Black Caucus Draws Diverse Staffers to the Hill

Posted March 25, 2009 at 3:07pm

Camille Sealy had just started her dream job working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Philadelphia when she got a call from Washington, D.C. The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation had made an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Each year, the CBCF places a new group of six to nine fellows in the offices of Congressional Black Caucus members in the hope of cultivating a generation of African-American senior staffers. Sealy, 26, was chosen as a Louis Stokes fellow, focusing specifically on health care.

“It was such an amazing opportunity. I talked to my boss, and she completely understood,— Sealy said. “I feel like this is exactly where I need to be right now.—

The New Yorker began her fellowship seven months ago in the office of Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), covering issues such as obesity, school-based health and nurse midwifery. Though most fellows spend their entire fellowship in a Member’s office, Stokes fellows spend half of their fellowships on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, where Sealy is now working.

Sealy is one of six fellows the CBCF placed in Hill offices this year, according to Dr. Lynn Jennings, a former English professor who has run the program for almost three years. Those chosen for the program must have demonstrated interest in a policy area, must have completed a graduate degree and must submit three letters of recommendation and three essays.

Sealy was uniquely qualified to be a fellow. She has two master’s degrees, one in education from St. Joseph’s University while she was a member of Teach for America and a second in public health from Emory University. She is especially passionate about issues that affect both education and health.

Sealy said her experiences working at inner-city schools and a hospital in Atlanta convinced her that not all problems could be solved on the ground.

“There were so many problems and factors I felt like could not be solved on a personal level. I felt like there really needed to be a policy solution,— she said.

Sealy said she hopes to find a job on Capitol Hill when the fellowship ends in August.

She would follow in the footsteps of David Johns, a fellow from 2006 to 2007. Johns, 27, now serves as senior education adviser to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Before coming to D.C., Johns worked as a kindergarten and third-grade teacher in Harlem while he finished his graduate degree at Columbia University. He served as a fellow under Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), working not only on education but also on civil rights and international relations.

During his fellowship, Johns researched and organized an event focusing on the relationship of underachievement of male African-American high school students to the No Child Left Behind Act. He said that research was helpful to him in working on legislation in the Senate.

“There’s so much happening and it’s a great time to be in D.C., especially for somebody who’s committed to education,— he said.

The deadline to be a fellow starting this August is April 16, and the number of fellows chosen depends on funding, according to Jennings. Funding for the CBCF’s educational programs comes from corporate sponsors including AT&T Inc., PepsiCo Inc., the Service Employees International Union, Toyota Motor Corp., the National Association of Realtors and Sodexo, in addition to an annual conference that highlights CBCF fellows’ and interns’ achievements.

Jennings said she received close to 100 applications for the six spots in the current class.

“We expect an increase this year, perhaps [because of] the Obama effect,— she said.