Monday, March 28, 2011

I am the Deputy Finance Director and Philanthropy Consultant for Mayor Cory A. Booker and the Booker Team for Newark. I was raised by Chief Warrant Officer David T. Hall, Jr., my maternal grandfather. To me, my grandfather was born in a free world with limitless possibilities, but for him this world came with boundaries. He shared his world with me through vivid stories of his service as an infantry soldier in the segregated United States Army. Through his stories, I learned that he suffered more from battles on American soil than he ever did in wars overseas. Although his ebony-hued skin failed and dehumanized him by law, he was proud of his country.

My paternal grandparents emigrated from the Pacific Island of Tonga. The courage to leave their village was founded in a desire to provide greater opportunity for their ten children and to hold on to their traditions. While oppression and the lingering effects of segregation constantly assaulted their character once they reached the United States, their love of this country never wavered.

An obligation to improve my country and serve humanity was instilled in me from an early age. My grandparents’ experiences of gross injustice have lead me to a career in public service and social justice, and to the pursuit of gender equality.

I graduated from the College of Environmental Design at the University of California at Berkeley and majored in Architecture and City and Regional Planning. My habits of inquiry and the uncommonly deep exploration of sociopolitical issues in communities drove me to further challenge myself. I wanted a taste of the practice of law so I began working for a large San Francisco law firm. During my tenure, I adamantly requested pro bono work and was offered an opportunity to support the firm’s habeas corpus research. I represented five astonishing women – “lifers” – in a California women’s prison as they attempted to win parole. Their stories churned my stomach, shocked my conscience and produced such outrage, that I was determined to help them on their paths to redemption. My clients’ tragedies and uphill battles forever changed me. I pledged then to never allow myself to be a silent witness to senseless behavior and injustices.

In 2008 I was recruited to be Mayor Cory Booker’s Deputy Finance Director. The Mayor inspires an unprecedented force of volunteers and donors and my responsibility is to assist in the efforts to raise money for the Mayor’s campaign and creatively manage these relationships of all sizes and personalities across a gamut of industries and cities. In addition, I help our organization expand across a younger generation and continue to keep our volunteers engaged in the success of our operations.

For 9 years, I went to a phenomenal all girls school that taught me to face the future with courage and confidence. Soujourner Truth, Margaret Bourke-White and Jackie Joyner-Kersee were some of the names that hummed through the hallways and echoed in my ears. These fearless women and others like them, contributed to a legacy of progress that paved roads driven by future generations.  I learned then that what was expected of me was to never allow any obstacle to stand in the way of my diligence, resilience, perseverance and eagerness to assist in an ever-changing and often challenging global environment.

Above all, you are your biggest advocate. You should be able to stand on your own two feet and take care of yourself or work towards gaining independence. If one door closes another will open; if you fail at something you are being challenged to get back up and move forward.

No matter what happens, I know I will always land on my two feet.

Follow Sunserae on Twitter @Sunserae

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