(Photo: Courtesy of The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc.)
A. Shuanise Washington took the helm of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in March, succeeding president Elsie L. Scott, Ph.D., who stepped down last year. It is a daunting task, particularly at a time when many potential donors are tightening their belts. But with more than 20 years in the corporate world and 15-plus years as a member of the foundation's board of directors and Corporate Advisory Council under her own, Washington is excited.
Days before the foundation's first Annual Legislative Conference under her leadership, Washington shared with BET.com what she hopes to achieve in her first year as president/CEO.
BET.com: What are some of the things you'd like to achieve in your first year as president?
Washington: I'm excited about a new $5 million investment that we're making in African-American banking institutions. This is part of a broader effort to increase the availability of loans for businesses and individuals in the African-American community.
Minority banks play an important role in the economic empowerment of our communities. Hopefully our commitment will inspire others to invest in [those] institutions as well.
BET.com: Black unemployment has been a persistent problem. Do you think your banking initiative will help put a dent in that record high number?
Washington: We certainly hope so. This investment not only provides necessary liquidity in the African-American community. It also provides the opportunity for loans to be available to individuals and importantly small businesses. Frankly, access to a loan or obtaining a loan could be the difference between hiring an employee or not for a small business. It is our hope that putting money into these institutions will create the necessary capital and facilitation that needs to occur through the pipeline, that will ultimately end up in new jobs.
BET.com: What else is on your to-do list?
Washington: The foundation is primarily known for its commitment to young people, through our fellowships, scholarships and intern program. But we exist to eliminate disparities in the global Black community and education is hugely important and will always be a staple of our focus mission, but I'm looking to increase our efforts and work in the economic development and empowerment arena, as well as health care and the environment.
Because when you think about disparities, you've got to ensure you not only have a good education, but also access to a job and/or are creating jobs, understanding what your health care options are for you as an individual or a family and certainly be focused on the environment in which you and your family live.
BET.com: This week marks your first Annual Legislative Conference. Is there a special theme?
Washington: Our theme this year is "It Starts With You," and [it] is designed around empowering individuals with the information and knowledge to understand and appreciate that they can be the absolute change that they want to see in our communities.
BET.com: Will there be any new features?
Washington: We have one new activity this year that's a part of our exhibit hall, which is the Enterprise Pavilion. One of the staples has always been our job fair, it's been expanded and I renamed it the "Enterprise Pavilion" to create opportunities for small businesses to engage in discussions with different agencies, as well as private sector companies about the contracting process.
BET.com: What are some of the take-aways that you'd like people to leave the conference with?
Washington: Based on the variety of sessions and forums that we have, I'd like them to understand that creating and making a difference in their community is not only about what happens at the policy-making level, but it's about the things that they can be doing in their individual communities.
It gets to the heart of our theme, "It Starts With You." We want to provide the necessary information, tools, resources and input so that when they return to their own communities, they are empowered to then start making a difference at home.
BET.com: What other initiatives will you be promoting?
Our staple program has been our Leadership Institute for Public Service, which focuses on our fellows and interns. We will continue to be focused on that. One of the things I'd like to do within the next several years is to [not only increase] the number of people we can get into those programs, but also the richness of the opportunity beyond the program. I'd like to see us deepen and enrich the experience to include helping them facilitate potential job opportunities in the policy-making arena.
BET.com: Why is it important for more African-Americans to get involved in policy-making?
Washington: It's diversity in a word. The more diverse the voices are around the table, the deeper the richness of the outcome. At some point, I'd like the foundation to be in a position to cover every single public policy issue and expand our research capabilities such that when policies are being tabled, discussed and debated, that we're analyzing them, thinking about what the impact would be on the African-American community.
BET.com: What advice would you give to young African-Americans who have a desire to serve, but may not be able to participate in the CBCF's programs?
Washington: Volunteer. There are a number of ways young people can become involved and exposed to the public policy-making process and they can contact our office. We also have opportunities for young people to be involved and engaged in our different programs, activities and events that would be open to the public.
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