How to Get 'It' and Keep 'It' in DC

At the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual conference this week, young leaders look to gain influence.

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Benjamin will be at the conference for the fifth year in a row. His first priority: spreading the word about the work he's doing in his new job among the thousands of attendees the organization predicts. He's also a bit sentimental, hoping to reconnect with CBCF staff and relive the "family environment" that he says characterized his experience with the program. "They look out for their own. And then there's a sense of obligation to new classes who come in. If I hear somebody say, 'I'm a CBCF fellow or emerging leader,' I stop in my tracks, because I know what they're dealing with. I know what they're going through."

Not only does he remember that experience, but he says he's also still reaping its benefits.

"It helped me to begin to become fluent at an early age in terms of how to manage myself in the city -- how important relationship-building is, how important your reputation is."

Just one takeaway the now-D.C. insider will have on his mind as he navigates the policy forums and receptions this year: "When people hear your name, they attach it to something you're doing. Not 'Keith in the nice suit and bowtie,' but Keith who works on transportation and environment issues'," he says. "I'm very, very grateful for being able to learn that early on."

The CBCF Annual Legislative Conference kicks off Wednesday, Sept. 18, in Washington, D.C.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer and White House correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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