Guest blog post by Shayla E. Moon, Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Specialist, Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA)
Politics. Business. Education. Advocacy. These words best describe my duty as the Legislative & Intergovernmental Affairs Specialist for the Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). They are also a description of my personal family history and contributions to African American firsts and historical events in this country.
In 1890, my great-granduncle, Blanche Kelso Bruce, became the first African American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate and the first African American to preside over the Senate. Also, in 1890, my great-great-grandfather Green Irving Currin was elected as the first African American to serve in the Oklahoma Indian Territorial Legislature. He held a career as a police officer, federal marshal, Board Regents for the Colored Agricultural and Normal College (CANU) (now Langston University), and was a plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Guinn v. the United States that made the phrase "grandfather clause" infamous.
I was raised in Denver, Colorado by a village of shero and hero entrepreneurs, educators, and civic leaders who made it an early responsibility to advocate for those who needed it. For over 65 years, my family operated the oldest African American-owned small business in Colorado that provided funeral service needs to the community. Years before then, in 1904, my great-grandfather W.S. Currin and his brother H.I. Currin owned and operated Currin Brothers Candy Kitchen in Dover and Tulsa, Oklahoma. My great-grandfathers' store was in the Greenwood neighborhood, known to many as "Black Wall Street" in the early 20th century.
Following the legacy of activism and entrepreneurship, my siblings and I were encouraged to find career paths that would allow us to give voice to causes and individuals when they needed it most. Being a fifth generation HBCU graduate from institutions such as Atlanta University, Dillard University, Tuskegee University, Howard University, and Bennett College, it also was impressed upon us that our chosen profession would assist people of color.
Before beginning my federal civil service career, I served in the United States Air Force and as a government relations professional for various political campaigns, trade associations, and nonprofit organizations. My advocacy and public policy foundation began by working for civil rights organizations such as the National Urban League and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) under Dr. Dorothy I. Height's tutelage. Other efforts have included: K-12 education policy for City Year Inc., a member of the AmeriCorps national service network in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; issue advocacy work on behalf of non-governmental organizations (Citizens for Global Solutions) developing grassroot campaigns for ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as well as the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty); and intellectual property policy for the theft of digital content for the Motion Picture Association of America.
However, at MBDA, my role has provided the most reward and impact. MBDA is the only federal agency solely dedicated to the growth and global competitiveness of minority business enterprises (MBEs). It has been a full-circle experience of messaging to Members of Congress, governors, mayors, and other elected officials about the racial disparities in wealth, economic mobility, and the importance of business development representing the 9.2 million MBEs in the U.S. I find encouragement just as my ancestors did in addressing the issues of access to capital, advocating for increased diversity and inclusion of MBEs in underrepresented industry areas of innovation and future tech, and supporting agency-wide programming that serves enterprising women of color and formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs.
When on Capitol Hill, I sometimes pass by my uncle's portrait, Senator Bruce, and I am filled with purpose in my chosen career path in public service. Entrepreneurship, politics, education, and advocacy are the family business. During Black History Month, I am proud to have a role in contributing to such a powerful legacy.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce African Americans during Black History Month.