On Tuesday, September 26, the Institute of Politics hosted a panel called “Diversity Beyond Harvard: Inclusion in the Political Arena.” Here were my biggest lessons from the conversation:
1. Be yourself and remember your values. In politics, you don’t become someone else, but only more of yourself.
2. In order to expect political change, you have to have diversity sitting at the table. Run for office; vote for your representatives; make politicians listen to you.
3. Take the hard assignments. Most people of color do not have many political connections and access to immediate promotions and opportunities, so work hard. Hard work always pays off.
The panel featured speakers Sean Conner, a public affairs manager at Uber, and Shaniqua McClendon, a second-year Harvard Kennedy School student and former Capitol Hill staffer and Legislative Director for Congresswoman Alma Adams. The duo provided insightful experiences and information about the road to working on Capitol Hill, how their experiences have shaped them as individuals, and how they use their skills to pursue their careers and education paths. They shared personal stories about their experiences and about how their values helped them make decisions that led them to where they are today. Their messages were motivating, funny, and inspiring. Both of them share a spirit of activism and a willingness to use their talents to help others.
McClendon spent her early years working as a White House intern during the passage of the Affordable Care Act and establishing caucuses for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). As a black woman, she fought stereotypes of being a person of color in DC on a daily basis.
Conner used politics to solidify who he is as a person: black, gay, and Republican. He conveyed messages of how important hard work was for him to prove his capabilities whether when working for John McCain’s presidential campaign against the black Democratic candidate who would make U.S. history, working for South Carolina Senator Tim Scott when the state was in a period of severe racial tensions, or working for Uber and helping with criminal justice reform through their hiring processes. Conner emphasized the unique strength behind always knowing who you are and what values you stand for. Conner and McClendon provided sincere insights on racial disparities that still exist on the political spectrum.
Conner left us with this major piece of advice:
By Mari Jones '21, Politics of Race and Ethnicity program