In 2018, Keenan Austin Reed was working as chief of staff to then-Virginia U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin. She was on her way to the capitol’s cafeteria to get lunch when she noticed Black women staffers whom she didn’t know. She wanted to change that, so she and some friends organized a “bring-your-own-wine” happy hour in a room on Capitol Hill for staffers. Five years later, that happy hour was the beginning of the Black Women’s Congressional Alliance.
BWCA is a network of more than 700 Black women who work in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Its mission is to place more African American females in top advisor positions.
Last Friday the group sponsored an event at Florida International University’s offices in Washington, D.C. that included a brief conversation with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre as well as presentations by women who have worked on the Hill, including FIU alumnae Charyln Stanberry and Karen Andre.
“I hear every day from someone that is a hiring manager on Capitol Hill or someone that’s hiring on a campaign, or people who are hiring in corporate America,” said Reed. “And they want to hire from the Black Women’s Congressional Alliance.”
The advice from Stanberry, Andre and Sesha Joi Moon, chief diversity officer at the U.S. House of Representatives, included how to handle salary negotiation and making meaningful professional connections.
Audience member Jannie Kamara is a staff assistant to Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D– Del.). She said she found the second panel memorable for the career advice the panelists offered.
“The thing that stuck out to me was when someone said, ‘Your network is your net worth,’” Kamara said. “And so really utilizing your network to help you progress to where you want to go, or really using that network to help reach back and bring people forward.”
One of the most popular topics of the night was the value of representation and building community.
Moon said our differences help us to relate to one another.
“You can probably sit me across from anybody, and I’m going to be able to connect with you because our differences are what make us the same,” she said, adding that it is crucially important for representative bodies to have multiple voices “that reflect the full fabric of this country because we are a beautiful mosaic.”
Jean-Pierre spoke about the importance of seeing others you relate to in positions you aspire to.
“It matters how young people see us and how they can dream through us,” she said during the panel presentation.