Angela Rye must juggle tasks daily, and juggle them well. A fixture on the Hill since 2006, Rye is wrapping up her second year as the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus—the group is sometimes called the “conscience of the Congress” because of its goal to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans—and she also leads a charge for IMPACT, a nonprofit she cofounded. The DC-based organization aims to increase knowledge of the political process, foster civic engagement, and enhance economic empowerment for young professionals of color.
An attorney who once served as a legal extern for Congresswoman Maxine Waters (“I admired her all my life”), Rye grew up in Seattle the child of a local civil-rights activist father and an educator mom. “What I did know about the lawyers in my community is that they could argue. And even back then, I was argumentative,” she says with a laugh, revealing that she once bargained with her mother for a toy on hands and knees. (She didn’t win it then, but later got it as a gift.)
Working with Waters during law school pushed her forward. Rye had planned to pursue personal injury law but the congresswoman had different ideas. “She kept saying to me, ‘Angela, you need to go to the Hill,’” Rye recalls. “Under her leadership, I was bitten by the political bug.”
The experience with Waters led her to the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, where she served as coordinator of advocacy and legislative affairs and spoke up for historically and predominantly black colleges and universities on Capitol Hill. She planted her feet firmly in government with her appointment as senior advisor and counsel to the House Committee on Homeland Security, working for Congressman Bennie Thompson.
Today, as executive director of CBC, Rye develops legislative and political strategy for the caucus, which requires focus and time. Her work with IMPACT requires the same, but is focused on a younger demographic. To spur relationship-building, she and her nonprofit team hold events to help young professionals network at receptions, update their resumes at roundtable discussions, and participate in timely political discourse at debate “watch” parties.
The CBC and IMPACT continue to encourage young professionals to be “vote ready”—this fall, the caucus took a position against what it called restrictive state voting laws—and Rye remains hopeful about her future and that of her contemporaries. But, she adds, positive change requires action and a commitment to the cause. “We’ve got to keep rolling; we’ve got to keep going. Because we don’t have any other choice.”
March 31, 2017