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Black History Month: At EDA, Equity is Our Number One Investment Priority

By Angela Ewell-Madison, Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Economic Development Administration

As a Black American and a career employee at the Commerce Department’s U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), I believe that Black history is American history. I am proud to join generations of Black public servants in my over 30 years of Federal service.

My Journey to Federal Service

I was born and raised in Louisiana. My parents were both educators and received advanced degrees during their careers. My grandfather was also a college graduate and professor at Tuskegee Institute. That puts me in a unique category in that not many in my generation can attest to have had grandparents receiving a formal education. My family has always instilled in me the importance of education and the unlimited possibilities it can unlock. Those principles have guided me throughout my life and career. I believe my success in public service is in large part due to my belief that if I work hard and prepare myself, there is no limit to what I can accomplish.

I received a dual masters – business administration and public administration – from Howard University, one of the oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s). During my matriculation, I was in the inaugural cohort of a Fellows program created by the head of the Department of Public Administration called the Public Service Internship Program. That fellowship opened the door to my career in public service and has led to an upward trajectory of opportunities and promotions. In every position, I made it a point to learn and grow in preparation for the next level of responsibility.  

I began my Federal career at the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in procurement and contract management. That position led to my being named the Center’s Labor Relations Officer, working directly with the union, coordinating meetings and deliberations, and assisting in the negotiations of the Collective Bargaining Agreements.  I also served as the Center’s Source Evaluation Board Coordinator, managing competitive procurements at $500M or above.

At a point in my career, I was looking for a new direction and attended a two-week course on the workings of Capitol Hill. I became enthralled with the legislative process and applied for the Brookings Institute Legis Fellowship. I was fortunate enough to be selected and worked on Capitol Hill for a year.  Upon my return to NASA, I transferred to the Legislative Affairs Department at NASA headquarters.  This experience prepared me for my first leadership role in the legislative affairs arena.

I was later hired as the Director of the Office of Congressional Affairs (OCA) at the Commerce Department’s Technology Administration. Eventually, I joined EDA on a detail assignment, but quickly became indoctrinated in the EDA way.  EDA’s mission aligns closely with my own personal values and beliefs, and when the opportunity was presented to remain on a permanent basis, it was a no-brainer. It has been and continues to be an honor to work for this wonderful agency.  EDA is small in comparison to other bureaus, but we are big in stature and our impact across the country is great. I call EDA the “biggest little agency” in the Department!

My work has led to several opportunities to present and expand on our mission and our programs and initiatives. I have been fortunate to be an invited speaker at several forums.  Being visible and sharing your experiences is the most effective tool to demonstrate the importance of diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace.  I have never felt at a disadvantage when applying for the positions that I have held. I recall one interviewer asking me directly if I was concerned that there would be those that would conclude that I was selected for the position solely because of my ethnicity.  Honestly, that never occurred to me because I have always been confident in my skills and abilities. I told him that I welcome the scrutiny because of the experience I bring to the table. I also believe it is important to serve as a positive role model. Today, I have the honor of serving as an official mentor to quite a few aspiring young professionals in public service and professional organizations. I now carry the torch forward by communicating my pride to those that follow behind me.

It is my hope that we get to a place where people have open minds and don’t make assumptions, and by sharing my experience, it will help others in their chosen paths.  

The Commerce Mission and Black History

At EDA, equity is our number one investment priority. EDA is committed to ensuring that the promise of American prosperity is equitably realized through its investments in projects and programs designed to generate new economic opportunities for the African American community.  We are doing our part by investing in HBCUs, providing access to opportunities through our Build Back Better regional challenge and our Good Jobs Challenge, encouraging a regional approach to economic development. We have also launched an equity investment impact program and a knowledge sharing initiative designed to develop and deliver training and toolkits on best practices in serving underrepresented communities and communities of color. 

Long before Blacks had full citizenship in America, we contributed to the well-being and prosperity of this country.  However, over the history of this great nation, the treatment of Black Americans and other minorities has not been consistent with the American ideals of justice and liberty for all.  To really appreciate the progress that this country has made in this great experiment of freedom and liberty, we need to understand and teach all our history; those things for which we’re proud and those areas where we have come up short in our pursuit of liberty and justice for all. 

Black history is so important, and we must continue to teach our young people about that history.  The lessons they can learn in an honest discourse on Black history can also teach us how we’ve evolved in positives ways, and how dealing with these issues brings us closer to our goal of becoming the America that was envisioned.

That is what Black History means to me as a Black American.

This blog post is part of a series showcasing the diverse African American leaders from across the U.S. Department of Commerce in honor of Black History Month.