Title: Chief of Staff
Department: Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction
Time with DHS: 6+ years
What led you to DHS?
The most direct reason that I left the Air Force was to work for a previous leader again. Years before, I worked for an Air Force Colonel who made my (and all those he led) career development one of his top priorities. He made sure that I had opportunities to stretch myself beyond what I may have initially thought I was capable of. Maybe more importantly, he provided opportunities for me to recover when I failed. Once you experience a leader like that in action, you will follow them anywhere. That is the leadership model I have committed myself to serving as the 'true north' on my compass.
How would your co-workers describe you?
You never truly know what others think of you. I would want my co-workers to see me as I see myself: jovial, hard-working, a critical thinker, and a renaissance man.
Where did you grow up, what was your family like, and how has that shaped you today?
I grew up in St. Louis, MO in a blended and supportive family. Both of my parents were educators, which made learning at all levels the soundtrack of my upbringing (and remains the tune I sing today). My parents ensured that my brother and I had a diverse set of experiences and opportunities, and were surrounded by many cultures and people.
Who have been your strongest influences in life?
My strongest influences have been my parents for different, but compounding reasons. My mother, although she was the first in her family to go to college, achieved a doctorate from Harvard, taught at Columbia University, served two Presidents, and led five of the biggest school districts in the United States. No one else in my life has so directly shown me how to overcome any obstacle in my way. My father truly shaped the way I see and approach the world. He taught me to think critically and to question all things, especially my own assumptions. My father instilled in me the notion that I could learn anything that I wanted to and that all I needed was myself to do it. Together my parents built into the fabric of my being that despite what others say, I, alone define who I am.
What are you most proud of accomplishing from either a personal or professional aspect?
I am proud of my entire journey. No mile tread was more important than any other. I am extremely grateful to have a network of family and friends that have supported my growth and development, planned or otherwise. There is no accomplishment or failure that I would do differently
What impact does race have on your life?
Race has had a profound impact on my life, but it has been almost purely an external factor. When responding to a journalist's question about whether he considered himself 'militant,' a 60's civil rights leader responded, “I consider myself Malcom." I firmly believe that this is how all people see themselves. I don't define myself by what I literally see in the mirror. We are forced, however, to respond and react to how others see us. Did Ruby Bridges tell the world what her race was or did the National Guard and the screaming mob tell her what they saw? Race is a social construct. It is not identified in one's DNA. I will challenge one to even define the term. I have not told the world what my race is. I have been told what my race is by every time that I was followed around in a store, described implicitly or explicitly as “you people", presumed (correctly) that I am athletic, or looked at incredulously because I am the one responding to the last name, Antognoli.
While most of my wife's family is inviting and loving, her father has never met our daughters, because his view of their (and my) “race" carries more weight to him than my wife's and their actual genetic link. My wife and our children are wonderful and accomplished people in their own right. Why must they (or anyone) be forced to suffer the consequences of someone's (incorrect) perspective. I genuinely understand that this experience is not limited to people of color, but is felt by all those who are told by the world that they too are defined by similar socially constructed categories.
What significance does Black History Month hold for you? Why is this celebration of history necessary?
It is important to recognize accomplishments of people of color (and all people), not because the “race" of the achiever is the important factor. The accomplishments are what are truly in the spotlight. Because an artificial categorization of the achiever was significant to society, many of these accomplishments have largely been dismissed or are not widely known to the degree they should be. We are doing ourselves a disservice by not recognizing the accomplishments of all human beings. To give a tangible example, I would like to draw attention to the data visualization work that W.E.B. Du Bois was performing before the turn of the 20th Century. I am dreaming of the day when we no longer have to put special focus on achievements and accomplishments that were overlooked simply because of the race, gender, religion, orientation, or other artificially categorizing features of the achiever.
As we celebrate Black History Month in February, what do you want your DHS colleagues to know?
I've already alluded to this, but we all must recognize that members of underrepresented groups and communities are every bit as capable and accomplished as those that are more widely lauded. Realizing and tapping into accomplishments and achievements from all, truly advances the human race.