor, and Jessica Fulton all agree that educated Black women are needed and should not be afraid to speak up. For me, in the past, I shied away and became passive because of the fear of being “too passionate” or “too angry” in situations where my voice would have secured the change I wanted to see. It was important to me to see what women from similar backgrounds as my own did to get where they are today. This study became my motivating push to follow their footsteps while creating my own path into policy work.

The study was formulated by my professor, Dr. Virginia Rutter, who helped us to connect with Black women doing policy work in DC. I took this class to help me really figure out what I wanted to do in my graduate studies and what kind of career I can make out of my Sociology and Political Science background. It helped me understand what policy work actually is and what kind of things go into it on a day to day basis. To see first-hand what kinds of people are part of organizations such as the Economic Policy Institute and DC Fiscal Policy Institute really helped my understanding of what life after grad school could be like. To me, there is no formula or handbook on how to be a successful woman after college. The truth is that months after graduating from Framingham State, I’m still trying to figure out how to get to the next step. This study made me realize that my presence, my knowledge, and awareness of the community I come from can speak volumes in public policy.

TC: How do you feel your identity, as a Black woman, has impacted your experience in college?

 EO: My identity as a Black woman impacted my experience in college because of the fact that I knew that I was not “cut from the same cloth” as others. In other words, being an African woman in college that represented my entire family, immigrants, and the ones that live in my country, Ghana, college was less of finding myself and more of making sure I was making all the ones counting on me proud. That pressure alone was my motivation to make sure I was soaking up all the knowledge I could for the ones in family that didn’t make it past their first few years of high school; some, their first years of junior high. As a Black first-gen woman, my layers made me excited to study the main things that were affecting my family first hand: immigration, education, and income inequality.

My identity as a Black woman impacted my experience in college because it framed my passions in my studies. It motivated what classes I took and what kinds of organizations I joined. My dark skin tone combined with my intelligence shows people that not only are Black women capable, our ideas are worth listening to. While attending a white institution with undercover racial bias and people who always underestimate the minorities who attend the school, I was able to understand not only what it means to be a Black woman but what it means to be myself. From freshman year to post grad, I no longer find myself sitting in in the back and listening to others. I have become a brave voice potential of change in the communities I am a part of.

TC: What would you tell high school Eunice?

EO: High school Eunice was my most indecisive self. This is because I battled back and forth in whether or not I wanted to pursue family law or do something STEM related. I became the only one taking classes like human geography while my friends took classes like physics. Coming from an African family, the expectation to become a doctor or engineer or anything STEM related was the ideal and that discouraged me from following the beat of my own drum. I would tell high school Eunice that there is nothing wrong with making a career out of passions. There was no need to seek the approval of others because it didn’t matter what field I chose. What mattered for me was whether or not it fed my want to help others battling things that I witnessed and went through, coming from a single-parent-immigrant household. I would tell high school Eunice that nothing comes easy, but it will make sense in the end. I would tell her that studying something that you are passionate about is extremely important because that determines your ability to not only retain information but to apply just about anything.

Tasia Clemons is a 2018 graduate at FSU in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. She is currently a Hall Director and in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration program at Canisius College. Follow Tasia at @TasiaClemons. Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern and a 2018 graduate of Framingham State University in Sociology with a minor in Political Science.

Tasia Clemons at May 2018 Framingham State University graduation

Let me introduce you. Tasia Clemons is a new graduate student at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, where she studies Higher Education and Student Affairs. She also fills the position of Resident Hall Director where she will continue to make difference in people’s lives, one resident at a time. Tasia Clemons has been a huge advocate for students of color at Framingham State University where she earned her Bachelors in Sociology and also has a YouTube channel where through this, she fights and discusses action for various things that surround being a person of color. Her blog, “Brown Skin Education” follows her personal account of colorism, racism, and motivation for individuals who look just like us. Her message is this: We are capable. That is what our entire research on black women in policy and the lack thereof is about. Showing others that black women are not only capable, but we are important catalysts of progression. She and I worked together in our special course studying careers of Black women in public policy in Washington, D.C. and we put together some of our culminating thoughts.

 EO: This past year you were the lead advisor (Administrative Resident Assistant or ARA) in the largest residence hall at Framingham State. How did your identity as a Black woman affect your experience?

TC: What was different about this past year compared to my other three years at Framingham State was that one, I was an ARA. This brought more responsibilities and more authority. However, another difference was how hyperaware I was of my Blackness. There had been an abundance of things happening in our society, on our campus, and around the United States that had negatively affected how I saw myself in my position. On top of worrying that I was actually being listened to during meetings (where I was one of only two people of color out of seven) I had to make sure that all of the race-related issues that were weighing down on me in the U.S. did not affect my position. Day in and day out, thinking about being an ARA and working closely with University Police but constantly seeing police shooting POC’s everyday sometimes put a strain on me. Making sure that those I hired reflected our campus community was a priority. The diversity on leadership teams was limited, and I wholeheartedly wanted to make sure that POCs felt comfortable entering into a residence hall.

Working tirelessly day in and day out to not only prove to myself that I could do this position, but prove to those around me that I deserved to 1.) be in college and 2.) be an ARA left me, on some nights, burnt out. I had to make sure that when I spoke to an employee, a student, my supervisors, and more, that I used a certain tone and voice to make sure they would not assume the worst about me before I even had the chance to prove myself. However, after dealing with all of those factors, it was what Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and Economy (PREE), said in one of our interviews that really changed my views as I move towards my new position as a Hall Director at Canisius College. We had the opportunity to ask Valerie about if she felt the need to prove herself when she entered all white spaces. Did she feel as though she had to do so much extra to ensure that they knew she was capable? Valerie said that we should just allow our work to speak for itself; that I should not be fighting for others’ approval or exhausting myself to prove to my white counterparts that I am capable because undoubtedly, due to the biases and prejudices that sometimes people are unaware that they have, they are going to have some negative thoughts about me because of my skin color.

Because of this independent study, I understand that isn’t entirely their fault. Every person has preconceived judgements on an individual and that is hard to admit. It’s just the matter of being able to catch your prejudices, reevaluate your judgements, and understand where they come from is what is important. Systems must change, but people must change too. We did not get these prejudices out of thin air—they are systemic. They came from the world around us—but it is up to each individual to actually think critically about why they have the thoughts they do and how they can work on being an ally to change the thoughts of others. I just have to continue to do what I love—fight for the rights of marginalized students and continue to do the work to help them rise. The position, being a Hall Director and more importantly being a Black woman in a position of power in a predominately white space, will already challenge me enough. I should be challenging myself simply to do better than I did yesterday, not to make sure my white counterparts aren’t assuming the worst. My work will speak for itself.

EO: How did this study alter your views on life after college and Black women with careers?

TC: For starters, this course definitely made me more confident in myself. Having the resources and ability to speak to Black women about their careers helped me envision myself being a mentor to a young girl or woman who looks like me. Although the women we interviewed I saw as celebrities, speaking with them reminded me that they faced, and still do, hardships and struggle. It made me see that it is mostly about the perseverance and the resilience that you have that pushes you through. In addition, the support system that I actively choose could make or break life after college. Although I will continue to turn to those who helped me get to the graduate school I am attending, helped mold my future, and guided me towards chasing my dreams, once I get to my next stop in my journey I must find the people there who are 100 percent fighting for me. I was able to hear about all of the external forces that try to push Black women down through this study and get advice as to how to handle it, but I must make sure I am surrounding myself with people who make me feel nothing but good about myself. The society has already spent years trying to push me down, it is better I am surrounded by those who want me to rise up.

EO: How did this independent study help you in your decision to pursue higher education and student affairs in grad school?

TC: Since we focused on Black women in social policy, it reminded me that there is an abundance of policies that must be addressed. In a phrase, I learned that inequality is policy. Although I am passionate about people who are incarcerated, low-income families, low-income housing, and so many more policies that affect those populations, I have had the opportunity to enforce policies at my undergraduate institution as an ARA. With the mixture of being an ARA, being a sociologist, and being a Black woman, I started to question the policies at all higher education institutions. This independent study pushed for me to think more critically about how higher education policies affect all marginalized groups at an institution. Although I can continue to do programs addressing issues surrounding racism, speak to students who are struggling in college, and attempt to shed a light on marginalized students who are often silenced—sometimes looking at the policies and the hidden language in them is what needs to be done to produce some form of change. This independent study helped me think more critically about the policies made at institutions and what I can do, as a member of a marginalized group, to change them.

Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern and a 2018 graduate of Framingham State University in Sociology with a minor in Political Science. Tasia Clemons is a 2018 graduate at FSU in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. She is currently a Hall Director and in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration program at Canisius College. Follow Tasia at @TasiaClemons.

Valerie R. Wilson / Economic Policy Institute

As part of my research on black women in public policy during my senior year of college, it was only fitting to interview Dr. Valerie Rawlston Wilson of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Dr. Wilson is an economist and Director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy (PREE). EPI focuses on economic research and policy analysis; their mission is to inform and empower others to know more about the economy to find solutions and ways to increase their economic mobility. PREE, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, focuses on the economic circumstances of people of color. Dr. Wilson’s latest work includes research with Jessica Schieder that argues that the War on Poverty failed. To wit, there are more people in the U.S. in poverty than 50 years ago; children of color are especially affected. I spent an hour talking to her on Skype for my study, and then followed up with a few focused questions, shared here, about her career path in policy work while defying stereotypes of black women.

EO: As director of PREE at EPI, what does your job consist of?

VW: As director of PREE at EPI, I serve as our resident expert on issues pertaining to racial justice and economic inequality. What that means in layman’s terms is that I do research, write, and speak about racial and ethnic disparities in unemployment, wages, income, poverty and wealth. I also engage with other organizations and the media around these issues.

EO: As a black woman in policy with a PhD, what were some of your biggest challenges getting to where you are today?

VW: My biggest challenge was winning the mental game that comes with getting a PhD, which feels like a process where you’re constantly having to prove yourself. There’s an interesting mental and emotional balancing act that goes on between having the confidence to say, “I am capable of doing this. Of course, I deserve to be here,” particularly in a field where there are very few black women, and being humble enough to admit when you don’t know something so that you can get what you need to finish. Another big part of getting through a PhD program is persistence – being able to push through the many difficult, tedious, often solitary tasks while coping with disappointments and detours along the way. I was able to earn a PhD not because I zoomed through the program without any problems. I finished because I didn’t quit.

EO: What influenced your passion and decision to focus your research life around topics like economic inequality, wealth, and income?

VW: Growing up as a black person in America, it’s impossible to miss the racial divide between those who have wealth and power and those who don’t. I was blessed to grow up in a middle-class family with two parents who were working professionals, and to live in a neighborhood with other black, professional middle class families. We were not wealthy by any means, but at the same time, I was aware that my life wasn’t necessarily the norm for all black people. I was also an excellent student, and a very analytical thinker. When I discovered that economics was a way I could use my intellectual curiosity to say something meaningful about how race affects social and economic outcomes, it seemed like a perfect match.

EO: Often times many black women feel the need to prove that they are capable and deserving. This is because of the fear that others won’t take them seriously or see their voices as valuable. Through our conversations and reading her work, Dr. Wilson helped me realize that if I work hard enough to stay persistent, informed, and aware, I do not have to prove anything to anyone; my work will speak for me. My voice and my abilities are just as important as everyone in the room that doesn’t look like me. It is easy to just assume that being a person of color, I can’t get as far as I want to in my career goals. But having people such as Dr. Wilson to prove otherwise makes a difference in not only my life but for every black girl and woman who doesn’t feel as though they are enough.

 

Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern and a 2018 graduate of Framingham State University in Sociology with a minor in Political Science. Dr. Wilson’s full bio is here, and you can follow her at @ValerieRWilson.

Angela Hanks / CLASP

Angela Hanks, a scholar studied at Framingham State University in the “From Margin to Center: Women of Color Doing Public Policy” this spring, began a new post as director of the Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) in Washington, DC. Time to re-read her inspiring interview with Tasia Clemons, who is in graduate school now at Canisius College.

It is my senior year of college and I am adjusting to the fact that in less than a month, I have to go out into the world and decide who I want to be outside of education. Although graduate school is in the future, navigating the world as a Black woman, carrying an abundance of interests, and ultimately just wanting to make the world a better place is at the forefront of my mind. Currently, I am enrolled in a course called “From Margin to Center: Women of Color Doing Public Policy” where I get to learn about women of color in Washington D.C, read their work, and gain personal knowledge and skills through interviewing some amazing women. I had the opportunity of learning from Angela Hanks, Director of Workforce Development Policy at the Center of American Progress (CAP), a policy institute focused on bettering the lives of all Americans through research and action. Her work focuses on promoting workforce development policies that raise wages and employment opportunities of workers. In this interview, I was able to get advice for women of color, like me, who want to shine in the world of policy:

TC: Based on your passions—what do you see yourself doing through your position as the director of Workforce Development Policy at the Center for American Progress?

AH: People who do policy work should always begin and end with the people they’re trying to help in mind. I work in policy because fundamentally, I care about marginalized people – whether it’s workers, women, communities of color, or anyone at those intersections – who face structural barriers to equality or economic security and have little or diminished political power. I also keep in mind that those structural barriers didn’t just appear; they are often the direct result of conscious policy choices. Policy choices that my work can and should help unwind.

For example, I work on policies to expand apprenticeships, paid training programs that have recently become popular among politicians because they often pay high wages and typically lead to a good job. However, these programs frequently do a poor job of including women at all, and people of color tend to get paid less than their white counterparts. So when I’m working on policy solutions, I tend to focus my attention on how we got here, and what policies are need to ensure POC and women have equal representation in the best jobs.

TC: What is one thing you wish you knew before entering the world of policy?

AH: Probably what policy work actually is? I went to college in D.C. because I thought I liked politics, and immediately declared a political science major at George Washington University. I had no idea what political science was, but it sounded right at the time, so I ran with it. I didn’t even really begin to wrap my brain around what policy is until I interned with my home state senator on Capitol Hill my junior year. The internship was unpaid, so I was only able to work part-time during the school year, while waitressing (pay your interns). Still, something clicked – this was what I was supposed to do. That internship helped me decide to go to law school, and after I graduated I found myself back on the Hill in the job I’d wanted back when I was an intern.

TC: Do you have any advice for young Black women who are interested in attending graduate school, a career, or participate in future work involving social policy?

AH: Know that your voice and perspective are valuable and deserve to be heard. There will literally always be a white guy who tells you he knows better than you – don’t take his word for it. Don’t let his confidence override your qualifications, or make you second-guess your own experiences.

Seek out other Black women in your field. I’m so fortunate to have a supportive network of Black women colleagues and friends at CAP and at other organizations (including the other women you’ve interviewed!) who make navigating spaces with very few people who look like us much easier. It makes a huge difference, I promise. Finding good allies who show you that they value you and your work helps too.

TC: What does it come down to? Believing in myself. In a field surrounded by people who might not look like me, as Angela Hanks said, I have to know that my voice and perspective are valuable. In a society demanding to cut the words of women of color out, I have to understand that I deserve to be heard—just like all other women of color deserve.

Tasia Clemons is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern; she tweets at @TasiaClemons. Starting in July 2018, Angela Hanks Director of the Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) in Washington, DC. Find her on twitter at @AngelaHanks.

Originally posted on April 17, 2018.

 

 

Cherrie Bucknor / Harvard University

It has been weeks since I have crossed the stage, shook the hand of my college’s president, smiled at my family in the audience, and received my Bachelor’s degree. It struck me knowing that I had finally got to that very moment. The moment I had been waiting and working at for four whole years, and a bunch before that. Although I can thank my family for the endless support, thank my friends for the long nights of studying, and myself for remaining determined through absolutely everything—I also must thank my professors. Especially the professor who allowed me to reach my fullest potential, push me past my limits, and allowed me to see that I am capable of achieving whatever goals I set for myself. Virginia Rutter, the professor for the independent study, Margin to Center: Black Women in Policy, facilitated the unique class, where we talked to a lot of great women, including  Cherrie Bucknor, a doctoral student in Sociology at Harvard University. Her research interests include class, race, gender, labor unions, and social policy. Previously, Cherrie Bucknor worked at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) where she developed a series called Young Black America. Sitting across the table from her at lunch in Cambridge, I was able to hear all that she had to say about her series, her advice, and so much more:

TC: What advice do you have for Black women who want to attend an ivy league school?

CB: This is probably going to sound a bit ridiculous coming from someone who is currently at Harvard and who got their undergraduate degree from Penn, but I would encourage them to not necessarily strive to go to an “Ivy League School”, but to go to the school that they believe will be the best fit for them, both academically and emotionally. That should be the ultimate goal. As in many things in life, there will be sacrifices to make in these two areas (and others), but the goal should be to try and end up at the school that will maximize those two areas and others that are important to you. Oftentimes, when we think of college, we only think about the academic aspect. But, for me, both in the past and currently, the non-academic parts of my life on campus really help to keep me on a good page emotionally when I may be dealing with things in class or with my research that would otherwise keep me down.

I would also encourage them to speak with Black women who are already at the institution to hear from them what their experience has been like. Our experiences as Black women are unique in many ways and for me, it was invaluable to hear from the Black women who were already in my program. The Black women who paved the way for us will have advice on how to navigate the particular environment that you will find yourself in. Every school and department is different, with their own strengths and weaknesses, so it’s best to know as much going in as you can.

TC: What gets you through your days/moments when you are discouraged?

CB: The short answer to this would be “my people”. More specifically, I have a community of people, both in the Boston area and elsewhere who get me through the moments when I feel discouraged. This includes my parents, siblings, and other family members who have been on this journey with me since the beginning and who are just as invested in seeing me reach my goals as I am. The friends that I spent the past 5 years with in DC are just as much a part of my life as they were when I lived in DC. They are always there for me to vent to. They know just the right GIF or meme to send me that will make me literally laugh out loud.

Over the past year, I have also been lucky to develop friendships with fellow students in my department and throughout Harvard who I really vibe with on many different levels, whether it’s because we have similar research interests, political interests, experiences as scholars of color, or we watch the same TV shows or hate the same sports teams. While these friendships are relatively new, and some were unexpected, I can already tell that they will be “my people” for years to come.

Lastly, as I’ve mentioned above, the non-academic aspects of my life here also get me through the moments when I am discouraged. My work with our recently-certified graduate student union brings me so much joy because of the possibility of making Harvard a better place through the bargaining process. I have also been working with a great, diverse group of students who share my interest in prison abolition and who experience similar challenges as students of color on campus. Every week or so, I know that I’ll be sitting in a room with or on a conference call with people who are committed to doing good research and good work in our community. I feel very fortunate in that regard.

TC: Why did you choose to focus on Young Black America as a series when you were at CEPR? What was it like to conduct and then communicate this type of research?

CB: My Young Black America series was actually my first solo-authored work at CEPR and it was about 6 months into my time there. I say this all the time, but I definitely feel as though CEPR spoiled me as a young researcher. The latitude that I was given during my three years there was truly remarkable. This particular research came about because of a curiosity that I had. I really just wanted to answer the question “what’s going on with young Blacks in America right now”? As a young Black woman, I wanted to know how our community was doing. The recovery from the recession was going along too slowly in my opinion and I had heard a great deal about the experience of workers overall, or Black workers overall, and I wanted to see if the story was the same for young Blacks. I presented my idea to my office mentor and boss and they both were excited about it and basically told me that I could design the series however I want and they would support me.

Given the fact that many people associate educational attainment and success with economic success, I decided to do the first two pieces on recent data on high school graduation rates, college entrance, and college completion. The third piece was about employment and unemployment rates, and the last piece was about wages. The series told a story of increasing educational attainment that has not necessarily translated to significant gains in employment and wages, leaving persistent racial and gender gaps.

As I mentioned above, this series was my first solo-authored work at CEPR. The very first piece in the series also ended up leading to my first interview with a reporter. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I went into our communications director’s office and proceeded to vehemently protest against doing the interview and how I was sure I would make a fool of myself. However, after a mini media training session, I gained some semblance of confidence, or at least enough to go through with it, and it went perfectly fine. To this day, I still get nervous and worry whenever I have to speak to a reporter or do a radio interview, but I just remind myself of this: what good is it to do research that you think is important if nobody hears about it?

 

***

TC: Cherrie made it clear. As I move out of the world of undergrad and maneuver my way into a whole new environment in graduate school, having, as she puts it, “my people” when I get discouraged is exactly what I need. What is an important take away is that having “my people” will not be enough. I must make sure that I am focusing on myself too—the things that make me happy, the moments that bring me joy, and I must value my self-care because being a woman of color, the external social forces in our society are working against me. They do not want to see me rise nor do they want to see women of color shine. However, I must understand that since I am a woman of color, my self-care is revolutionary… and the bonds I create with other Black women as my future unfolds will be too.

Tasia Clemons is a recent sociology graduate from Framingham State University as well as a graduate assistant Hall Director at Canisius College. She tweets at @TasiaClemons. Cherrie Bucknor is a doctoral student at Harvard University and currently working on two projects: examining the union wage premium for young workers in the United States overall and by race and education level, as well as a project titled “Race, Economy, and Polity in the Trump Era.” She tweets at @CherrieBucknor.

 

Misha Hill \ Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

Three weeks from graduation, and I’m still deep in my study of Black women who inspire me to do more and more great things. For me, this means focusing on my future that will involve some combination of work as a sociologist and educator, examining policies that affect those who look like me, and mentoring Black and Brown people to be the strongest leaders they are all capable of being. My future is becoming more clear and visible each time I hear of other Black women’s’ experiences.

This week, I share an eye-opening interview with Misha Hill, State Policy Fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, who told me about variety of her experiences, insights, and work. While Misha was pursuing her Master’s in Public Policy at George Washington University, she was an intern with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Family Income Support team. In addition, Misha also interned with the Women’s Health Division at the Kaiser Family Foundation through the Person Foundation Fiscal Policy Internship. This is what she had to say:

TC: Taking your experience in working within policy, what challenges have you overcame that got to where you are now?

MH: My biggest challenge was lack of knowledge about policy careers. When I was applying for MPP programs [Masters in Public Policy], I didn’t know the difference between working at a think tank or a private consulting firm, and in undergrad I barely knew those types of organizations existed. I did not have many people in my network who worked in public policy, and my university didn’t provide a clear pre-professional path either. Those challenges are unique to my experience, but I think they also represent structural challenges for men and women of color interested in this career field. Because public policy organizations are still predominantly white spaces (Policy Link, the Urban League, and Unidos are a few critical exceptions) most Black folks don’t have many people working in public policy in their networks.

I overcame those challenges with reading, research, and reaching out. I read about policy topics I was interested in, researched the organizations that were writing on those topics, and utilized every aspect of my personal and professional network to find and build professional connections.

TC: What advice do you have for women of color who are interested in pursuing a career in public policy? 

MH: My advice to young women of color interested in pursuing a career in policy is the same advice I’d give young woman of color starting any career in the U.S. The system was not made for you to succeed. It may be hard to get your foot in the door, and you may take a path that’s longer and more roundabout than your white or male counterparts. That’s okay and the insight you gain on the journey will likely help your white and male counterparts if they’re willing to listen. Use LinkedIn and offline networking, strategically. Even if you don’t know someone working in the field you may have a mutual connection or be affiliated with the same school or organization. Don’t be shy to ask for an introduction or reach out to a stranger. Know your worth and ask for what you need to succeed. Channel the confidence of a tall, middle-aged white man and assume that people will give you the things you ask for. And lastly, stay in touch with people who have helped you out along the way. An email updating former supervisors or people who have written you letters of recommendations once or twice a year shows those folks that you appreciate the investment you’ve made in them and keeps you on their radar for future opportunities. 

TC: You do a lot of work focused around gender, specifically women, and wrote an article looking at the “tax perspective on International women’s day” that highlights the work that has been done and still needs to be done surrounding gender inequality. Knowing that the U.S has a long way before they start incorporating a gendered lens into their budgeting practices, how do you foresee gender budgeting, something you mentioned in your article, being used in the United States helping women? Specifically, how do you see it helping women with a variety of intersecting identities: immigrant, Black, Transgender, low-income, etc.?

MH: I don’t see the US incorporating gender budgeting, especially not on the federal level. My view is pessimistic and jaded. But this country has a collective refusal to acknowledge that inequitable policies negatively impact all of us, not just the marginalized groups that are hurt most. Setting that pessimistic view aside, I do imagine a world where a gender equity lens was applied to how governments develop their budgets and financing. A first step would be to analyze the differential impact of a proposed budgets on men and women. The U.S. does currently have programs on the revenue and spending side that inadvertently target women by linking benefits to children. But these programs are of little help to women without children. And current investments in these programs are inadequate at best, and often these programs are losing public investments. Hence, my pessimism. Currently, if a government applies an equity lens to a program it’s after the program is in place. In an ideal world gender budgeting, in combination with other equity lenses—like race, income, or immigration status—to policy analysis would provide data on the likely impact of a budget before the programs funded by that budget are put in place. Which is why we need more women of color working in public policy to push for and perform these analyses!

TC: Bottom line I see here: Do your research, keep connections, and trust that you are going in the direction that you need to be. There will be speed bumps on your path, dead-end zones in your life causing you to turn around—but if you trust yourself, things will fall into place. The end of the world does not have to be as dramatic as we, as college students, sometimes make it out to be. Misha, being so honest about her challenges, reminded me that yes—she is successful but with that, she is also human. Since we all are human, mistakes will be made, and still the path can make sense.

Tasia Clemons is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern; she tweets at @TasiaClemons. Misha Hill is a State Policy Fellow at the Institute of Taxation on Economic Policy. 

Angela Hanks / Center for American Progress

It is my senior year of college and I am adjusting to the fact that in less than a month, I have to go out into the world and decide who I want to be outside of education. Although graduate school is in the future, navigating the world as a Black woman, carrying an abundance of interests, and ultimately just wanting to make the world a better place is at the forefront of my mind. Currently, I am enrolled in a course called “From Margin to Center: Women of Color Doing Public Policy” where I get to learn about women of color in Washington D.C, read their work, and gain personal knowledge and skills through interviewing some amazing women. I had the opportunity of learning from Angela Hanks, Director of Workforce Development Policy at the Center of American Progress (CAP), a policy institute focused on bettering the lives of all Americans through research and action. Her work focuses on promoting workforce development policies that raise wages and employment opportunities of workers. In this interview, I was able to get advice for women of color, like me, who want to shine in the world of policy:

TC: Based on your passions—what do you see yourself doing through your position as the director of Workforce Development Policy at the Center for American Progress?

AH: People who do policy work should always begin and end with the people they’re trying to help in mind. I work in policy because fundamentally, I care about marginalized people – whether it’s workers, women, communities of color, or anyone at those intersections – who face structural barriers to equality or economic security and have little or diminished political power. I also keep in mind that those structural barriers didn’t just appear; they are often the direct result of conscious policy choices. Policy choices that my work can and should help unwind.

For example, I work on policies to expand apprenticeships, paid training programs that have recently become popular among politicians because they often pay high wages and typically lead to a good job. However, these programs frequently do a poor job of including women at all, and people of color tend to get paid less than their white counterparts. So when I’m working on policy solutions, I tend to focus my attention on how we got here, and what policies are need to ensure POC and women have equal representation in the best jobs.

TC: What is one thing you wish you knew before entering the world of policy?

AH: Probably what policy work actually is? I went to college in D.C. because I thought I liked politics, and immediately declared a political science major at George Washington University. I had no idea what political science was, but it sounded right at the time, so I ran with it. I didn’t even really begin to wrap my brain around what policy is until I interned with my home state senator on Capitol Hill my junior year. The internship was unpaid, so I was only able to work part-time during the school year, while waitressing (pay your interns). Still, something clicked – this was what I was supposed to do. That internship helped me decide to go to law school, and after I graduated I found myself back on the Hill in the job I’d wanted back when I was an intern.

TC: Do you have any advice for young Black women who are interested in attending graduate school, a career, or participate in future work involving social policy?

AH: Know that your voice and perspective are valuable and deserve to be heard. There will literally always be a white guy who tells you he knows better than you – don’t take his word for it. Don’t let his confidence override your qualifications, or make you second-guess your own experiences.

Seek out other Black women in your field. I’m so fortunate to have a supportive network of Black women colleagues and friends at CAP and at other organizations (including the other women you’ve interviewed!) who make navigating spaces with very few people who look like us much easier. It makes a huge difference, I promise. Finding good allies who show you that they value you and your work helps too.

TC: What does it come down to? Believing in myself. In a field surrounded by people who might not look like me, as Angela Hanks said, I have to know that my voice and perspective are valuable. In a society demanding to cut the words of women of color out, I have to understand that I deserve to be heard—just like all other women of color deserve.

Tasia Clemons is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern; she tweets at @TasiaClemons. Angela Hanks is Director of Workforce Development Policy at the Center of American Progress (CAP). Find her on twitter at @AngelaHanks.

 

 

 

Janelle Jones / Economic Policy Institute

This isn’t the first time I’ve interviewed Janelle Jones about women of color. I’ve been reading her recent work on racial wealth gaps, and I interviewed her about her career recently. She is an economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a think tank that focuses on including the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. Janelle Jones works for EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy (PREE), which is a nationally recognized source for expert reports and policy analyses on the economic condition of America’s people of color.

EO: A lot of your research revolves around the labor market for minority races. How do you use your platform to help people get an insight on the life of minority workers as not one dimensional?

JJ: Just as important as doing the research is how you communicate that to different audiences. Part of that message is to provide the data to support things racial and ethnic minorities have been saying for decades – there is racial discrimination in every aspect of the labor market that is no way the fault of workers. The other part of that communication strategy is to portray a larger vision of life for workers of color. In spite of structural barriers, racial and ethnic minorities are represented all across the labor market, in every occupation and industry. It is a mistake to talk about workers of color as a monolith. The obstacles to economic success for Latinas in the Southwest are different than the obstacles for black men in the Midwest. And at EPI, we try to make sure our data show the fullness of life for workers of color, and how that will take different policies to ensure economic equity.

EO: Do you witness these hardships in some of the people of color you know? How does that motivate you in your day to day work life?

JJ: A significant portion of my research is informed by the experiences I, and others close to me, have had in the labor market. There was a time when I thought researching topics of which I am personally invested would make me less objective, and thus a less effective researcher. I have come to decide that is completely false. My personal experiences have helped me in two distinct ways. First: It allows for a context and framing that is completely lost if there is only a focus on the numbers. It is nearly impossible, and I think less persuasive, to communicate economic data on racial and ethnic minorities without an accurate narrative of how we ended up in our current circumstances. Second: This is hard work, and to use “slow” as the pace of change is an exaggeration. But the potential impact on the people closest to me is a constant motivation that keeps me passionate and working towards solutions.

EO: How does your role as a black woman in policy research help to shape perspectives in think tanks such as EPI? Why does this representation matter?

JJ: If the voices of black women are not included in producing research and promoting policy solutions, then those products will not result in positive outcomes for us. So often I am the only person in the room that looks like me, and just my presence can change the direction of the conversation and make it more inclusive. There is sometimes useful discussion about women, or about racial and ethnic minorities, but it is that distinct intersection of race and sex that is often left out. The data show that this intersection, with overlapping and intertwined discrimination, is deserving of targeted research and policy.

Let me put it in a more personal way: Until I had a job in a think tank, I had no idea it is something black women do! I would like for no other little black girl to think this is a career she can’t have. 

Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families intern as well as a senior Sociology Major at Framingham State University. Janelle Jones is an economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute. Follow her on twitter at @janellecj.

Jessica Fulton / Equitable Growth

Last month I got to interview Jessica Fulton via Skype to learn more about her career and her work. She is the External Relations Director at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Equitable Growth is a research and analysis organization that is dedicated to finding ways to promote broad-based economic growth. Before Jessica was at EG, she was the Outreach Director at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, an organization that focuses on budget issues for the District of Columbia. Jessica is an alum of the University of Chicago, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Economics, and of DePaul University, where she earned a Masters in Economic Policy Analysis. Our conversation—and the interview below—focused on my desire to get some pointers on how more young women of color can make a difference in social policy.

EO: What are your top pieces of advice to young minority women seeking to work in social policy?

JF: If you’re able, try to get an internship in DC so that you’re able to learn more about how things work here. There are a few organizations and Members of Congress that pay their interns, and that’s obviously ideal, but many don’t. If you’re unable to find a paid internship, and can’t afford to take an unpaid one, consider alternate ways of getting into policy work. I know people who got their start by working in a paid position on a campaign of a candidate they really believed in. Others found entry level assistant positions to get their foot in the door. You can also consider getting an unpaid internship and supplementing it with a part time job, which is what I did.

Also, it’s much easier to get a job in DC if you’re actually in DC. It’s really expensive to live here, but if you can come sleep on a friend’s couch for a bit, you can set up interviews, informational conversations, and networking opportunities that could get you some meaningful connections. You should also try applying for jobs with a local address on your resume if possible.

EO: How do you advise people to zero in on areas of focus?

JF: I think one of the most important things that you can do is to start to get to know people who are working on the topics that excite you most. Ask people you know for introductions to people who might be willing to sit down with you to do informational interviews. If you don’t have connections already, think about your networks. Are there alumni from your university who might be willing to speak with you? Do your professors know people who work in social policy? Talking to those people about what they do and what their days look like can be a great way to figure out what you want to do.

You should also try to sign up for newsletters from the particular policy organizations or Members of Congress that you’re interested in. That way, you can get to know more about the topics different organizations work on and what they actually do. This could be helpful in future interviews, but also may help you to figure out which specific issue areas you have a passion for.

EO: Why are young minority women so important to the work of social policy?  

JF: A good number of social policy issues disproportionately affect people of color, yet there are usually very few of us in the room when the problems or the solutions are being discussed. And while things are slowly getting better, often women of color, especially black women, aren’t at the decision making tables even if they are part of a policy organization. I think that’s actually really important. For example, when I walk into a room, I’m bringing my education and work experience, but I’m also bringing my life experience and that of my friends and family members. The other folks in the room have important perspectives as well, but my friends, family members, and even myself, are more likely to have experienced certain obstacles and situations that are more common in minority communities. So when I’m thinking about problems and solutions, I can’t help but to look at it through that lens as well. And I think in the end, when you consider how any kind of problem solving works, the most effective solution is one where you’ve considered a diverse set of perspectives to arrive at your conclusion.

Jessica Fulton is External Relations Director for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.  You can follow her on twitter at @JessicaJFulton. Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families intern and as a senior Sociology Major at Framingham State University.