Celebrating African American Women Leaders
The Women in Public Service Project celebrates the US women leaders who are a part of Black History Month. Here are eleven women leading their communities, empowering African American women, and promoting women's rights globally. We are proud to have strong role models encouraging girls and women to be leaders at the local, national, and international levels.
Jendayi Frazer | Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
Ambassador Jendayi Frazer is the first female U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. While Ambassador to South Africa, Frazer oversaw rapid expansion of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. She also spearheaded peacekeeping and corporation efforts in the region with the Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA) program. After serving as Ambassador to South Africa, Frazer later became Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs on the National Security Council during the George W. Bush presidency.
Kamala Harris | U.S. Senator from California
Senator Kamala Harris is the first black woman in the Senate Judiciary Committee, alongside Senator Cory Booker. During her time as a District Attorney for San Francisco County, Harris created a special Hate Crimes Unit, especially as they related to the LGBT community. Harris played a fundamental role in lowering recidivism rates in San Francisco. Senator Kamala Harris served as the Attorney General of California from 2010 until 2016, during this time she was the first African American and Indian American to hold the position.
Stayce D. Harris | Lieutenant General for the U.S. Air Force
General Stayce D. Harris is the first black woman to become an Air Force lieutenant general. She is also the first black woman to hold a three-star rank in the Air Force. General Harris transferred to the Air Force Reserve in 1991. Before becoming Lieutenant General, Harris was a Commander for the Twenty-Second Air Force. Harris has logged more than 2,500 hours in military aircraft. Before holding this position, General Harris served as the Assistant Vice Chief of Staff and Director for the Air Staff in Washington D.C. In her current position, she oversees criminal investigations, oversees investigations on the effectiveness and efficiency of the Air Force and evaluates all Air Force nuclear and conventional forces.
Robin Kelly | Congresswoman Representing the 2nd District of Illinois
As former Chief of Staff to Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Robin Kelly was the first African American woman to serve as Chief of Staff to an elected constitutional statewide officeholder. In 2002 was elected to the U.S. Congress after running against a ten-year incumbent. Kelly was reelected in 2004 and 2006, running unopposed the second time. While in office she has focused on generating jobs for her constituents, reducing health disparities and ending gun violence. She is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. She is an outspoken defender of international human rights. Kelly Co-Chairs the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls.
Keisha Lance Bottoms | Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is the first native-born Atlanta resident to hold the position of mayor since the 1970s. She is the second woman to be mayor of Atlanta in its history. Bottoms was a member of the Atlanta City Council. Representing Southwest Atlanta. In 2017 she won the election for mayor of Atlanta against independent Mary Norwood by 759 votes.
Denise L. Nappier | Connecticut State Treasurer
Denise L. Nappier is the first African American woman in Connecticut to be elected to statewide office. She is also the first African American woman to serve as a state treasurer in the U.S. Nappier acted as Hartford City Treasurer from 1989-1998. In 1997 ran for State Treasurer of Connecticut, and was reelected in 2002, 2006 and 2010. After 20 years in public service, she has decided not to run for re-election.
Ayanna Pressley | Boston City Councilor
Ayanna Pressley was the first African American to be elected to the Boston City Council. Pressley worked as a Senior Aide and Political Director to Senator John Kerry, and in 2009 was elected to the Boston City Council, and won the election over 15 other candidates—none of whom were women. She then won two more elections. Pressley is also a winner of the Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award.
Condoleezza Rice | Former Secretary of State
Condoleeza Rice made history as the first female African American Secretary of State, appointed during President George W. Bush’s administration and, previously serving as the first African American woman to serve as the United States’ National Security Advisor. Rice began her political career with the Joint Chiefs of Staff as an international affairs fellow. She was the director of Soviet and Eastern European affairs in the National Security Council. Rice worked with President H.W. Bush during the collapse of the Soviet Union and throughout the German reunification process. Rice became the Secretary of State in 2004, and focused on “transformational diplomacy” in an effort to spread democracy across the Middle East.
Susan Rice | Former National Security Advisor and United Nations Ambassador
Ambassador Susan Rice was the first African American woman to become a United States Ambassador for the United Nations. Rice started her political career taking on multiple roles during the Clinton Administration including National Security Advisor, Director for International Organizations and Peacekeeping for the National Security Council, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Rice took a break from the political sphere and worked at the Brookings Institute researching U.S. foreign policy, the consequences of global poverty, and transnational threats to security. She eventually returned to the political world as a senior advisor to John Kerry during his run for presidency in 2004. In 2009 she joined President Obama’s Cabinet as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. During President Obama’s second term, she served as the National Security Advisor for the second time.
Terri Sewell | Congresswoman Representing the 7th District of Alabama
Congresswoman Terri Sewell is the first black woman to be elected to the United States Congress from Alabama. Prior to this appointment, Sewell was the first black female partner at her lawfirm in Birmingham, Alabama. Sewell is a public finance attorney with degrees from Princeton University, Harvard Law School and Oxford University. Her senior thesis, Black Women in Politics: Our Time Has Come, featured a personal interview with Shirley Chisholm. When working as a lawyer at Maynard, Cooper, &Gale, P.C. Sewell was one of few black public finance lawyers in the State. Sewell ran for Congress for the first time in 2010 and won the following three elections.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield | Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
While working as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield focused on peace and security, democracy and governance, foreign investment and economic empowerment. She previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Liberia. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is now a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and a Senior Counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group.
Courtney Indart contributed to this article.