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Making Black History, Today

February 28, 2018

People and Culture

In honor of Black History Month, CIA.gov asked current African American officers of different ages and backgrounds, with varying years of service and a variety of positions, to discuss why they chose a career at CIA and the legacy they hope to leave behind. These officers’ Agency experiences span the spectrum from analyst to engineer to graphic artist to operations officer with careers running in length from three to 17 years. Their reflections are highlighted and paraphrased below. Some of the names have been changed to protect their identities.

On Joining CIA:

I never imagined myself at the Agency, but when the opportunity presented itself, it seemed like the perfect chance to become a part of something bigger than myself. The Agency has a global reach, and the thought of having a chance to contribute to that mission motivated me to join the CIA.

Kayla, Directorate of Analysis

After working in the private sector for several years, I was seeking a new and unique career challenge. Upon completing my Master’s degree, my engineering professor recommended I apply to the CIA. Although I never imagined the world’s most recognized spy Agency was interested in employing engineers, I heeded his advice and applied with no expectation of getting hired. That was one of the best decisions of my life because of the opportunities and experiences I have had. My family, who has traveled with me, and I have been a part of something nothing short of amazing.

Joshua, Directorate of Science & Technology

I always knew I wanted to do something that would make a difference and would touch as many people as possible. Even in college, I knew I didn’t want to graduate and go work for a company that, in my eyes, was only there to make a rich man richer. About three months before graduation, CIA held a recruitment session at my university. I almost didn’t show up, thinking that there’s no way the CIA would be legitimately doing open recruitment. I was curious, though, so I went to the event and talked to the recruiting officers. To my surprise, my background in journalism and writing was a good fit for the Agency. I’ve now been a publications officer at CIA for over three years.

Kevin, Directorate of Analysis

My goal has always been to contribute to a mission greater than myself. The Agency allows me to gain a perspective of how the world, its cultures, and other inhabitants thrive, and additionally share my experiences.

Tamarah, Directorate of Science & Technology

On Working at CIA:

There are a lot of smart people at the Agency and sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. You have to be confident in your abilities, but also humble enough to realize when someone is just better than you at a certain task. I was an historian in my previous career, a very singular position, but at CIA it’s all about the team and you have to realize how to apply your strengths and the strengths of others to get the job done. If you are not used to this, it can be challenging. It was for me. One way to overcome this challenge is to reach out to people you don’t know, understand their abilities, and be intellectually curious in your interaction with them. You will be amazed at who you meet — cartographers, linguists, computer engineers, rocket scientists. Build your network of these people and be valuable to them as well.

Kennedy, Directorate of Operations

Where there is a will, there is a WAY at CIA, like no other place I’ve ever worked. The huge number of corporate initiatives the Agency has is astounding. There is a group for everyone and everything, and if there isn’t yet, then there’s leadership in place to support it. I’ve been astounded to learn how much I can do — in addition to my day-to-day responsibilities — to make a difference in arenas of importance to me.

Chloe, Directorate of Analysis

Having a voice that is different from the majority is the best thing I can contribute to the Agency.

Kayla, Directorate of Analysis

The Agency works relentlessly to create policies and forums that elevate all of its officers’ voices; however, it is often challenging to maintain that collective. I think the key to an inclusive environment is allowing individuals to leverage their diversity for the mission. It’s up to each officer to create an environment that fosters collaboration and trust for people who have vastly different backgrounds, experiences, and disciplines, but are all joined together by the same mission: Protecting this great nation.

Aliyah, Directorate of Analysis

On Leaving a Legacy at CIA:

When I retire from the Agency, I want to leave a legacy of black excellence that reminds people that we are capable of doing phenomenal things for this Agency and for this country if given the opportunity. I want to inspire my managers and leaders to find more people who look and think like me because they feel it’s in their interests, not because they’re supporting a cause. I guess that’s the legacy in and of itself…a legacy of inspiring more minority recruits.

Chloe, Directorate of Analysis

I came to CIA to be a part of the nation’s first line of defense and to fight terrorism. I swore to defend this country from all enemies foreign and domestic. I want my legacy to be one that emphasizes my dedication to this mission and to my colleagues. I hope to continue to grow and thrive here thanks to the many sacrifices of the African American women who came before me at this agency, many of whom faced so much more than I will ever have to.

Kennedy, Directorate of Operations

Throughout my time in government, I have learned successes result from the ability to engage colleagues and devise creative solutions together. I would like my legacy to be that I was able to identify new cyber threats and actors in creative ways that delivered results. I believe that each CIA officer is critical to the success of our mission and each contribution is valued. I would like to be remembered as having embraced what my fellow colleagues bring to the table and that I helped mentor and develop them into confident officers.

Aliyah, Directorate of Analysis

When I retire from the Agency, I want to be known, remembered, and respected as an engineer that found synergies across directorates, found ways to optimize performance, and contributed to achievements that resulted in major operations against hard target countries. I want my legacy to be that I left behind a more agile and relevant CIA.

Tamarah, Directorate of Science and Technology

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