With the 114th Congress already heading into its seventh week of action, the Congressional Black Caucus announced its new staff, filling out its four-person shop with three new hires and one holdover from the 113th.
Abdul Henderson will serve as the CBC’s new executive director, taking over for LaDavia Drane, who is now director of the Office of Federal and Regional Affairs in D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration. Henderson, 39, comes from the Department of Veterans Affairs, where he served as an adviser on global and intergovernmental relations. Henderson told CQ Roll Call in an interview last week that he was looking to expand the CBC’s outreach to audiences that haven’t traditionally heard its message — or even know what the CBC is.
“We’re looking to have a pretty aggressive agenda,” Henderson said, mentioning jobs, employment training, health care and a criminal justice overhaul as places of focus.
Henderson, who was also previously a chief of staff to former member Diane Watson, D-Calif., said the main thing he wants to change at the CBC is how it engages people.
“Where we can’t find legislative solutions, I think we’ll be looking at leveraging our partnerships that we have outside of the Capitol Hill area,” he said.
Joining Henderson as the CBC's new communications director is Candace Randle. The 36-year-old who says she feels more like an “accomplished” 26-year-old told CQ Roll Call she wants to put the CBC in places where people don’t expect to see its members.
Randle comes from RLJ Companies — an asset management firm started by BET founder Robert L. Johnson — and she said her role at the CBC would be similar to the one she played in the private sector. She wants to be a sort of traffic cop, working across the CBC offices to identify messaging opportunities for members.
Also among the new hires is Kendra Brown, who will serve as policy director.
Brown, 34, comes back to the Hill after a stint as the associate legislative counsel for Earthjustice. She previously served as a special assistant and counsel to Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and she looks to use that experience by working with members and their offices.
As far as a legislative agenda goes, Brown said the CBC has a number of issues they're looking to work on this Congress: a criminal justice overhaul, poverty, social safety net preservation, education — "and that will be absolutely vital, of course" — as well as an update of the Voting Rights Act.
The only holdover from the CBC staff in the 113th Congress will be Kwame Canty, who will once again serve as the director of external affairs. The 34-year-old Canty — “I’m in my prime; I’m still considered a savvy veteran” — said his job is to “essentially interface” with advocacy groups. He will continue to put together policy briefings for CBC members and work with outside groups to better the relationships the CBC maintains off Capitol Hill.
CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., told CQ Roll Call last week he was looking for the new staff to help him make the CBC more active.
“We have a traditional role and that is to be the conscience of the Congress,” Butterfield said. “We’ve been using ‘conscience of the Congress’ as our brand, if you will, since our founding. But we’ve got to do more than that because black America is in a state of emergency right now.”
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