The Power behind the Power

Kevin Chappell, Ebony, April 15, 2009

Individually, they hold some of the most powerful positions in Washington. But get the top African-Americans in President Barack Obama’s administration together, and the pretense and formality of their titles disappear.

No handshakes here. Only hugs and kisses, some good-natured ribbing and shared brother–and sister–hood.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice–perhaps the smallest person in the room—-greets Attorney General Eric Holder–the tallest person in the room–with a bear hug. Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett trade stories with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Melody Barnes, White House Domestic Policy Council director. And Rob Nabors, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, chats with Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and Mike Strautmanis, the chief of staff to the assistant to the president for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liaison. All the while, White House Social Secretary Desirée Rogers mingles with her colleagues.

Brought together by Ebony magazine on the White House grounds for the first time since Inauguration Day, they are part of a team put together by the president to carry forth his vision for the country. With one look at the historic collection of dynamic advisers–12, the most African-Americans ever in such high-powered positions within the White House–it is obvious that change has already come to the nation’s capital.

Holder wants to strengthen the country’s enforcement of civil rights laws. Jackson will tackle environmental justice problems that plague Black communities, while making sure that all Americans are included in the new “green” economy. Barnes wants domestic policy to always embrace urban America. If her previous State Department experience is any indication, Rice will bring the needs of Africa to the forefront of the world community.

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And in the first month, Social Secretary Rogers has brought Sweet Honey in the Rock, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Stevie Wonder to perform at the White House, while quietly working to bring green-friendly décor to the First Residence. Not to mention that Rogers, the Sister with the Harvard education, has managed to get grits put on the White House breakfast menu.

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