Orrin Luc posted an articleMirror the Face of Our Nation: Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International CareersThe program you may not know that inspired JFK. And how we change what America looks like abroad. see more
The past: The program you may not know about that inspired JFK. The future: How we change what America looks like abroad.
Photo: Rep. Karen Bass, who delivered welcoming remarks for the event, part of the Ronald H. Brown Series, on September 14, 2021.
On September 14, 2021, the Constituency for Africa hosted, and National Peace Corps Association sponsored, a series of conversations on “Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International Careers.” Part of the annual Ronald H. Brown Series, the event brought together leaders in government, policy, and education, as well as some key members of the Peace Corps community.
Constituency for Africa was founded and is led by Melvin Foote, who served as a Volunteer in Eritrea and Ethiopia 1973–76. In hosting the program, he noted how the Peace Corps has played an instrumental role in training members of the U.S. diplomatic community. “Unfortunately, the number of African Americans serving in the Peace Corps has always been extremely low,” he wrote. By organizing this forum, he noted that CFA is attempting to build a community of Black Americans “who served in the Peace Corps in order to have impact on U.S. policies in Africa, in the Caribbean, and elsewhere around the world, and to form a support base for African Americans who are serving, and to encourage other young people to consider going into the Peace Corps.”
Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, delivered opening remarks. “I have traveled all around Africa, as I know so many of you have,” she said. “And we would love to see the Peace Corps be far more diverse than it is now. Launching this effort now, diversity and inclusion has to be a priority for all of us, including us in Congress. And we have to continue to try and reflect all of society in every facet of our lives … I am working to pass legislation to diversify even further the State Department, and looking not just on an entry level, but on a mid-career level. This effort that you’re doing today is just another aspect of the same struggle. So let me thank you for the work that you’re doing. And of course, Mel Foote as a former Peace Corps alum, and I know his daughter is in the Peace Corps. You’re just continuing a legacy and ensuring the future that the Peace Corps looks like the United States.”
“You’re continuing a legacy and making sure that in the future the Peace Corps looks like the United States.”
— Karen Bass, Member, U.S. House of Representatives
Read and Explore
The 2021 Anniversary Edition of WorldView magazine includes some keynote remarks and discussions that were part of the event.
Reverend Dr. Jonathan Weaver | Pastor at Greater Mt. Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church; Founder and President, Pan African Collective
Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley | Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, U.S. Department of State
Aaron Williams | Peace Corps Director 2009–12
“First Comes Belonging”
Watch the Program
Remarks were also delivered by Melvin Foote, founder and CEO of Constituency for Africa; Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association; Dr. Darlene Grant, Senior Advisor to National Peace Corps Director; and Kimberly Bassett, Secretary of State for Washington, D.C., who welcomed participants on behalf of Mayor Muriel Bowser. Watch the entire event here.
The Constituency for Africa was founded in 1990 in Washington, D.C., when a group of concerned Africanists, interested citizens, and Africa-focused organizations developed a strategy to build organized support for Africa in the United States. CFA was charged with educating the U.S. public about Africa and U.S. policy on Africa; mobilizing an activist Constituency for Africa; and fostering cooperation among a broad-based coalition of American, African, and international organizations, as well as individuals committed to the progress and empowerment of Africa and African people.
CFA also founded and sponsors the annual Ronald H. Brown African Affairs Series, which is held in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Legislative Week each September. The series honors the late U.S. Commerce Secretary for his exemplary accomplishments in building strategic political, economic, and cultural linkages between the United States and Africa. More than 1,000 concerned individuals and organizational representatives attend each year, in order to gain valuable information and build strategic connections to tackle African and American challenges, issues, and concerns.
Orrin Luc posted an articleWe need a Peace Corps and a diplomatic corps that truly represents all of America. see more
Our public service institutions, whether it’s Peace Corps or the Department of State, must do better. And your work is how we change that.
Photo by Freddie Everett / State Department
By Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, U.S. Department of State
I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Oman nearly four decades ago, and Peace Corps is where I met my husband. Like many of you, Peace Corps changed the trajectory of my life. For me and many colleagues at the Department of State, Peace Corps also launched my career in diplomacy. When I joined the Peace Corps in Oman, I was the only African American in my cohort of about 15 people. Four decades later, I am still one of the only African American women at policymaking tables. I was one of a handful of African American women to rise to the level of ambassador in the Department of State.
My story is backed up by the data. These racial disparities are deep and go back decades. The Government Accountability Office released data that in 2002 the number of African American women in the foreign service was a shockingly low 2 percent. Almost 20 years later, that only went up to 3 percent. Our public service institutions, whether it’s Peace Corps or the Department of State, must do better. I am tired of being alone. And your work is how we change that.
The Peace Corps is a critical pipeline to the civil and foreign service. An African American colleague in my office said she had no idea that Peace Corps was for people who looked like her. She assumed it was a leisure activity for people who come from privilege. Another RPCV in my office, also a woman of color, said of the 50 members of her cohort in Jordan, fewer than 10 were people of color; almost all the other people of color left within a year. She and another PCV of color were the only two to stay the full two years. Another colleague who works at the U.S. mission in the United Nations said that her dream was to join the Peace Corps. But because she was in a wheelchair, she was denied entry. When the Peace Corps said no, she took the foreign service exam; she passed with flying colors, both the oral and written exams. Yet once again, she was barred from joining because of worldwide availability.
My road map for building a State Department that looks more like America is grounded in three core values: intentionality, transparency, and accountability. And past practice has shown any organization focused on these three will be able to make systemic change.
The real question we’re grappling with today is how do we both recruit and retain diverse cohorts, as well as make our respective institutions more equitable, inclusive, and accessible? When Secretary Blinken appointed me as chief diversity officer, he made clear that my mandate is to change the part of the State Department’s culture — the norms and behaviors and biases — that stifle diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). My road map for building a State Department that looks more like America is grounded in three core values: intentionality, transparency, and accountability. And past practice has shown any organization focused on these three will be able to make systemic change.
First, we need to be intentional. This means changing the culture of the State Department so that every single employee feels invested in advancing the DEIA work. Secretary Blinken has stated many times that an inclusive workforce is not just a “nice to have,” it is a national security imperative. This goes for Peace Corps exactly the same way as it does for the State Department. The United States is the most diverse and powerful nation in the world. Other countries are watching us, and when we fail to live up to our ideals, our adversaries are standing in wait to exploit our shortcomings. That is why it’s critical that we integrate the DEIA work as a lens not only to reform our institutions on the inside, but to guide how we conduct our foreign policy. Our team is also finalizing the department’s five-year diversity and inclusion strategic plan. My office will oversee the implementation of it. We have had countless listening sessions over the last few years; some who have worked on it would say endless listening sessions. But we need concrete action. And we need to accelerate movement on issues that have been ignored for far too long.
Secondly, we need to be transparent. If we are serious about addressing systemic inequities, then we need to be transparent about what we are dismantling. This means collecting disaggregated demographic data on hiring, assignments, promotions, attrition, and other key milestones in one’s professional career. This will help us better understand who is at the table and why we see fewer underrepresented groups rising through the ranks. When we have access to analyze disaggregated diversity data, we are better equipped to make the case for resources and policies we need to make our institutions more equitable, inclusive, and accessible for all.
Lastly — and perhaps most importantly, from my view — we need to be accountable. While the State Department and many institutions have excellent accountability policies on paper, there is sometimes an informal culture that hardwires many of us — including from underrepresented groups — to keep our heads down, to not rock the boat. I’m intent on changing this dynamic by strengthening accountability mechanisms that we have in place and activating the courage that is inside of all of us. We all need to do our part. Speak up, even when it’s uncomfortable. This is how we will retain and increase the presence and promotion of underrepresented groups.
To address the challenges of the 21st century, we need a Peace Corps and a diplomatic corps that truly represents all of America.
The fact that we’re talking about diversity isn’t new. There have been, for many decades, many efforts to diversify the Department of State. What is new is that we are now taking action, speaking forthrightly and honestly about where we have failed and where we need to go. We are in a moment of historic alignment. It’s not just the State Department or Peace Corps that is committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. It is at all levels of government, including the White House and our partners on Capitol Hill. We are living in extraordinarily complex times: a once-in-a-generation pandemic to a reckoning on race and daily threats to democracy at home and abroad. To address the challenges of the 21st century, we need a Peace Corps and a diplomatic corps that truly represents all of America. And if we’re going to succeed in doing this, it is going to take all of us. And we can do this. We can get it done.
These remarks were delivered on September 14, 2021, as part of “Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International Careers,” a series of conversations hosted by the Constituency for Africa and sponsored by National Peace Corps Association. They appear in the 2021 Anniversary Edition of WorldView magazine.
Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley is the first person to serve as chief diversity and inclusion officer in the history of the U.S. State Department. She was the first woman to lead a diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia, advised U.S. Cyber Forces on diplomatic priorities, and served as U.S. ambassador to Malta.
Steven Saum posted an articleWe need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine the agency see more
With our allies in Congress, we’re working to ensure that the administration understands this is no time to return to the status quo. We need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine, reshape, and retool for a changed world.
By Glenn Blumhorst
Many of us in the Peace Corps community took note of the pledge in President Biden’s inaugural address to “engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And, we’ll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”
Those words resonate with the Peace Corps mission, not with a sense of “be like us!” but with a sense of solidarity and commitment to working and learning alongside one another, wherever we serve. One of the messages we’re driving home to members of Congress and the Executive Branch: If we’re reengaging with the world, let’s do it with ideals that are supposed to represent what’s best about this country — even as we work in our communities and at the national level to build a more perfect union.
That said, if we value the role of the Peace Corps, we have to be serious about reimagining, retooling, and reshaping the agency for a changed world. As the administration appoints new leadership for the agency, it is critical that it brings on board not only a director but top staff who reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice, and that these leaders come equipped with global experience and a deep understanding of — and commitment to — the Peace Corps community.
Equity, experience, and community
At the Peace Corps agency, January 20 marked the departure of Director Jody Olsen, who led the agency during unprecedented times, including the global evacuation of Volunteers in spring 2020. Last fall she was optimistic about Volunteers returning to the field as early as January 2021. But by December it was clear that was no longer a possibility. Plans are now for Volunteers to return in the second half of 2021. The health and safety of communities and Volunteers is paramount.
Carol Spahn has been named Acting Director of the Peace Corps. The Biden Administration has also begun to announce new political appointments. We’re meeting with Spahn and the leadership team as it takes form to ensure that we keep moving forward with the big ideas the Peace Corps community has outlined to meet the needs of a world as it is, not as it was. For Peace Corps, as with so much in this country, now is not the time to return to the status quo. Now is the time for historic changes.
When many hundreds of members of the Peace Corps community came together in summer 2020 for a series of town hall meetings and a global ideas summit, it was with a sense of an agency, a nation, and a world facing multiple crises. From those meetings came “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” a community-driven report that brings together big ideas and targeted, actionable recommendations for the agency and the Executive Branch, Congress, and the wider Peace Corps community — particularly NPCA.
Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential.
Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential: that many of them address longstanding issues and sorely needed changes, but there never had been the opportunity to undertake them on a major scale. Now is that time.
Whom the Biden Administration appoints to top posts at the agency sends a powerful signal to the community. Will the leaders reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice — and a serious commitment to the quarter million strong Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community? Members of Congress who have been champions for Peace Corps funding are watching as well.
A roadmap for change
The report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” provides a roadmap for change. While the report is far-ranging in point-by-point recommendations that are grouped into eight separate chapters, here are three overriding themes that emerged. We’re working to ensure that the administration and new staff at the agency take these to heart:
1. The Peace Corps community must be a leader in addressing systemic racism.
The Peace Corps agency, like American society as a whole, is grappling with how to evolve so that its work fulfills the promise of our ideals. This means tackling agency hiring and recruitment, and greater support for Volunteers who are people of color, to ensure an equitable Peace Corps experience. It also means ensuring that perceptions of a “white savior complex” and neocolonialism are not reinforced. These are criticisms leveled at much work in international development, where not all actors are bound by the kinds of ideals that are meant to guide the Peace Corps. Conversely, many in the U.S. bristle when hearing these terms; but it’s important to both recognize the context and address them head-on to enable a more effective and welcome return for Volunteers.
2. The Peace Corps agency needs to stand by its community — and leverage it for impact.
The agency’s work is only as good as the contributions of the people who make it run. This does not mean only staff but includes, in particular, the broader community of Volunteers and returned Volunteers. In programs around the world, it absolutely includes the colleagues and communities that host Volunteers. NPCA has demonstrated that it is both possible and beneficial to become community-driven to promote the goals of the Peace Corps. Community-driven programming will keep the work both current and relevant to the world around us, ensuring that the agency succeeds in its mission in a changed world.
3. Now is the moment for the Peace Corps agency to make dramatic change.
The opportunity for a reimagined and re-booted Peace Corps now exists and it should be taken.
Who is there to lead the change matters. From the Peace Corps community, this message came through clearly: When it comes to the permanent director, they should be an individual of national stature, preferably a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, who is committed to transformational change at the agency. They must have the gravitas to advance the Peace Corps’ interests with both Congress and the White House while also making the case to the American people about the value of a renewed Peace Corps for the United States — and communities throughout the world.
In an unprecedented time, the Peace Corps community has come together with an unparalleled response. With the new administration, there are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with years of experience already taking on key roles in the U.S. Department of State, Department of Labor, and National Security Council. These appointments show a value placed on experience and racial equity — and a commitment to leading with the best. Let’s ensure that commitment carries over to Peace Corps as well.
Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleA Call for Proposals: Work with National Peace Corps Association on Training for Diversity, Equity, and InclusionAddressing systemic racism begins with us see more
Work with NPCA on this crucial issue — and have an impact on the wider Peace Corps community.
In our work to lead a vibrant Peace Corps community, National Peace Corps Association is looking for a partner with expertise in providing training on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our society needs to tackle systemic racism as it has shaped institutions and communities — including the Peace Corps community. And addressing systemic racism begins with us.
Here is a request for proposals to work with NPCA in this crucial area — and, through the work we do with the broader Peace Corps community, make a valuable contribution in this area more broadly.
Those specializing in building an anti-racism environment within member-based nonprofit organizations are particularly encouraged to submit proposals. For questions please contact NPCA by email.
Please review our Frequently Asked Questions regarding this request for proposals.
Submissions will be accepted through Friday, February 26, 2021 at 6 p.m. EST.
SPECIAL NOTE: Submission deadline has been extended to Friday, March 5, 2021 at 6 p.m. EST.