Kim Bright MC/MPA 2017 considers how to ensure black voices will be heard in government.
By Calee Lucht
February 7, 2017
In 2014, Kim Bright MC/MPA 2017 was working as chief of staff and policy director for the Rhode Island Department of Education when she participated in Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government Executive Education program. She promptly fell in love with the school.
After one conversation with an administrator in the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration Program, Bright knew she would apply. There was just one problem: she hadn’t completed her undergraduate degree.
“I finished up 32 credits in a little over a year so I could apply to HKS,” she says. “I submitted my application right at the deadline, and it was the only place I applied. It was Harvard or bust.”
Now, as a mid-career student, it’s anything but “bust” for Bright. Her political career has spanned volunteering for a U.S. presidential election and working on a congressional campaign, engaging in communications and outreach, and successfully passing a marriage equality bill in Rhode Island. Now, she's taking advantage of the opportunities at HKS to hone her toolkit so she can be prepared to make a difference.
“The HKS community, the Harvard community, the Boston/Cambridge community—it’s a great place to be. There’s so much going on! I missed seeing the surgeon general to attend an event on mobilizing for social change. About a third of my life revolves around courses, a third is spent with fellow students, and the final third is taking part in everything else.”
Operations Management with Mark Fagan helped Bright learn more about analyzing processes, being innovative and finding solutions to problems. “I had the opportunity to do this work in the field with the City of Somerville to improve the constituent experience in the parking office,” she says.
Bright also cites David Eaves’ class Digital Government: Technology, Policy, and Public Service Innovation, which helped change her thinking about how to use digital technology in government.
Bright emphasizes that the multidimensional nature of learning at HKS is not limited to the classroom. She is part of the Center for Public Leadership's Spring Leadership Development cohort, a yearlong leadership development program. She will also participate in CPL’s spring trip to Memphis, Tennessee, for the Dubin Leadership Service Seminar, which promotes experiential leadership development and public service engagement for students.
Bright speaks candidly about how life dovetails with the student experience. “It’s been a hard year, with the elections. As a black woman in America, I feel like I’m in a hostile environment. But there’s no place I’d rather be right now. Leah Wright Rigueur's class 'Political Revolutions' was a safe space for the students to be shell-shocked together and to understand different perspectives. It was the right class at the right time.”
Now, Bright is considering her career trajectory. Applying to federal government leadership programs is on her list of options. “I want black people to matter to government and politicians, and I want to move the needle,” she says.
As chief of staff in Rhode Island, Bright was often the only black person at the table. She sees a role to play, ensuring black voices will be considered to effect change from the inside.
“When you have a government that doesn’t represent the constituency well, poor decision-making can be a result. We need to increase people of color in all leadership positions, not just elected officials and appointees. ‘Black lives matter’—it’s me. I am still struggling with the loss of opportunity to make progress on the federal level.”
Undaunted, Bright frequently accesses the resources at the Kennedy School’s Office of Career Advancement (OCA) to explore opportunities.
“OCA knows their stuff, and they have so many offerings. The alumni directory is a great resource, and employers come to us because they know the quality they’ll be getting.” Bright appreciates knowing that she won’t have to take the first job that comes her way. “I have options, so I can be thoughtful about my next steps.”
What advice does Bright offer prospective students?
“The HKS experience has been everything I hoped it would be,” she says. “I’ve formed friendships with fellow students and connections with faculty; the accessibility is outstanding. I can have coffee with professors to get their insights, and connect with people outside my field—it’s always helpful to hear different perspectives. I had breakfast with former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel; how else would that have happened? If you’re considering HKS, apply! There’s nothing to compare to it. Take advantage of everything! We can sleep in June. Apply, apply, apply.”