Blog post by Charles Clark, Jr., Director, Office of Human Capital Strategy and Diversity
My name is Charles and I am a first-generation professional from Detroit, Michigan. I am the oldest of three boys raised by a single mother who never made more than $6/hr her entire life. I am a product of a mother with a strong work ethic, dedication, determination, and love, but also a beneficiary of numerous government programs for the poor: free school lunches, food stamps, government cheese, and housing programs, etc.
At 17 years old, I left home to join the Air Force and find a better way of life. Over a 24-year military career, I had leaders, supervisors, and mentors who encouraged and guided me through professional and “polish” development which afforded me opportunities I would have never otherwise experienced. They encouraged me to go to school at night to earn my undergraduate and graduate degrees, join professional associations to enhance my skills and knowledge of my profession, and to volunteer for the tough assignments to develop my own tools for future success.
Over the years, I followed their guidance and it led to a long and distinguished career. I was requested to serve on the Secretary of Defense’s immediate staff at the Pentagon following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. I also served as the Department of Defense Presidential Support Program Manager, making final suitability determinations of personnel requiring access to the President, Vice President, and other senior government officials. At first, I felt I was beyond my abilities, but I had to learn to operate in this high-powered circle. It still blows my mind to this day that a poor kid from Detroit was now in meeting rooms with the President of the United States, shooting the breeze with the Federal Reserve Chairman or at a holiday party with the Secretary of State.
I believe the grit of my mother was ingrained in me and although I grew up navigating through very tough, and sometimes embarrassing times, I was always determined to figure out a way to succeed.
Ed. note: This post is part of the very first Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of the Department of Commerce employees who are First Generation Professionals. First Generation Professionals are one of the first in their immediate families to enter the professional work environment. They are professionals with varying socio-economic backgrounds, life experiences, skills and talents that diversify our workforce.