Aisha Miller was skeptical when her boss, then Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh, recommended she take an Executive Education program at HKS. Miller had joined the Walsh administration in the Civic Engagement Cabinet after serving as assistant commissioner of constituent services for Boston.  “I thought this class would just tell me what I already know about city government,” she recalled. “But it was the most humbling experience because until I took the class, I didn’t realize how little self-confidence I had in myself.”

 As a Black woman in Boston City Hall, Miller indeed didn’t realize how much she was self-censoring herself.  “When you're a Black woman, sometimes the only one in the room, it's almost terrifying. Although I would speak up, it would be very minimal.” Miller credits the Senior Executives in State and Local Government  program, chaired by David King, for helping her find her voice and trust her capabilities. “We did a lot of skill-building exercises where you rely on the people in your cohort. And I think that’s so important because if you can't trust the people you are actually working with, things will not get done.”

portrait of woman with red lipstick smiling

“When you're a Black woman, sometimes the only one in the room, it's almost terrifying.”

Aisha Miller

Miller and her fellow participants shared their real-world experiences, debated policy with guest speakers, worked on strategic concepts, all the while learning to trust their own abilities. 

After the executive program, Miller used her new-found confidence to advocate for herself. She was promoted to Chief of Civic Engagement. “It was easier for me after the course to express my unique points of view on issues such as the homelessness and tent situation on Mass and Cass (an intersection on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston),” she said. “Before Harvard, if someone asked me to speak in a full room on an important issue, I might have fainted. Now I’m just rocking and rolling everywhere. And that class did that for me. It was just life changing for me.”

Aisha remains grateful to former Mayor Walsh, now Secretary of Labor in the Biden Administration, for encouraging her to take the course.  “I told him I don't want to hear about city government, but he said there is more to it than that,” she said.  “And he was so right. If you have an opportunity to go to HKS, go! I think it gives you really different perspectives in life. When you're around other people from across the country who bring their perspectives in government as well, everyone benefits.”

Banner image by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe/Getty Images; inline portrait courtesy of Aisha Miller

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