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  3. DHS Black History Month Spotlight on Karinda Washington

DHS Black History Month Spotlight on Karinda Washington

Release Date: February 15, 2022
DHS Black History Month Spotlight on Karinda Washington

Title: Executive Director, Social Impact & Campaigns
Department: Office of Partnership and Engagement
Time with DHS: 10.5 years 

What led you to DHS?

When I was in my last semester of graduate school, my advisor suggested that I work for the federal government. I didn't know where to look for a government job, so my advisor told me about USAJOBS. Once on the site, I saw an External Affairs Specialist position at the DHS HQ Private Sector Office. I read the job description and thought there's no way someone will pay me to do the duties I am willing to do for free. The position was a dream job. After much debate within, I applied the night the position was closing and was hired. 

How would your co-workers describe you? 

My co-workers would describe me as caring, entrepreneurial, a non-traditional innovator, and passionate about my work as a whole. Specifically, the work that I do with local communities. 

Where did you grow up, what was your family like, and how has that shaped you today?

I grew up in Detroit, Michigan with my mother, father, and older brother. Although my grandparents lived in other states, they were highly influential and always encouraged me to be the strongest woman I could be. My mother runs a non-profit organization in Detroit that has helped fuel my passion to support underserved and underrepresented communities. 

Who have been your strongest influences in life and how?

My parents and grandparents have always been my strongest influences. My mom's ability to be both an amazing mom and wife, while also balancing an executive role leading local communities, helped me see I could do it too. Her example has also helped me be a better supervisor, providing space for work-life harmony. I also marvel at community and private sector leaders who intentionally fund empowerment programs benefitting underserved and underrepresented communities through their foundations, corporate social responsibility/social impact mission areas, or as grant recipients. 

What are you most proud of accomplishing from either a personal or professional aspect?

On a professional note, I am most proud of all the public-private partnership programs I established. One of which, the DHS Loaned Executive Program, has been in existence for the last 10 years. I am also proud of the work I was able to accomplish through Operation Allies Welcome – Private Sector, connecting Afghans with employment opportunities and facilitating the donation of goods and services. Today, I am still establishing new program areas such as the Office of Social Impact, with Faith Initiatives and NGO engagement, which did not exist when I joined the Department nearly 11 years ago. 

On a personal note, I am most proud of my ability to open doors for people from all walks of life. Whether career opportunities, scholarships, or simply volunteering my time through mentorship, my heart smiles every time someone sends me an, “I got the job!" message. What a major blessing to be able to do some of this work in a Senior Executive Service position, which I rose to in only 10 years of serving in the federal government. I am cognizant that very few achieve the rank of SES and that even less are people of color. 

What impact does race have on your life?

I believe in the beauty and power of diversity. Diversity in race/ethnicities/cultures/gender, etc. leads to heterogeneous schools of thought. It's at that intersection where innovation and creativity thrive. 

What significance does Black History Month hold for you? Why is this celebration of history necessary?

Black History Month is an opportunity to pause and reflect. Currently, I can only trace my family history to the slave trade, which presents challenges when it comes to truly knowing the full scope of my ancestry. My paternal great grandparents were sharecroppers and I've benefited from their legacy through an heir property in rural Tennessee. 

I believe it is highly important and beneficial for Black and/or African Americans to pause, think and reflect on all of the sacrifices that Black individuals have faced throughout recent history and pre-slavery. There is a strong connection between African heritage and American heritage and we must amplify both—they also afford us an opportunity to champion our collective accomplishments and celebrate. 

As we celebrate Black History Month in February, what do you want your DHS colleagues to know?

Live your truth. Be authentic and unapologetic. It will come with sacrifice, but there is no better place than to rest in one's authentic self. 

Is there anything else that you'd like to share?

Thinking back 10 years ago, I almost self-selected myself out of my dream job. It wasn't because someone was doubting me, I was casting doubt and fear on myself. Don't self-select yourself out of the process. I had no clue that I would be sworn-in to the Senior Executive Service in 2021 when I applied to a DHS HQ position in 2010, but here I am. Fight for what you want, then allow the process to work in your favor.

Last Updated: 03/01/2022
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