As I sat on the city bus headed to school, I knew I was in the “wrong” seat. There was no way a little black girl should be
taking up space in the front of one of Jacksonville, Fla.’s, most popular modes of transportation. But I didn’t care. I had
as much right to that seat as anyone. Unfortunately, not everyone saw it that way.
As we made our way past city blocks, we stopped, and a larger man boarded the bus and curtly told me to move. I didn’t
acknowledge the order, then he demanded again that I move. I looked at him, made brief eye contact, and then looked
away. Then, suddenly, he decided to sit down anyway, almost right on top of me. Unfortunately for him, he was
unaware that I had just sharpened four of my pencils for school that day. I angled them just perfectly and instead of
settling into his seat, he quickly jumped up, made a loud grunt, gave me a dirty look and then promptly found another
He was a bully, but I stood my ground, leveraged the use of those sharpened pencils and kept my seat. Not exactly the
southern hospitality you hear so much about, but certainly a prelude to many obstacles I would face as a minority
woman living in the big city.
After time in Jacksonville and Atlanta, I chose DC as my place to live, work and play. While I have not needed those
sharpened pencils since moving here, I have learned how to advocate for myself and my community, make a stand when
I believe in something, and persevere when challenges and obstacles are thrown my way. DC is certainly a powerful
place, and while the issues here seem magnified because of our status as the Nation’s Capital, it is also empowering to
be part of the vibe and commerce that take place here.
When I was president and CEO of the DC Chamber of Commerce, I used to joke that even a fender bender outside of our
K Street office would be national news. Obviously, that is not quite true, but the light does shine brighter and hotter in
the District. Our biggest industry is politics, but there is so much more going on here. We are a global city full of
innovators and difference makers, boasting one of the most highly-educated workforces in the country. We are diverse
in our thinking and our people and have built up what was once a sleepy federal government town into a bustling
metropolis with businesses of all sizes, a top-notch quality of life and eclectic neighborhoods offering entertainment,
recreation and culture.
I am honored to call Washington, DC home, and have been for many years. Not just to live but also to work, promote all
of its assets and even take the plunge here to start my own business. We have incredible energy here, and the political,
business and civic leaders collaborate to ensure success not only today but for generations. I do business in the District
because of the great minds that live and work here, and I have had the opportunity to meet thousands of these leaders
in the various positions I have served in during my time here. Each day brings something different and exciting, and the
people in DC are the reason.
That little girl from Jacksonville with the sharpened pencils has come a long way, and DC has toughened me, educated
me and humbled me many times. I take great pride in seeing the cranes of development tower over our city. They mean
business and development are taking place, which means we are attracting and retaining jobs and talent, along with
companies that want to call the District home. The future is bright in DC, and those who embrace its electricity, vibrance
and challenges will be better in the end both professionally and personally. I know I am. Let’s do business together.