2011-2012 fellows, with John Podesta and Judge Richard Leon(White House Flickr stream)

In 1964 the White House Fellows program was created to offer exceptional young men and women a one-year placement in offices at the highest levels of the federal government — after which, this new generation of leaders were expected to return "to work as private citizens on their public agendas." This fall President Barack Obama congratulated the 15 members of the class of 2011-2012. Six of the cohort are African Americans, whom you will surely hear about in the future.

They join stellar company: U.S. Army officer Ron Lee (1965-1966), who was placed in the U.S. Postal Service, was the first black White House fellow. Oceanographer W. Antoinette Ford, placed as special assistant to the secretary of the treasury (1971-1972), was the first black female fellow.


Perhaps the most famous black WHF alumnus is former Secretary of State, and four-star general, Colin Powell, who was in the class of 1972-1973. Other prominent alumni include Iraq War veteran and Rhodes scholar (and 2010 The Root 100 honoree) Wes Moore, class of 2006-2007; social entrepreneur Cheryl Dorsey, class of 1997-1998; U.S. Air Force General Edward A. Rice Jr., class of 1990-1991; and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook, class of 1993-1994.

Among the Current Crop: Warriors, Healers and Innovators

The placement of Harlem resident Reggie Chambers in the White House National Economic Council, which advises the president on policy, seems like a no-brainer. He earned an A.B. from Duke University in political science, Spanish, and markets and management and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He then worked as a corporate lawyer, a banker on energy transactions and an executive at a $20 billion international investment firm. In an interview with Duke magazine, Chambers said that all citizens are obliged "to make certain our nation will be a better place for future generations."

Until recently, Kisha Davis practiced as a family physician — with an interest in HIV/AIDS, women's health and diabetes — at a health center in the Maryland community where she grew up. Davis earned an M.P.H. from Johns Hopkins University and an M.D. from the University of Connecticut. She has studied how Medicaid patients in Maryland are affected by health care costs and use. She has also traveled to New Orleans, Honduras and Zimbabwe on medical missions. Her WHF placement is with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Prior to his Department of Energy placement, Hampton University graduate Theodore Johnson, a U.S. Navy commander and information warfare officer, taught cyberspace and information operations at the U.S. Naval War College. The Raleigh, N.C., native's 13 years of service included time as an aide-de-camp to two directors of the National Security Agency. He is admired for his insight and command capabilities, and Johnson's research on theater security cooperation has been included in Navy publications. He has also received Defense Meritorious Service and Humanitarian Service medals. 


In Air Force Lt. Col. Rodney Lewis' previous role commanding the 4th Airlift Squadron, the C-17A pilot had responsibility for two key tasks. He ensured that tactically ready crews could air-drop combat troops and supplies globally at any time, and led the Defense Department's Prime Nuclear Airlift Force, which transports very sensitive material. Lewis earned a B.S. in human factors engineering from the Air Force Academy and an M.S. in systems management from the University of Southern California. His placement is in the Office of the First Lady.

Who knows what — or who — clinical psychologist Wizdom Powell will analyze during her year in the Department of Defense? Powell was an assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, researching the effect that neighborhood, health care and socioeconomic resources have on racial health disparities. In one report, America's Demographic and Cultural Transformation (pdf), Powell said that minority communities "want us to hear their voices, to include them as equal partners, and to do nothing about them without them.” She received an M.S. and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, as well as an M.P.H., from the University of Michigan.


Tony Woods serves others in a number of ways. After graduating from West Point with a B.S. in economics and American politics, he was deployed twice as a platoon leader in Iraq. His most recent tour, however, was as director of ServiceNation's "Service as a Strategy" initiative, where he managed a program to develop volunteer-driven solutions for U.S. cities. Before that, Woods, who also earned an M.P.P. from the Harvard Kennedy School, ran for Congress.

Are you interested in joining these illustrious achievers? Visit the White House Fellows YouTube Channel, Flickr stream, informational video and FAQ; then click here to apply.


Frank McCoy is a frequent contributor to The Root.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter