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Thriving as a Black Leader in Development, Diplomacy, and Defense

September 9, 2020


Gina Kay Abercrombie-Winstanley, former US Ambassador to Malta and Johns Hopkins SAIS Alumna

Alexious Butler, Development Diplomat in Residence and Foreign Service Officer at USAID

Nia Hope Bess, Vice President of Global Public Policy at JPMorgan Chase, former Deputy Director, Office of Economic Adjustment at Department of Defense, and Johns Hopkins SAIS Alumna

The event was organized and moderated by Theo Guidry, '21 and Bemnet Tesfaye '21, Co-leaders of the Black Student Union at Johns Hopkins SAIS

The school’s Black Students Union (BSU) hosted its inaugural event as part of its Black Leaders in Different Sectors series. The virtual discussion focused on the experiences of African-American leaders in public and foreign policy.

Recalling their backgrounds, Abercrombie-Winstanley opened the conversation by reflecting on her experience serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. Butler noted that she had always felt a calling to work abroad, which better suited her than a career in domestic politics. Bess further reiterated this sentiment noting how her interest in international development led her to the UK and then opened up a career for her in the US Department of Defense.

The conversation shifted to challenges experienced by the panelists in the work environment. Abercrombie-Winstanley noted the importance of being diplomatic, speaking up, and spreading awareness. Butler addressed the challenges she experienced working in a white-male dominated field, and advised the audience to not let anyone run you out of your job. Ness echoed these sentiments, noting that power is not a zero-sum game. She mentioned that sometimes people will try to put you into your perceived proper caste placement, therefore it is important to build the willpower to rise above the situations through goodwill, meditation, and trusted mentors and allies.

The panelists concluded by noting the importance of networking and building long-lasting connections.