In honor of Black History Month this February, the Presidential Personnel Office is proud to highlight the stories of Black leaders across the Biden-Harris Administration. The following appointees, whose work serves the nation every day, share how their life and professional experiences inform their pursuit of public service. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

On February 2, 2022, Black staff from across the White House met with the Vice President in celebration of Black History Month. The Biden-Harris Administration is proud to recognize the Black staffers who lead on and help push our work forward so our nation can be equitable, just, and prosperous for all Americans.

U.S. Department of Commerce

Chakir’ Underdown, Deputy Director, Office of the Executive Secretariat

1. Can you tell us about the mission of your office?

The mission of the Executive Secretariat is to provide outstanding administrative support to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Commerce to ensure that the Department’s policy is clearly articulated to external audiences in a timely manner.

2. How does your personal background inform your public service today?

My background reminds me each day to be mindful of inclusion, intersectionality, and equity. I ask myself, “How can I open the door and keep the door open for those like me? Is that door accessible? How can my voice demand equitable change?” Those questions challenge my negative implicit biases, deter complacency, and dismantle imposter syndrome.

3. What advice would you give to the next generation of Black leaders hoping to enter public service?

You belong here, and you are not alone, though I know it can feel as such. You matter. Reject any narrative that seeks to say otherwise or to diminish your capacity for excellence.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Faith Rogers, Senior Advisor, Office of the Deputy Secretary

1. Can you tell us about the mission of your office?

I sit in the Office of the Deputy Secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The mission of our office is to ensure the successful execution of the Administration’s policy priorities and management agenda. The Office of the Deputy Secretary is also responsible for the effective management of the Department, and we must identify key organizational vulnerabilities, manage risks, and oversee support functions for the Department.

2. How does your personal background inform your public service today?

I do this work because I believe that it must be done, and I have a personal obligation and desire to do it. Growing up, I witnessed how a government that is meant to protect and provide for people can have a disparate impact on people of color.

My education at Howard taught me that I can create the change I want to see, in order to break cycles of poverty for historically marginalized people. It taught me to be a fighter for equity, to uplift the voices of those who are typically ignored, and to take advantage of every opportunity granted to me to advance marginalized people.

3. What advice would you give to the next generation of Black leaders hoping to enter public service?

Be ready. You must be ready to walk through the doors that open for you. No matter the role, remember these five principles: trust what brought you there, be a good human, find what energizes you, be consistent in your good work, and never lose sight of your why.

U.S. Department of Labor

Richard Cesar, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs

1. Can you tell us about the mission of your office?

The Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs serves to advance the Secretary’s mission to promote the Department of Labor to policymakers in Washington and throughout state, local, and tribal governments. Our office assists the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, agency heads, and departmental staff to develop effective programs and strategies to achieve the Department’s legislative goals and objectives. We also coordinate with departmental leadership to educate policymakers about the Department’s programs and federal labor issues.

2. How does your personal background inform your public service today?

As a first-generation Haitian American, I have always been in awe of how my parents, who immigrated to the United States from Haiti with very little, worked tirelessly to provide me with opportunities they did not have growing up. To whom much is given, much is expected, and I have always found purpose in using my skills to give back to others.

3. What advice would you give to the next generation of Black leaders hoping to enter public service?

Be confident in yourself and your opinion. Often in the world of public service – in areas such as politics, government, and education – you will encounter exceptional leaders, communicators, and dedicated public servants with years of experience. Putting forth your point of view can sometimes be daunting, especially in the face of skepticism and in settings where Black leaders have not always been historically represented. A career in public service will offer ample opportunities to present your unique perspective on a host of complex issues. The ability to be confident in your opinion will not only result in professional growth but, more importantly, will lead to positive outcomes in the lives of those you serve.

Alexandra Robinson, Deputy Speechwriter, Office of Public Affairs

1. Can you tell us about the mission of your office?

The Office of Public Affairs at the Department of Labor acts as the chief adviser on public affairs to the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, agency heads, and departmental staff in developing communication strategies and media relations goals. We draft speeches, provide digital media, and organize social media and web-based information and educational materials, in order to amplify the Secretary and departmental initiatives on behalf of the public, stakeholders, and the media.

2. How does your personal background inform your public service today?

I grew up seeing my mom and dad both participate in public service, and I was amazed by the impact they had. My dad has done multiple missions abroad during his time in active duty with the Army, and my mom is a public elementary school principal. Watching both of them serve their country and help the American people made me want to do the same.

3. What advice would you give to the next generation of Black leaders hoping to enter public service?

There is a place for you in every space, even if you must break through and create it. Before becoming Deputy Speechwriter for the Secretary of Labor and Head Speechwriter for the Deputy Secretary of Labor, I hadn’t met many speechwriters who looked like me – especially in politics – but I knew that I had a passion for writing and the speechwriting space was where I wanted to be. I fought extremely hard to create a space for myself in this field, and I continue to participate in programs that promote diversity, so future speechwriters of color will feel welcomed and accepted.

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