Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's goals for winning the future.
Black History Month has often times been an acknowledgement and quest to better understand the contributions of famous people from the past and the contributions of the lesser known or unknown people of the present. As the child of two lawyers and an interracial marriage, born only six years after the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia (1967), where the Supreme Court overturned a Virginia law making interracial marriage illegal, I was always reminded of just how close in historical purposes my generation was to those who, despite not having many rights, continued to sacrifice to ensure that subsequent generations had a better society in which to grow. Once I could appreciate the historical impact of the mid-to-late 1960s and the almost overnight impact on me and my generation, I wanted to learn more.
I started with my own family and found several interesting stories, including that my grandfather was smuggled from Alabama to the North as he was trying to start a union for steelworkers and had to avoid the Ku Klux Klan. I also learned that my father was the first college graduate in our family and went on to be an Assistant United States Attorney. To this end, and to celebrate Black History Month, I am often looking for ways to pass this on and now I can as I help teach my daughter about these topics.
An anomaly by most Washington, DC standards, I actually grew up in the Metropolitan DC area. Specifically, I grew up in Gaithersburg, MD and went to public school. After graduating high school in 1991, I left the area to attend Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. At Cornell, I was selected as a Cornell National Scholar, was on the Dean’s List, and earned a varsity letter playing football. After graduating from Cornell in 1995, I went to the George Washington University Law School to pursue my law degree.
After graduating from law school in 1998, I went to work for a Texas based law firm. I left the firm to litigate unfair trade cases at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Following my service at Commerce, I went to a national not-for-profit organization to provide legal advice to its national government relations office. In 2006, I joined the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security. After almost five years with the Committee, where I held various positions including eventually leaving as the Deputy Chief Counsel, I decided to accept the offer before me to join the Administration. In September 2010, I joined the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as the department’s first African-American Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs. In this capacity, I am responsible for representing DHS and Secretary Napolitano to Congress, primarily focusing on the House of Representatives. I also work with our Legislative Directors to address the specific subject matter requests of the more than 100 Committees and Subcommittees of the entire U.S. Congress that claim jurisdiction over DHS and its operations.
For young people interested in Homeland Security today, they should seek as much prudence and wisdom by means of knowledge as possible. As this is a relatively new area for most Americans, it is one that requires and demands learning as much as possible so that this information can be used to better protect and prepare America for any challenges that lie ahead. And, as a welcoming side-effect, with this increased knowledge will come opportunities for young people to help themselves, their families and their communities prepare for the challenges that face our country today and in the future.
Michael Stroud is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.