Bahamian-Washingtonian, Jamila Thompson, was always destined for Capitol Hill. Her Bahamian roots and culture’s legacy mapped the course for her life’s work, and her tenacity paved the rest of the way. Currently, as the Legislative Director for the Office of Rep. John Lewis, Thompson manages and develops the Congressman’s legislative agenda. In addition, she advises on a broad domestic and foreign policy portfolio.
Black Enterprise caught up with Thompson to find out how the Bahamas played such a fundamental role in her career development. Check out her insight:
Black Enterprise: How does your Bahamian descent influence your career as a legislative director?
Thompson: As children, our father constantly instilled [in us] the importance of our Bahamian roots and encouraged us to study Dame Dr. Doris Johnson’s legacy of education and civic participation. This model of not just speaking, but taking action, drove my decision to work on Capitol Hill and support members, who are champions of peace and nonviolence.
My former boss, Rep. Barbara Lee (C.A.), gave this Bahamian-Washingtonian the chance to work on policies and initiatives that impact the Caribbean and Latin America. I was able to address matters near and dear to my heart, like national Caribbean-American Heritage Month, U.S.-Caribbean educational exchange programs, disaster relief assistance, and sustainable trade and economic issues. This legislative and policy experience taught me how to be a more thoughtful congressional staffer and manager.
BE: What is it about being a Bahamian woman that makes you unique?
Thompson: My grandmother, Ms. Geleta “Gee” Clarke, was a sweet, hard working, and resilient woman. A proud Exumian who moved to Nassau, Mama Gee (or Aunt Gee) was known for making a way out of no way. She was also a natural historian, and we loved listening to her explain our family tree and the traditions of Ramsey life. I inherited her smile and her fire, and I strive to emulate her historical perspective and work ethic.
BE: What about your heritage as a Bahamian do you cherish most?
Thompson: I know that I am biased, but I feel that Bahamians have beautiful, distinctive traditions and culture. Among my father’s most prized possessions are a set of goatskin drums made by Mr. John “Chippie” Chipman himself. No matter how big and bad or prim and proper a person might be, when the beat of those drums, horns, and cowbells hits you, the spirit of our African ancestors takes over your body and warms your soul.
BE: Why are you proud to be Bahamian?
Thompson: There is an immediate, warm connection to community and family that sets the Bahamas apart from everyone else. No matter where you are in the world, when you meet another person of Bahamian descent, the first question is, “What is your last name?” Everyone is family; everyone is community. There is a constant and comforting confirmation of self and belonging.
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