Finding the Voice of Women of Color
Black Women Diplomats Panel
Above: Retired Ambassadors Ruth A. Davis, left, and Aurelia Brazael, right.
By Jocelyn Jones
In an effort to encourage African-American women to consider a career in the Foreign Service, the Department of History and Government recently hosted a panel discussion featuring career black women diplomats.
The session, "Finder Her Voice: Women of Color at the State Department," was co-sponsored by the Women's Studies Program and Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society on March 25 in CLT 102.
For nearly two hours, the panelists discussed how doors previously closed to women are beginning to open, especially in light of the election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
There are various global issues young women can tackle at the U.S. Department of State such as advancing United States security, promoting America's economic well being, defending democracy and human rights and contributing to the eradication of terrorism, drug trafficking and environmental liquidation, among other issues.
The diplomats explained that by becoming a part of the Foreign Service, aspiring young women would have the opportunity for cultural immersion by living and working overseas and learning a second language.
The State Department is looking for students who are grounded in history and government, culture, economics, public administration and management. People who are knowledgeable about current affairs, public diplomacy, and communications are also sought out by the agency. Specialists in communication, technology, construction, engineering, medical doctors, health practitioners and security officers are highly prized.
Foreign Service officers do not need to know a country's day-to-day issues, but should possess a broad knowledge of the major issues both domestically and abroad. The panelists said that Bowie State University students are not competing against each other for these coveted positions, but against students worldwide. For internship information, students should visit careers.state.gov. Internships are 40 hours per week, 30 percent are unpaid and offered in the summer, spring, winter and fall.
The panelists included, Ambassador Aurelia Brazael, who retired as a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service in December 2008. Not only was she a member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service but she also served at Howard University as Distinguished Visiting Ambassador and as Diplomat-in-Residence. She has a done a lot of things and was U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia; Dean of the Senior Seminar; and the first Dean of the new Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute, 1999-2002.
Brazael also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific. She had policy responsibility for 22 countries, including Thailand, Burma, Laos, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and the 12 Pacific Island nations. She was the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, and the first U.S. Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia. Prior to that appointment she was Minister - Counselor for Economics at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan-the number three position in the Embassy. Brazael is the first African American woman career foreign service officer to be promoted into the Senior Foreign Service of the United States. In the course of her career, Brazael has received several honor and awards, including Superior Honor, Performance Pay and Presidential Performance. She is listed in Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World.
Ambassador Barbara Cummings earned a bachelor's degree in history from Brandeis University in 1978, and a J.D. degree from the George Washington University in 1981. During her undergraduate studies, she spent a semester abroad with Temple University in Rome and returned to the Temple Abroad program for a summer during her law studies. In 1982, she joined the Department of State as a Foreign Service officer and spent her first assignment in Athens, Greece as a vice-consul. Since Greece, Barbara Cummings has been assigned to Jamaica, the United Kingdom, Albania, Canada, Peru and Italy.
Recently retired Ambassador Ruth A. Davis is the first African-American woman ambassador. She said that minorities and women should be more involved in the process of Foreign Service. Foreign Service is a good choice because it offers a unique opportunity and represents this great country of ours. Diplomats serve the needs of other Americans overseas and there is a lot of traveling across the globe, she said.Davis served as Special Adviser and Chief of Staff in the Africa Bureau of the Department of State, after completing an assignment as Distinguished Advisor for International Affairs at Howard University. Previously, she served as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources.
Mrs. Shirley Lisenby has more than 38 years of experience in the federal government, which has encompassed strategic communication planning, administration of educational and cultural programs for Africa, and personnel management. She has served as Cultural Attaché at U.S. Embassies in Nigeria and South Africa. Her last diplomatic post overseas was at the U.S. Embassy in Benin where she served as Embassy Spokesperson and Public Affairs Officer. She is currently serving as County Public Affairs Desk Officer for West Africa in the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the Africa Bureau of the State Department.
Lisenby said she was extremely pleased about talking about women of color in the State Department because back in the day women did not have any rights and now that times have changed drastically "If your reach for the stars you get the sky, if you reach for the sky, you get the clouds, if you reach for the clouds you get the trees and if you only reach for the trees, you will fall flat on your face," Lisenby said.
Nicole Peacock said that she is not high up there, but she has been a civil servant for 21-years. Peacock described herself as an introvert, who has learned to be an extrovert. She said this because she believes that nothing was going to happen if she just sat there because you have to go out there and get it.
Whether she was an introvert or not she knows she has to do what she has to do. She is a Public Affairs Specialist/NGO and Outreach Coordinator (Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs) As a Civil Servant with 21 years of government experience, Peacock's most recent job is the public face of the Bureau of African Affairs in the U.S. Department of State. Her previous assignment was as a Regional Affairs Officer in the Office of Regional Security Affairs in the African Affairs Bureau. She was also a Public Affairs Specialist in the Bureau of Public Affairs, and a Humanitarian Assistance Officer in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs. She earned a master's International Relations with Special Reference to the Middle East, from the University of Exeter, Devon in the United Kingdom.