Black staffers in Washington, DC occupy an intrinsically unique role in our country’s governmental structure. They support the efforts of those in the Senate and House of Representatives and work diligently to represent the best interests of our country. Simultaneously, they have the distinctive purview of understanding the needs and concerns of a minority group due to a shared background.
As numerous political leaders continue to work toward the stripping of rights away from underrepresented groups—such as anti-LGBTQ+ and racially discriminatory legislation—America is reminded once more of the importance of having folks in power that reflect the true state of our country.
However, for over 45 years, a mighty organization has dedicated its time, resources, and endeavors to the uplifting of Black Senate staffers, namely the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus (SBLSC).
In May 1978—a year after its initial founding—the 29 staffers from SBLSC were featured in EBONY Magazine for a profile that labeled them the “Bright Young Bunch.” The piece illuminated the value that Black Senate staffers had while highlighting the exclusive space that they were able to engage as Black-identifying members of the Senate. At the time of its creation, Senator Ed Brooke from Massachusetts was the only Black senator on the Hill. The second Black senator elected, Carol Moseley Braun, would not appear until over 15 years later.
Founded in 1977, the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus became a respite for Black Senate staffers on Capitol Hill, who, at the time, made up less than 2% of staffers. Co-founded by Jackie Parker and Ralph Everett, the non-partisan staff organization came at a time when the tide was changing on the race relations front in America and Black folks were obtaining government roles at a crucial time. “We were few in regard to the number of African-Americans working on staff. So we decided that we need to have an informal group to get together and talk about our common experiences, exchange ideas, and discuss what our common goals were as both Republican and Democratic staffers–we did not discriminate,” shares Everett.
Everett went on to recall a time when members of the organization were unable to openly congregate out of fear of retribution or displeasure from their white counterparts. In response, Kameelah Pointer, a former member and president of SBLSC reflected on Everett's sentiments on the organization's values as a result of collective shared experiences. "An improvement from when Ralph came to the Hill, we now have three Black Senators in the Senate. Over 45 years later, there is still an uneven amount of senior-level Black Senate staffers that fulfill the requirements of truly being a proper representation of all the states and our community. Therefore, the organization's priorities of advocating for an increase in pay and senior staff positions for Senate staffers on Capitol Hill has always been a call that SBLSC has not only worked on but continues to maintain."
Moses Boyd, a former member of the organization during its earliest years, reflected on the position that Black Senate staffers had in solidifying a more diverse future for those looking to work on the hill in upcoming generations. "From an African-American perspective, we had the ability to use our presence in the Senate for internal purposes toward the promotion of hiring more African-Americans," Boyd explains. "Also, it was an additional connection for those in the community to the United States Senate."
There are a multitude of reasons why Black staffers choose to come to Capitol Hill. Whether aiming to start their careers immediately after law school or to pivot into a meaningful line of work, these staffers are ultimately aligned by the duty to make this country more equitable and just for all. Differing from other professional organizations of this magnitude, SBLSC fosters intergenerational connections that forge meaningful relationships. These bonds are formed not only to better the work that is being done but also to uplift and offer solace. This is exceedingly more poignant considering Black Senate staffers have overcome a mass exodus that came as a result of heightened insecure conditions that threatened their ability to exist and work comfortably during the COVID-19 pandemic and post the January 6th insurrection.
"The SBLSC experience allows all voices to participate, regardless of ideology, for a common cause of creating good policy to allow our communities to thrive. Being unified in the same outcome is what democracy in action is all about," says Jennifer DeCasper, former Chief of Staff to Republican Senator Tim Scott.
Outside of advocacy, SBLSC has consistently been about the actionable work needed to support words, whether it's through community organizing or sponsoring national conferences for Black organizations to meet. “As president of SBLSC, I’ll never forget the meetings I’d have with a close group of senior Black staff as we were pushing to increase staff diversity. We were tucked away in undisclosed locations on the Hill and spent hours discussing strategy and logistics. We pushed the envelope on what it meant to be staffers and advocates. Through times of crisis and prosperity, incremental progress, and transformative change, Black staffers on Capitol Hill have shaped American society. Black staffers today build upon the vibrant legacy of past policymakers and are at the forefront of advocacy. They are essential to our democracy,” says SBLSC alum Don Bell.
Today, SBLSC continues in the rich legacy of its founding, pushing the needle on the issues deeply integral to this country's framework. "This year, we will emphasize an inclusive engagement approach by welcoming congressional staffers interested in working in the Senate. SBLSC members will have access to robust professional development and social networking opportunities centered around bipartisan partnership as a means to strengthen our [the Black] community by promoting the retention of diverse, talented staffers who are ready to fight for all Americans," shares Yasmin Nelson, the organization's former president.
Immediate Past SBLSC President Taylor Ware also spoke to the deep effect that serving as president of SBLSC has had on her life and career while looking to the future. "Serving as president of the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus was a transformative experience. Having the opportunity over the last year to watch the growth of individual staffers, and the advancement of the Black Senate workforce as a whole has been an honor," expressed Ware. "As we look to the 118th Congress, we do so with the confidence that the newly elected executive board will proudly carry the mantle, and continue equipping staff with the tools they need to be successful."
As our country’s government changes and continues to be a battleground for causes that impact each of our livelihoods, there is great beauty in knowing that the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus has not only been able to withstand the test of time but thrive consistently in spite of it.