On September 15-16, The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is hosting a virtual Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) International Development Conference. The USAID HBCU International Development Conference is part of the Agency’s commitment to building a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce. USAID is committed to expanding its partnerships with more than 100 HBCUs and recruiting the brightest minds from HBCUs across the country to join USAID in working on some of the world’s most pressing issues.
The two-day virtual conference and career expo will be attended by more than a thousand students and alumni from HBCUs across the country. The conference will feature remarks and a panel discussion titled “Centering Racial Equity in International Development” with Administrator Samanatha Power and Congresswoman Barbara Lee. White House Director of Public Engagement Cedric Richmond and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks will also address the conference. Throughout the conference, participants will be invited to join panel discussions, information sessions, networking sessions, and skill-building workshops with USAID leadership, as well USAID employees working across different bureaus in Washington, D.C. and in Missions around the world.
USAID is at it’s best when we have people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds contributing to the development of our policy and programs. Today’s conference is part of an agency-wide commitment to build a more diverse pipeline of talent and work towards a USAID that is a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable place to work.
TRANSCRIPT: Administrator Samantha Power and Representative Barbara Lee at the USAID HBCU International Development Conference:
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you to everyone who has joined.
Today is a really special day. I could not be more honored just to have had the chance to hear from Ambassador Andrew Young. That was an unexpected treat this morning. I am a product of the Atlanta public school system myself, a proud product, but one of the great honors of my life was to get to serve as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Everyday I would walk in there’s a list of my predecessors emblazoned into the wall and there was Andrew Young’s name and the idea of following in Ambassador Young’s footsteps. He was such a trailblazer, of course, in every domain. He has served in, but also there at the United Nations, much like Ralph Bunche, who was the first African American to win a Nobel Peace Prize. And actually, the first person of color to win a Nobel Peace prize for the mediation that he, Ralph Bunche, did between Israelis and Arabs during the war which followed the creation of the state of Israel. So to hear from Andrew Young, to hear Andrew Young talking about Ralph Bunche, to be here with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and all of you, it is thrilling. And let me say a word about Congresswoman Lee. Just such a long time champion of HBCUs, such a long time champion of human rights and civil rights, and international development. Because she is an ally of what USAID does in the world and the impacts that we seek, for that reason she has long advocated that our workforce and those of our government agencies reflect the diversity of our country. She understands not only is diversity intrinsically important, but it is predictive on whether or not we are going to get the kinds of outcomes we seek, for the beneficiaries we hope to serve out in the world. And she had just pushed that logic for such a long period of time, and I hope Congresswoman, that finally you see that you have the platform and the floor and more people are listening than ever before. Still not enough, I’m sure, but I think this conference here today is reflective of your impact and the impact of just making that argument over and over, over such a long period of time.
So, this is our first-ever HBCU International Development Conference, and I am overwhelmed and very moved by the interest and the response that we have seen.
I would like to start, however, by stating the obvious: that this event should have happened much sooner. USAID is turning 60 this year, and imagine if we had sustained HBCU engagement over this period. Again, not only would we currently today be a more diverse agency, a more equitable agency, a more inclusive agency, but we would have been over that period a stronger and more impactful agency.
One of USAID’s first ever senior Black officials was a brilliant man named Samuel Adams. Samuel Adams was the son of a chauffeur who earned his Ph.D from the University of Chicago. And after serving during World War II, he joined the Economic Cooperation Administration, which was USAID’s predecessor. Samuel Adams served as an education advisor in what was then called Indochina, and then he followed up with stints in Nigeria, Mali, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Morocco. He was eventually named Ambassador to Niger, before returning to USAID headquarters to direct all of our Africa programs.
While he was back in DC, he noticed something—that USAID had begun the practice of engaging dozens of universities to help with development around the world, but just not predominantly Black universities. Samuel Adams called a meeting in Nashville and invited the presidents of nearly 50 HBCUs. Every single one of these presidents apparently stood up and denounced the U.S. Government for failing to help them prepare their students for working internationally.
Now, things have gotten better, obviously, since that time—but as indicated, we have not been intentional in recruiting and in retaining HBCU graduates and graduates of color in general.
Getting a job at USAID, Congresswoman Lee can maybe talk about getting a contract with USAID from her past life, but getting a job at USAID isn’t always easy for people of color. Like so many institutions, whether public or private, we often self-select from the same traditional talent pools. We have typically hosted events at Georgetown, but not Howard. We might recruit from Emory, but even if we are down there in Atlanta, not Morehouse or Spelman.
In fact last year, USAID commissioned a study that examined our engagements with HBCUs and to no one’s surprise, it found that the Agency needed to make a more sustained effort to strengthen our relationships with these institutions.
And that is just so unfortunate because HBCUs play a crucial role in delivering a brighter future not just for African Americans, but for all Americans. Although they make up only three percent of colleges and universities countrywide, they, you, contribute more than $1.5 billion to our national economy, and graduate 20 percent of all African Americans. They, you, are a key vehicle for graduating first-generation, African American students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
HBCUs elevate the voices of students from all corners of society, which makes us all better-informed and makes our country more productive.
As, Ambassador Young kind of indicated about foreign policy, generally we strive to have our core values here at USAID align perfectly with those of HBCUs. Students at HBCUs acquire a deep appreciation for civil and human rights, a passion for social justice, a passion for lifting people out of poverty, and a commitment to empowering marginalized communities, a dedication to dignity of all people. These values are at the core of what USAID is trying to do around the world.
So, while this conference is overdue, it is important to say this conference is critical, this outreach is critical and this partnership is critical. It represents an important step, but only a step in our commitment to diversifying USAID, and putting to bed once for all the excuse that “We just couldn’t find any diverse candidates who were qualified.”
Now, to state again the obvious, a conference is important but it is nowhere near enough; and our engagement must go deeper. Last October, we launched the Minority Serving Institutions Partnerships Initiative, but this is a program that pairs each of our bureaus within USAID with a minority serving institution. This allows students, faculty, and researchers within these institutions to help USAID solve some of the global challenges we face today. We are currently in the pilot phase of the program but we already have participation from several HBCUs including: Alcorn State University, Tuskegee University, and Morehouse College. And these are relationships that I hope will be mutually beneficial to HBCUs and USAID. For example, our Mission in the Caribbean has partnered Alcorn State with the Caribbean Meteorological Association and together they are looking at severe weather patterns, and research in order to mitigate some of the climate risks we’re seeing in that region. And I hope that will be doubly close to Congresswoman Lee’s heart, given all the work that she has done to support Caribbean nations.
We’re also increasing our support for entry programs that try to attract candidates from underrepresented groups, starting with reforms to our internship program. I know from my personal internships experience in Atlanta, Georgia, as many of you know as well that are already professionals and those tuning in know that internships can be a powerful jumpstart to a career, but that unpaid internships end up actually becoming a barrier to entry for many diverse candidates. I’m happy to say that USAID is expanding our paid internship opportunities through what’s called our Pathways Internship program. We will start accepting applications on September 17, right after this conference, and you can learn more about the process over the next two day conference.
And we plan to double the number of Donald M. Payne Fellowships—in partnership with Howard University—which will help pay for two years of graduate school before receiving foreign service appointments at USAID.
These are just some of the steps we’re taking to address diversity and equity within our walls. But, there is also our work out in the world as well. But, I want to say a quick word about that before wrapping up. When we practice development abroad, we need to make sure we are centering our work with marginalized groups and underserved communities. And that we are practicing co-creation and co-design with those communities and not just telling people what’s what, but really hearing and listening to their needs from their perspective.
So earlier this year, we conducted an assessment to understand how we can do a better job of this, and chief among the recommendations was that we need to do a better job applying an equity lens into our policies. And do a better job incorporating the voices of marginalized communities in our country strategies.
To tie this all together, we are working with Congress to create a new Chief Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Officer role, and this an individual who will report directly to me. This is the first time such a position will exist at USAID. This person will oversee all of our efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce, foster an inclusive workplace, and implement equitable and accessible policies and programs abroad. All of which are critical to the success of USAID and the broader success of America’s foreign policy.
Serving in government is all about prioritizing amongst issues that all deserve some portion of your attention. But I want to state here today that making USAID a more diverse, inclusive, equitable place to work is my top internal priority. One has to establish priorities and that is my top internal priority. I truly believe that USAID is its best self, when we have people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds contributing to the development of our policy and programs. But USAID can’t do this alone. We need the support of Congress, and we need the help of all of you in the audience today.
We need to bring in your fresh perspectives, they are missing in many of our conversations. To tap into your talent, to help forge new alliances, and develop those equitable policies, and execute new programs that center on inclusive development. We need you to help us usher in a new era of development, one that has equity as its beating heart. So come and join us.
I look forward to delving more deeply into all of this with with Erin and Representative Lee. Thank you.
ERIN BROWN: Thank you Administrator Power for those inspiring words, and for acknowledging the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility to how it will optimize our ability to achieve our development objectives, especially to the extent that it promotes, is a key engine of innovation. Innovation, as well as in optimized performance and that has been proven by just about every study imaginable. So it is great to have an administrator, the first administrator that I know of, since my time at the agency, and I’ve been at the agency since 2012, to prioritize DEIA as you have. And so thank you for that.
And so now wanting to turn it over to Representative Lee for some opening remarks. And just wanting to, before I turn it over to you, Representative Lee, just thank you from the very beginning, in your time as serving as Chair of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, where in your first session that you chaired, first hearing that you chaired, where you led a conversation on inclusion and diversity in the foreign policy workforce and declared your commitment to DEI efforts in foreign affairs. And so we need more leaders like you and we thank you for all that you do for us. And with that I want to turn it over to Representative Lee for her remarks.
REPRESENTATIVE LEE: Thank you so much Erin and thank you for moderating this very important discussion, but also thank you for serving as a panelist on our foreign policy workshop for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. You are just tremendous. So thank you so much.
To Administrator Power, and let me just say, and sometimes I may accidentally say Ambassador Power because you are Ambassador and Administrator Power. Thank you so much for your leadership and thank you for your gracious comments. And you know what, I’ve been working, as many of you know, in this space, and I’ll tell you just a little bit about my personal story in just a minute.
But for many years in Congress, when I first came to Congress, I served on the Foreign Affairs Committee and went then to the Appropriations Committee and I’ve been plugging along at this in terms of trying to make sure there’s diversity at the State Department, USAID for many, many years. Actually I’ve written into our legislation, directives to the administrator of USAID and we pass them in congress, in the bill, never does USAID listen, they just say ‘oh well,’ we’ll just keep doing business as usual. Finally the stars are aligning with Ambassador Power. So thank you very much. And also with our White House with Cedric Richmond and the President, and also with all of you, students. The numbers on this call really do validate why we’re plugging along, now we’re escalating our efforts for diversity and inclusion in our international programs, development programs, and diplomatic initiatives. So I just want to salute you and thank you very much for that.
I, like Ambassador Andy Young, I have never taken a course in forign relations or international affairs, only one course in government. I was a psychology major and clinical social worker. Those skills do come in handy right now in congress, in terms of being a psychotherapist by profession. But Ambassador Young was such a great leader when I was a staffer to Congressman Dellums. And the very first visit to Africa that I participated in was as a representative for Ron Dellums in the late 70’s when we went to Sierra Leone. And Ambassador Young was on that delegation and he taught us so much. He really opened our eyes, many members of congress on that delegation had never been abroad and I was a staffer and it was from that day forward I knew that whatever I was going to do with Ron or in my own life, it was going to be about making sure young people, especially young African Americans understood that we have a global responsibility, to not only to the continent of Africa, the continent where our ancestors were stolen from, but to the rest of the world.
And we have this saying in my district, and maybe some of you have heard: think globally, act locally. We’re one world and we’ve got to really make sure that we act in that capacity. And so I just want to thank Ambassador Young for being such a mentor. This is really a teachable moment also, for us all.
I also lived in England for two years. I was formerly married to a military person who was in the Air Force and my first son was born in London. Now I was in my late teens, but that was when I first became aware of the fact that I’m a member of the majority of the world. As an African American, the world looked like me. I met many people, again going back to what has been said earlier, who were from Africa and the West Indies and the Caribbean. And we had more in common than not. And I came back to America after those few years with a child, my first son Tony Lee was born in London, and realized that no more was this country going to make me believe that I was a minority. Because I’m part of the global family, I’m in the majority and that was a very empowering experience for me.
With regard to HBCUs, let me just say how proud I am of the White House and our Administrator for doing the work with HBCUs. I serve also on the subcommittee that funds our HBCUs. Cedric mentioned all of the increases in funding for our accounts. I’m also on the labor, health and human services subcommittee, and education. And I just want to give a shoutout to all of those from California, because you know California is the state which sends the largest number of HBCU students. Thank God for HBCUs because in California, long history of being hostile, quite frankly, to black students because of certain policies in the state of California. So I want to honor our HBCUs and just say thank you for our Administrator for making sure that HBCUs are in the mix at every level at USAID.
My grandfather, let me also just mention my grandad, he was born in 1875 in Galveston, Texas. He attended Huston-Tillotson College and graduated from an HBCU. My mother, and my aunts, and my nieces attended Prairie View Southern University and of course Tillotson. HBCUs run in my blood even though I unfortunately was not able to attend one. But the educational experience that you’re gaining at HBCUs are the unbelievable academic experiences that you need to be able to get out here in the world now and to help with our foreign policy and our development assistance. I sent my children, when I worked for Ron, to then the Soviet Union to summer camp, to France, to Switzerland, to Cuba. I sent them all over the world like Ambassador Young talked about to get those experiences when they were 11, 12, 13, 14 years old. Now, I’m so proud of them because they understand the world in which they live in the context of their work that they’re doing here in the United States.
My grandson is at Howard University and I’m so proud of Jonah and so HBCUs need to be more integrated into USAID. And Administrator Power is doing that. We have passed so many funding initiatives, such as the President's PEPFAR, our global AIDS initiatives, global health initiatives. And I’m the first chair of the subcommittee, black chair, that looks at all of these with a laser lens. And I learned that very little money, very few resources go into our HBCUs for programs that address our brothers and sisters throughout the world, including in Africa and the Caribbean. So thank you Administrator Power, for making sure that our HBCUs, we’re going to see some parity in funding to HBCUs through the resources that we actually appropriated. It’s way long overdue. So we have a lot of repairing the damage and catching up in many respects. So the students, all of you, are going to help us make America what it should be.
Finally I’ll just say, in terms of Ralph Bunche, please read that book that Ambassador Young mentioned to you. Please read about Dr. Dorothy Height, the head of National Council of Negro Women, who actually set up programs in Africa to make sure that we connected on the development assistance agenda for Africa and for women and for the empowerment of women in Africa. Please read about Dr. King, there’s an essay that he wrote, or that was written by Henry Richardson, it was entitled, “Dr. Martin Luther King as an International Human Rights Activist.” Please read about Malcom X, and how he took the plight of African Americans to the United States within the context of human rights. I also serve as the Democratic Representative from the House of Representatives to the United Nations. And so you all have, you young people have a tremendous opportunity now to break into the world.
Again, as I said, the stars are aligned. I am just ashamed of what the State Department and USAID has done in the past, because they have excluded people of color, they have excluded African Americans. Administrator Power mentioned my business. I had a business for eleven years. One of the agencies I really wanted to do business with, and I had four hundred employees, was USAID. Not one time did they even give me the time of day. And that was because I was Black and because I was a woman.
And so hopefully what we’re doing today and under Administrator Power’s leadership and the President’s leadership, with Cedric Richmond, and all of those who are fighting now on your behalf, you won’t have to go through what I went through and what so many others have gone through.
We have now the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks, who’s an African American; that’s the authorizing committee. I chair the appropriations committee, we work hand in hand. You have Bennie Thompson, African American, chair of homeland security. And so I just want you to know, once again, as I start out, the stars are aligned. And young people, please, please, please, take advantage of what is being offered to you because you’re going to be the ones who are going to help change the world through your careers in development and helping with our diplomatic initiatives, and in terms of just helping to change the world because you understand how important it is to think globally and act locally.
Thank you again very much, really look forward to the questions and appreciate so many of you being on this call.
MS. BROWN: Wow. So let me just tell you, for all you attendees, if you aren’t fired up after hearing Representative Lee then you’re dead. Because I literally had almost a tear to my eye come up when I first heard her speak about how she went abroad and recognized who she was within the global community. We spend so much time being marginalized within the United States, but to go abroad and to realize that you are part of a global majority, that is an empowering experience and I thank you for bringing that to our attention and sharing that with us Representative Lee.
I also want to highlight for those, just in case you missed it, for the second time, you had a global leader tell you that you don't have to take a course in anything international affairs related in order for you to get involved. So I highly encourage those of you that are attending or thinking about pursing opportunities at USAID that if you haven’t, don’t have a curriculum, or you’re not involved in an international relations major, no worries, there are still opportunities for you to get involved and there are still opportunities to get the global perspective without doing so in a classroom.
Third, she mentions several resources that you should turn to. She referenced the book by Ralph Bunche who I personally love. I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority incorporated so I am partial to Dorothy Height who was national president of our organization for ten years. A book about Dr. King, as well as a book on Malcom X. So hopefully we are capturing this information and will share this as resources for those of you who are attending after the conference.
So without further ado, it’s time for us to engage in some discussion right?
You know, as Representative Lee said, we are at an interesting time in our history, and all the forces and the powers that be have aligned in order for us to be in a space where advancing racial equity is at the center of the agenda, specifically in the realm of foreign assistance.
So, I'm going to kick off with this first question. And it's open to both of you. And, actually, I will turn first to Representative Lee. One of the key recruiting challenges that we have at USAID is generating interest in the communities that we seek to attract, right? The communities that we're seeking to attract by virtue of having a conference such as this. So, Representative Lee, knowing that you focused your career on connecting the fight for justice here at home with the fight for justice abroad, how do we get people in the Black community to care about foreign assistance, especially when they are dealing with daily infringement of their human rights virtually every time they walk out of the door? Or, you know, in this pandemic era, not even walking out the door, just signing online?
REPRESENTATIVE LEE: Sure. And that's a very good question because that is really key, given systemic racism and given all the barriers and all the struggles that we're engaged in here in America. But, I would suggest a couple of things. First of all, in our struggles here in the United States, look around the world and see where our allies are. And you'll see many of the issues we're dealing with here as relates to poverty, as relates to climate change, the disproportionate numbers of African-Americans living in communities that are impacted by pollution, with no clean water, clean air. Look at all the climate issues. Look at where the health care, the disparate impacts as it relates to COVID and the disparities in health care. When you look at what's happening here in the African-American community and you look at what's happening in the Caribbean, when you look at what's happening in Africa, it's no coincidence that these are countries where Black people are. And so as we struggle to address the issues here, we have to remember that our brothers and sisters around the world are dealing with many of the same issues. We have a lot to bring. We're from the wealthiest and the most powerful country in the world. We know how important it is to address racism at its systemic levels. We can bring a heck of a lot of insight and assistance and new ways of doing development and working in communities abroad if in fact we share our experiences here and what we're doing in America. But also, we can learn a heck of a lot from those countries which are dealing with the same issues here.
And I'm going to give you one example, in South Africa. I do a lot on HIV and AIDS. And this was in probably around 2004, after we passed the president's initiative to address HIV and AIDS, PEPFAR. I went to South Africa, and I looked at how the South Africans were so much further ahead in their public education around messages. They had billboards up that would show what HIV and AIDS would kind of look like. They had very clear messages about how to address HIV and AIDS and prevention. We just don't do that here in America. But, I learned a lot from the South Africans and how they really address HIV and AIDS. We taught a lot of our strategies, but we learned a heck of a lot from them. And so we have to be connected to the global community to create global solutions to all of our problems. And here you all at HBCUs are learning a heck of a lot. You're getting the best education possible. Can you imagine the work you can do to help in the villages on the continent of Africa or in the Caribbean in terms of your skill sets, in terms of what you're learning? But also through USAID and State Department, you can now have a career in doing that. And so, yes, we're here surviving, trying to fight to deal with the vestiges of slavery and the Middle Passage, which we're dealing with each and every day. But we also, I think, have an obligation to lift people up all around the world with the skills that we learn now and the education that we're getting at HBCUs. So it's really upon us to get out of our own space and understand that we have a lot to contribute while we're still struggling here at home for justice and for equity.
MS. BROWN: That's absolutely correct. And, you know, and I heard that message. It resonated from your earlier remarks when you talked about our responsibility as global citizens and for us to lift as we climb. So thank you for reinforcing that. So, Administrator Power, similar question. How do we get Black students to care about foreign assistance and get excited to work for an agency like USAID?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, let me say that when I don't have the privilege of serving in government, I'm a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Law School. And I teach classes on human rights, broadly speaking, and American foreign policy. And I think it's fair to say that over time, over the last couple decades, I've actually seen the number of African-American students in my courses drop. I hope that's not because of the way I teach or anything that I -- that I do. But I think it actually has a lot to do with the burning imperatives around them in their own societies.
And I'm very sympathetic to people who are at that crossroads. And they say to themselves, "Ah," as you said, Erin, you know, " if I can't leave the house without feeling vulnerable in my own society, don't I have a responsibility, don't I feel the need, you know, to show up right here?" And so the first thing I'd say is, I don't think it has to be either/or, particularly over the life of a career. I mean, as Congresswoman Lee said, you know, the skills that one develops here in doing racial justice work or human rights work or work to promote dignity and the welfare of one's neighbors, it's going to translate. So, you know, even if at this very moment, you're not going to come and sign up for and apply for a Payne Fellowship, as we hope you will do, or an internship, you know, just know that skills are skills. And technical skills, especially, can carry, can travel. So that's point one.
Point two, though, which cuts in the other direction, is, I wanted to share something personal, which is, you know, more of an analogy than directly on point here. But I went to Lakeside High School in Georgia. I'm an immigrant to this country from Ireland. I came when I was 9. But I ended up in Georgia. And while I was in university, I had one goal in life, and I wish it was to help my community. It was not. I wanted to be a sportscaster. That was my goal. I loved sports. I still love sports. And I wanted to be that play-by-play voice for the Atlanta Braves or the Pittsburgh Pirates. So that was just me and what I cared about at that time. And I had an internship at the CBS Sports affiliate in Atlanta and was taking notes on a Braves game to cut the highlights, the sports highlights, for the evening news. And on the CBS News feed next to me came footage from Tiananmen Square. Now, some of you are too young to remember what happened in Tiananmen Square, but in 1989, young people rose up to demand basic rights and basic dignity. But at the time that I was taking notes on this baseball game, that was around the moment that the Chinese government decided to crack down. And they sent the tanks into the square, and they mowed over these kids. And what I was seeing was the uncut footage from a CBS cameraperson on the square.
Why am I mentioning this? What does this have to do with the conversation we're having today? I felt connected to those people, sort of like Congresswoman Lee was saying, not because I look like them or I knew them. But just, I felt, they're just young people. They're my age. They don't have my privilege, right? They're not able to speak their minds or assemble or even pray freely. That's wrong. But, oh, no, I don't know anything about how to do anything to be useful. All I know about is sports, as it happened. So I didn't even know, again, about something worthy in my -- or justice-oriented in my own community. That wasn't my orientation.
So I went back to college, and I felt like this was a burning thing that was happening out there. And I didn't know what making a difference would mean, but it was the first time I thought I would like to try and make a difference in this world. And when I went back to college, I subscribed to the newspaper the New York Times. I had subscribed only to sports publications. And I subscribed to this thing called the New York Times. It was back when we read, everybody read the hard copy. And I would literally go through the news articles, and I would circle the names of leaders. I knew geography reasonably well because, if you're Irish, just in your DNA, you know someday you're going to have to leave because we've had so many calamities through the ages. So my geography was decent. But in terms of the basic facts of what was happening in other countries, I had no idea.
So I would circle. I would underline. I would close the paper. I'd kind of quiz myself. But it was -- my gaps were, like, off the charts. I mean, so I had that impulse to try to be of use, which is a first and necessary condition, but not at all a sufficient one. And then I had to -- it was the hardest thing in the world to be vulnerable and to just admit how little I knew. I knew nothing. And I was starting, like, completely from scratch. And so there is a vulnerability in making that leap. If you do decide, if you're moved by what Congresswoman Lee said or all the needs that are out there, it's hard to make that transition. And I just want to share my story because, once you can get past that vulnerability, you all are the most talented people in this country. You're fully capable of making the leap, but you do have to go through that kind of awkward, or may have to feel in your work out in the world that there's startup costs of learning. Or if you decide, like Congresswoman Lee or Ambassador Young, that you want to actually pivot and maybe take a course in things international while you're at your college or university, it can feel a little unsafe because the issues you may have grown up with are different. And I just want to say, sort of encourage you to just take on that feeling and get past it because you have so much to contribute.
And the last thing I'll say more quickly is, Congresswoman Lee gave you one version of the kind of COVID climate challenge. Which is, these are the problems, you know, Black communities are dealing with here. There's a disparate impact to every crisis that befalls this country, and it falls, the disproportionate burdens, fall squarely on people of color. That's just a fact. And the same is true, as she indicated, in many parts of the world for marginalized peoples or for whole regions of the world like sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. So that's one way to look at it. The flip side of that coin is that, if we are going to solve the problems that are hurting people in this country, and disproportionately hurting low-income communities and people of color, like COVID, like climate. the way we solve it is also to bring the innovation and the ingenuity you have to those other countries, to countries that are big emitters of carbon, to get them to actually transition to clean energy, to countries that have, you know, very rudimentary health systems, and thus are not able to deal with this pandemic and are in no position to imagine dealing with the next pandemic, because we know we're going to have more of those because of climate change and because of the borderlessness of this world.
So the complement to what Congresswoman Lee said is not only about helping and providing assistance to those who are being harmed by these issues, but it's also to be part of solving problems that are hurting our communities abroad. Because our fates here at home are just so connected to those problems. And we won't solve those problems if the only people in the big government agencies or in the NGOs are people who look like me and who have backgrounds like mine. Like, we need the full range of backgrounds and the full range of thinking and creativity to bring to bear to solve the hardest problems of our time. And so convincing people of that may be challenging because there are so many burning issues. But I think as a way of framing what it is we're up to abroad is very important to put it in terms, because what we do internationally really affects the welfare of our communities here.
MS. BROWN: Absolutely. And that is just about that we are, you know, in thinking about how we have transitioned -- we are not isolated, right? This is not, you know, we are beyond, you know, isolationism, and we are truly a global community. And as global citizens, what are the opportunities that are available for students that are listening on this call in order to be active participants in improving the world at large? And I think that both you and Representative Lee have made excellent cases for that. And I know that I'm getting the signal. I'm getting the bat signal, letting me know that we only have you for a limited amount of time. So I will need to close out here.
But I want to thank both you, Administrator Power, and you, Representative Lee, for inspiring. You inspired me, and so I would have to imagine that you inspired those that have had an opportunity to listen to your remarks and listen to the response, even to just that one question, as to why it is so very important to get engaged, to get involved, to see that you don't have to -- there is no perfect path to a career in international development or in foreign affairs writ large but that, as long as you are intentional, as long as you make a decision and then you are intentional about your efforts to expose yourself, be it through formal education or through, experiential learning, through going abroad, that you too can see -- can have a career in international development, especially given the range of careers that exist within this agency, whether it be engineers, lawyers, global health -- global health experts to controllers and contracting agreement officers. There is something for everyone in foreign affairs and that it is just about the mindset, the decision to care, and the willingness to get involved. So, I want to thank both of you for your time today. We know you are very busy women and you could be anywhere else, but you chose to be here with us this morning. So thank you so much.
MS. BROWN: Yes, please. Please, please.
REPRESENTATIVE LEE: I just have one more comment, because I really want to bring this home, real quick.
REPRESENTATIVE LEE: Before COVID, especially, I had the privilege to travel all over the world. On one of my last delegations to Africa, of course we met with our staff, our Peace Corps staff, USAID staff, I saw very few African-Americans on the continent of Africa in these positions, okay? In the last four or five years, and very few even in the past. But, secondly, I visited Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, and Moldova. Of course -- in Eastern Europe. I did not see any African-Americans serving in any capacity until I got to Moldova. The U.S. Ambassador to Moldova was an African-American man, spoke fluent Russian. And you do not know what that meant to the Moldovans and what it meant to this part of the world because we as African-Americans have issues right here. This country has issues around democracy, right? We go abroad promoting democracy in this part of the world. Much foreign policy, geopolitical issues as it relates to voting. Well, here we have a Black man in Moldova serving as our ambassador who could speak to the issues of why democracy is so important and why elections are so important. And coming from America and his experiences are certainly valuable in terms of just having a broader perspective on what his job is and what our job could be in parts of the world that are struggling through paths forward in terms of the participation of its citizens.
I just had to say that because I want to make sure you all know, it's all over the world where African-Americans need to be through our foreign assistance programs, helping with our development initiatives, and helping with our diplomatic initiatives. Because we are the ones who know what the issues are that keep minorities oppressed, that keep minorities disenfranchised, and that keep us from trying, to keep us from moving forward in this country. And there are many countries around the world who are in the same predicament as it relates to their minority communities. So I just had to share that. Hopefully, you'll feel like you can even go into Eastern Europe and Ukraine and other countries as one of our representatives and really be of service to our country and to the world.
MS. BROWN: Thank you, Representative Lee. That was a word, and for all of you listening, your perspective matters. And it is very important to the global discourse. So with that, I will go ahead and conclude this opening plenary session. And I will turn it over to Alexious Butler to continue on with the conference. Thank you.