BRIAN LAMB: Angela Rye, executive director and general counsel of the Congressional Black Caucus, when did you decide to become an activist?
ANGELA RYE: I don’t think I had a choice, Brian. I was born and raised in a family with a father who’s a civil rights activist and still an organizer in Seattle. He might be mad that I say almost on his 70th birthday, but I think my first protest was when I was two years old. I don’t recall, but he certainly does. It was anti-apartheid protest, so.
RYE: In Seattle. He was a major activist then on that issue, as he’s been on small business issues, minority business issues, affirmative action; really runs the gamut.
LAMB: Why does he take such an active role?
RYE: I think that my father can’t help it. He’s someone who cares very deeply about equal justice, about parity, about rights, and I didn’t say my mother spent her career in higher education and I recently learned she ran a few of the boards and commissions on affirmative action and parity in higher education also, so it just comes royally, I guess.
LAMB: What was the early life in Seattle like?
RYE: For me, it was an amazing experience. I have always been around different, diverse groups of people, so we have a very rich melting pot in Seattle, Washington, so I got to be around Asian-American folks and Latinos and of course African-Americans, Jewish people; it’s just a really enriching place to grow up, because you learn so much just from the diversity in perspectives.
LAMB: Where did you go to high school?
RYE: Holy Names Academy.
LAMB: What was that like and how much ...
RYE: All girls.
LAMB: ... and how much all girls, but how much of a diverse group was it?
RYE: I think that was a lot different. For me, 1st through 8th grade, I went to a school called Saint Therese and it was probably at least 90 percent black, but when you go home at night and those kinds of things, you get these after school activities; you get a different type of diverse group of folks.
Holy Names was different. It was a culture shock for me, because it was all the way the opposite and so I think there it was important for me to really learn leadership and learn the importance of teaching people about who I am. I remember a 9th grade project we had in our world cultures class, where we had to tell our classmates where we came from.
And for students who came from backgrounds where their ancestors were slaves, we couldn’t answer that question, so I had to make up a story. And it was heart-wrenching, but I think it was also very, very just a really good learning experience for my classmates who didn’t have that; who could, say trace their roots all the way back to Ireland or whatever. So it was a really, really good experience for me.
We started a black student union when I was in the 10th grade and I’m proud to say I think, to this day, it’s still diverse. It’s not all black students, but it’s a great place for folks to learn about different cultures.
LAMB: So what was the story you told them about your own ancestors?
RYE: No, I don’t remember. I think that I came up with a character ...
LAMB: So it was mythical?
RYE: Yes. I didn’t have the answers. I didn’t know you know which country of origin in Africa. I couldn’t answer you know beyond three or four generations. And since then, we’ve learned a lot about at least my mother’s side, but it was a very, very tough thing to do. And it’s frustrating, so hopefully one day I could finish that journey and figure that out...
LAMB: Where is do you know where Mom’s from; that family? Where’s it from?
RYE: I don’t know where in Africa, but we could just trace a little further back. Most recently, when my mother was visiting from Seattle, we went to the actual house that used to sell slaves to different places in Alexandria. Now the National Urban League, or the Urban League of Virginia owns the building, so that was that was good. But that was very, very recent; we just got that history.
LAMB: When did you notice in was it Holy Names?
LAMB: The high school; when did you notice that there was a divide, or was there a divide there? Were did people have groups and all that? I mean was ...
RYE: I wouldn’t say there was division. I just think that, for me, immediately going into an environment that was very different from how I was raised and from my elementary-middle school; it was just culture shock. So you just try to figure out how to adapt. But I don’t think it was really divided; not at all.
LAMB: So why did you go to law school and where did you go? Where’d you go to undergrad for your ...
RYE: University of Washington.
LAMB: Right ...
RYE: Go Huskies.
LAMB: Right there in Seattle.
LAMB: And then where did you go to law school?
RYE: Seattle University School of Law.
LAMB: Why did you want law?
RYE: I knew I wanted to be a lawyer longer than I could spell it. I had a Cabbage Patch scrapbook as a six-year-old, where I spelled lawyer L O Y E R and I knew I wanted to be a lawyer then. Just watching my dad; I knew he wasn’t a lawyer, but he was always fighting for justice and I knew justice was equated with the law. Grew up around a lot of people who were mentors that were in that space and did very well and I could argue, so I figured that it would probably be the best bet.
LAMB: Who’s your number one role model in life right now?
RYE: Oh, that’s tough.
LAMB: Doesn’t have to be one. You can have a couple, but I mean, as you were growing up, where did you find your role models?
RYE: Yes. I had a village and I still tell people, to this day, I still have a village, because I can be a little stubborn, so I need some help sometimes, but definitely my parents. I tell them all the time, like my dad says I’m so proud of you and I tell them I’m so proud to be your daughter, but they are just amazing people; well rounded and I just I’m in awe about all they’ve accomplished and all that they’ve done for me to make sure that I would be able to succeed.
My godparents; I have folks that I adopted along the way who’ve just been amazing. On the Hill, definitely Congresswoman Waters, definitely Bennie Thompson ...
LAMB: Congressman from Mississippi.
RYE: Yes, yes. The second district as well . And then definitely my current boss, the chair of the caucus, Emanuel Cleaver. They’ve just all poured into my life in very different ways, but I respect them all so much for all they’ve done.
LAMB: There’s a lot more to talk about, but what is the Congressional Black Caucus and what is your job?
RYE: Sure. The Congressional Black Caucus is a legislative service organization now called Congressional Member Organization that was founded in 1971. It is designed to ensure that members of Congress who are African-American can come together on issues that are plaguing the community at large, issues that may be plaguing their districts, where they can find commonality, but really come together to discuss legislative solutions, legislative proposals to advance the causes of people that don’t have a voice.
They’re often referred to as the conscience of the Congress and after now having working there almost two years, I can’t think of a better name. It is really the heartbeat of the people. They know exactly what folks need, sometimes before we all know that we need it, whether it’s voting rights or fighting against international issues, like apartheid, the Congressional Black Caucus just won an award for its work there, from the Embassy of South Africa, the ambassador granted them the award. But it’s really an organization that speaks for the voiceless in Congress.
LAMB: What’s a day for you like there?
RYE: It’s never the same. And for that, I’m grateful. We have planning meetings, often. We have Faith Leader Summit. We have the jobs initiative, working on some voting rights activities, but it’s never the same. ...
LAMB: How many Black Caucus members are there now?
RYE: Forty-two, because we just lost Mr. Payne this year, but there were 43.
LAMB: How many of those are congress-people?
RYE: Oh, all of them have to be.
LAMB: But they’re not all voting.
RYE: That’s right. There are two delegates. We have a delegate from the Virgin Islands who’s also our first vice-chair, Donna Christensen, who’s also a medical doctor, so that’s why she’s our expert on healthcare; she’s great. And then we have Eleanor Holmes Norton from Washington D.C., who is absolutely just a star when it comes to you know legal rights and justice and a phenomenal attorney; just a tremendous career.
LAMB: Is Republican Allen West still a member?
RYE: He is; he is.
LAMB: Now there were lots of things that he said about going in the Black Caucus that he was going to show a different point of view and all that. He’s a conservative.
LAMB: Retired military man. Has he done has he played any role at all in the caucus?
RYE: Yes, he’s played a role. He definitely has a different perspective, but I tell people all the time, the Congressional Black Caucus is certainly not a monolith. We have folks who represent rural districts and urban districts and urban districts that are different from another urban district, so there’s not one single solitary voice when we talk about issues that impact people that these folks serve.
LAMB: You I know you know the story about Steve Cohen from Tennessee; white man, wanted to be a member of the Black Caucus, represents a district in Memphis, 60 percent black. There’s a statement by William Clay Sr.
LAMB: Congressman; that it was it’s in Wikipedia and I wanted to read it and get you to break it down for us, when they you all didn’t let Representative Cohen in.
Quite simply, Representative Cohen this is Congressman Clay; will have to accept what the rest of the country will have to accept. There has been an unofficial Congressional White Caucus for over 200 years and now it’s our turn to say who can join the club. He does not and cannot meet the membership criteria unless he can change his skin color. Primarily, we are concerned with the needs and concerns of the black population and we will not allow white America to infringe on those objectives.
When did Congressman Clay; this Congressman Clay is not there any longer.
RYE: That’s correct.
LAMB: His son is there now.
LAMB: Yes. So does that explain that statement, because it looks harsh to somebody that’s not involved in it.
RYE: Certainly. Well first, I have to say that there are differing views on this subject you know throughout Congress and because Mr. Clay Sr. is not a member of Congress, I and I’ve never talked to him about it, I don’t know what his rationale was in saying that.
I will say that there are informal ways in which we collaborate with members who have districts with large populations of African-American people or large populations of other people of color or large populations of low income folks, where we join forces with them all of the time, on a staff level and for the members, so I can’t articulate you know what exactly that means. And I’m sure that there would be differing views and opinions on you know what exactly that looks like.
In terms of the first part of his statement, when he talks about the 200 years of the informal white caucus, I think that you’ll find that a lot of people in this country feel like, as accomplished as so many African-Americans are, we’re absolutely underrepresented in the Congress. There’s not a black senator right now.
There are only 42 members of the House of Representatives, which is less than ten percent, and we make up more than ten percent of the United States population, so we are underserved. And then when you look at the re-districting, the way in which maps were drawn this year, in a lot of ways you can say that it’s been designed to kind of keep us out.
So I do understand the first part of his statement and I do think it’s critical that members have a body where they can go to find commonality with one another.
LAMB: I did some calculations on that 40 who have been elected and, if I counted right, only 20 of the 50 states have anybody of color.
RYE: I would have to double check that. I’m sure that’s right; there are states where there are multiple members of color, but yes.
LAMB: And then you have the New York, Texas, California ...
RYE: That’s right.
LAMB: ... Florida, North Carolina I think, maybe Illinois ...
RYE: That’s right.
LAMB: ... where there’s a heavy concentration.
LAMB: What do you think? When you sit back and look at the United States, what do you see there when you see all these concentrations? Is that good or bad for us?
RYE: What I what I what I can say is I can liken it to a class that I had in undergrad. And it was a critical race theory class and I tell people all the time it was the best class I’ve ever taken in my life. And the reason for that was not just the subject matter, but the makeup of the actual classroom.
The class was so diverse that there were only a couple of black students, there were a couple of Asian students, a couple of Latino students; it was a seminar so it’s smaller. And the white students in the class didn’t call themselves white anymore; they were Irish or German or Scottish or whatever, because at that moment they realized that the difference in the cultures in the room was appreciated.
And so I think that there’s something to be said for having diverse representation. It makes the conversation, the dialog that much more enriching. So I don’t know that I can singularly say oh, the concentration, the large concentrations of people of color are good or bad. I think it’s different and that there’s something to be said for diversity.
LAMB: So I want you to talk to somebody who lives in I don’t know what’s the a white state, a very white state.
LAMB: Let’s say they live in the Midwest somewhere and they’re they don’t know anybody of color.
LAMB: What would you tell them is different about what you’ve learned about your culture versus their culture?
RYE: That’s a tough one. I think I would say that the most important thing is to find commonality, so we can start with the fact that we’re both human. Maybe you know obviously we both have parents. Maybe you grew up in an adopted family and I was still with my biological parents, but nevertheless, we have family; people that love us.
We all have friends and we have educations that are at differing levels, but nonetheless learned at some point from a teacher. I think it’s important to find common ground with folks, because then defenses are dropped and you can have a candid conversation about the differences and why they exist without defenses automatically going up.
LAMB: How often do you see prejudice?
RYE: Every day. Every day.
LAMB: Give me an example of something that happened to you.
RYE: I think that now I’ve said this and probably because this job, for me, is the highest ranking I’ve been in my career, obviously at 32. But I think this is the first time I’ve seen prejudice towards me because I’m a woman; not from within the members of the caucus, but otherwise. They’ll ask a man around me or on my staff; I have one man, Brandon , on our staff. I think that assumptions are made, because of how people look, because of age. There are you know people that would rather deal with someone older. And they’ll ...
LAMB: How do how do you deal with it then? If you if you sense somebody doesn’t want to deal with you because you’re a woman, doesn’t want to deal with you because you’re young ...
LAMB: What do you do?
RYE: I have to keep working. So at the end of the day, I have a goal. My goal is to make sure that in everything I do, the caucus is well represented. In everything do, the chair is well represented, because I had a coworker on the committee that I worked on last who used to always say if you ever do anything wrong on the Hill, it’s not going to be your name that appears on the in the paper; it’s going to be you know a Chairman Cleaver staffer, or whatever it is. So I have to remember that I’m not just representing myself; I’m representing a broader group of people, whether they like it or not or whether I like it or not.
LAMB: Let me go back to the question I asked here again, you’re with some you’re with another white person and they want to have a candid conversation. We always everybody always says we need the conversation.
LAMB: We need a candid conversation. What is it we’re not talking about among the races?
RYE: I think history and the impacts of history, whether it’s slavery, whether it’s reconstruction era, whether it’s the civil rights movement or present day discrimination; anti-affirmative action sentiment, the issues with disparities in income and how you address those disparities, whether or not you have equal access and fairness. I think that’s the conversation and I don’t know that it’s as much race-based as it is now an economic divide, but in many ways, economic divide, because economic divide exists because of the racial challenges that this country’s had.
LAMB: So if you look at the statistics, we’re headed excuse me. We’re headed to where people that look like me are going to be in the minority.
LAMB: What would you tell us about what it’s like to be in a minority?
RYE: I don’t like it being in the Congress either. I think that the most important thing to know about being a minority is the importance of forming coalitions. Talking about my dad again, or even looking at Jesse Jackson Sr.; Reverend Jackson, really got the importance of forming coalitions, collaborative relationships where you can find, again, common ground with people who share in the issues that you care about, who have similar policy views.
You really have to form coalitions, because you are a much weaker voice on your own. So if you can form a group of people or a group of interests that are louder, you have more numbers, you have more strength because of those numbers; it’s the best thing to do.
LAMB: How long have you been executive director and general counsel of the Congressional Black Caucus?
RYE: Just since January of 2011.
LAMB: So it’s over a year; about a year and a half.
LAMB: What’s what do you know now that you didn’t know before you started this job?
RYE: I would say how amazingly wise and strategic the type of strategic politicians that I work for. These people are amazing. I mean they’re all very different, but I’ve learned so much from each of the members on strategy, on policy decisions and all the things that go into them, on issues that are important and why they should be important to us, the history of the caucus.
Right now we still have two founders that are with us; Mr. Rangel and Mr. Conyers, and just learning from them on how things used to be versus how they are now.
LAMB: What’s give me one example.
RYE: Well one example that I’ve heard often is it was because I know that folks think the caucus is a monolith; again, it is not. But Mr. Rangel said before, it was easier when it was a smaller group. It was easier to get on the same page. They could get to a resolution quicker and that kind of thing. But I don’t think he doesn’t like there’s larger representation now. It’s just a lot more work goes into reaching a decision on behalf of the caucus.
LAMB: Now I want to show you a video clip. This is from someone who you used to work with as an intern; Maxine Waters.
LAMB: How would you define Maxine Waters?
RYE: Powerhouse. She is an amazing organizer, a tremendously effective advocate, a great communicator; she certainly has the heartbeat of the caucus. The members adore her and respect her greatly. I do; she’s on my role model list. But just a really, really strong and effective member.
LAMB: OK, this is a forum that the Congressional Black Caucus put on in Detroit. Were you there?
LAMB: And she’s talking to a primarily black audience.
RYE: A very angry primarily black audience.
LAMB: About the President.
RYE: They weren’t angry about the President; they were angry about the economy and the state of jobs or lack thereof in Detroit.
RYE: It was scary.
LAMB: Let’s watch this.
MAXINE WATERS, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, CALIFORNIA’S 35TH DISTRICT: We don’t put pressure on the President.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: .
WATERS: Let me tell you why. We don’t put pressure on the President because we all love the President.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: ...
WATERS: We love the President.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: ...
WATERS: Just a minute. You’re very proud ...
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: We did ...
WATERS: We’re very proud to have a black man .
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Yes, we are. ...
WATERS: First time in the history of the United States of America.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: ...
WATERS: If we go after the President too hard, you’re going to mess up. Hey?
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: ...
WATERS: No, no, no.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: 35 people ...
WATERS: That’s OK.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: It’s not just the President.
WATERS: Just a moment.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICPANT: ...
WATERS: Let me finish telling you the reality of the politics of what’s going on. When you tell us it’s all right.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: It’s all right.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: ...
WATERS: When you tell us it’s all right and you unleash us and you tell us you’re ready for us to have this conversation, we’re ready to have the conversation.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: ...
LAMB: What did you see there?
RYE: First of all, context I think is really important. This was one of the scariest moments of my life and I think the reason for that is I’ve never seen people so angry and so hurt and so frustrated. When you went into Detroit for that jobs initiative, it was like a ghost town in downtown Detroit. And to know like the rich history of that city, it was just depressing.
So we did a job fair at every stop that we had. We went to five cities, but we also did a town hall meeting and there was not a town hall meeting like this before this meeting and there wasn’t one like it afterwards.
LAMB: This was in August of ’11; 2011.
RYE: That’s right. And at that meeting, I literally asked the moderator if we should shutdown the meeting and take the members out of there. I was scared for the members. These people were standing up, leaning over chairs. I thought maybe it would be a good idea to have them escorted out by the police. The members from the stage told me not to do that.
But I was afraid for them. It was a really scary situation and I understand, when you look at the clip you know that it looks divisive or that kind of thing, but it really wasn’t. It was about; you talked about earlier, having a conversation. It was a necessary conversation. African-American unemployment was horribly high; double oh, more than double the national average, and it was even worse in Detroit.
Some of the statistics that I’ve recently seen about African-American male unemployment are over 50 percent in some cities, and Detroit’s one of them. And so when you have a conversation about whether or not people can keep the lights on or whether or not they can pay for their kids to go to school to eat; that is a very emotionally taxing conversation and I think the congresswoman was trying to say this is a conversation we need to be needs to be had.
It’s a very difficult conversation and if you all want to attack us because we’re trying to speak up for you, that will certainly benefit you. And you look at those or the clips out of context; that’s not what you see. But I think it’s very important to have known that audience ...
LAMB: Here’s just a little more from that particular event.
WATERS: I’m in Detroit. I’ve been in Cleveland. I’m on my way to Atlanta. I’ve gone to Miami. I’ll be in Los Angeles. And aside from that, I travel to a lot of other cities. I’ve been in Chicago and I tell you this. The Congressional Black Caucus loves the President too.
UNIDENTIFIABLE PARTICIPANT: ...
WATERS: We’re supportive of the President, but we’re getting tired.
WATERS: We’re getting tired
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: .
WATERS: And so what we want to do is we want to give the President every opportunity ...
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: How long?
WATERS: ... to show ...
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: ...
WATERS: ... to show what he can do and what he’s prepared to lead on. We want to give him every opportunity, but our people are hurting.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: ...
WATERS: The unemployment is unconscionable.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: ...
WATERS: We don’t know what the strategy is. We don’t know why, on this trip, that he’s in the United States; now he’s not in any black communities . We don’t know that. But all I’m saying to you is we’re politicians. We’re elected officials. We’re trying to do the right thing and the best thing. When you let us know it is time to let go, we’ll let go.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: ...
LAMB: That came from Grio TV, which is an NBC online operation. We’re getting tired, she said.
LAMB: So I mean break it down; break it down for people that are not in the black community about he’s a black man, he’s the first one ever and we voted for him. How much time do you give him?
RYE: Well I first and foremost, I have to say I don’t speak on behalf of the congresswoman. What I can say is you know where I can relate to it, just based on the experiences that we had in the five cities, what I can say is that it’s frustrating to try to deal with a situation and the strategies aren’t aligning. What we saw immediately after our jobs initiative was a strategy formulated.
We worked really hard on a jobs recommendations report that we presented to the White House. The President introduced the American Jobs Act for to bring before Congress to be voted on. The bill’s still not voted on. But in the American Jobs Act, all nine of the proposals that we presented to the White House are included, so there was a collective strategy.
The word tired is about frustration, trying to figure out how we can get on the same page to advance communities that we collectively care about, but we weren’t on the same page. And I think that now, when you look at what resulted, we absolutely are. The frustration is the Congress won’t move the won’t move the bill.
LAMB: What would happen for the black community if that bill was passed?
RYE: I think there would be greater economic opportunity.
RYE: Because there are small business protections in the bill. There are summer youth job programs in the bill. There are all types of proposals that help in job creation and that’s exactly what we need right now. I know the economy is on the rebound, but we if we had some more targeted solutions, such as what was presented in the President’s American Jobs Act, we’d move a lot farther down the road, but right now it’s a very divisive Congress. It’s been really, really hard to get anything accomplished; really hard.
LAMB: So, from your own standpoint, you’re younger and you see, in your lifetime, at a young age, the President of the United States is an African-American. What impact did that have on you?
RYE: A tremendous impact. I remember watching the results come in. I took a picture on my phone with of the of the final results versus McCain. I cried. Unbelievable, because initially, everybody said it couldn’t happen and it did happen. And it was just an absolutely unbelievable experience.
LAMB: So what’s happened since then in your own mind?
RYE: I think that this is probably the toughest presidential term in my lifetime for a President; black or white, or green with dots. But it’s a really tough economy. Again, it’s a really divisive Congress. When you look at traditional Democrats and Republicans, we have folks that are on the extreme sides of all the issues. Our boss is Civility Caucus chair and talks about that all the time. We can’t even have an honest dialog because folks are not willing to come to one side or the other.
There was a the Senate candidate who just beat Mr. Lugar. I can’t think of his last name.
LAMB: Richard Murdock.
RYE: Murdock. He was on, I think it was Chuck Todd’s show and he was asked to clarify his position on what he deems as bipartisanship. And to him, bipartisanship is Democrats coming over to the Republican side. Well we all know that’s unrealistic. So at some point you have to have a frank dialog about what it means to really compromise. That’s the way this town works. That’s the way the reason why it’s set up the way it is with the Senate and the House and the executive branch; why there’s different branches of power, even with the judicial branch.
So you just have a really interesting dynamic and I think that a lot of what the President has experienced is because he’s black. You know whether it’s questioning his intellect or whether or not he’s too Ivy League. It’s like it’s always either that he’s not educated enough or he’s too educated. He’s too black or he’s not black enough. He’s too Christian or not Christian enough. There are all of these things that he has to walk this very fine line to even be successful.
LAMB: Do you ever listen to the conservative radio shows talk about him?
RYE: Not the radio shows; I do see TV shows every now and then.
LAMB: How much of that do you think is race-based?
RYE: A lot. I do; I believe ...
LAMB: But what evidence do you have that it’s about race?
RYE: I think that some of the language that’s used; I’ll give you an example. There’s an ad talking about the President is too cool. Is he too cool? And it’s this music that reminds me of you know some of the blacksploitation films from the ’70s playing in the background; him with his sunglasses. And to me it was just very racially charged.
They weren’t asking if Bush was too cool, but yet people say that that’s the number one person they’d love to have a beer with. So if that’s not cool, I don’t know what is. But I just think even cool; the term cool could in some ways be deemed racial in a sense.
LAMB: Well as you know, in the last election, 95 percent of the black community voted for the President. But the issue is how many people come out. What is your sense now, right now; I know we’re a long way to go, about the black community and their attitude? Any of what we saw in Detroit mean that they’re not going to come vote like they did last time?
RYE: I don’t know. I think that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to educate people on the issues with voting rights this time. A lot of our members feel that the voting rights bills that have been passed in various states on voter ID, whether or not you have a valid government issue ID is going to create a barrier, whether there’s an enthusiasm gap or not.
You have a situation where it’s a modern day poll tax. You have to pay to get a government issued ID for some of the states. And the problem is, if you get to the polls and you’re told that you can’t vote, whether you’re enthusiastic about going or not, you went and you still may have a problem, so we’re focusing a lot of our attention on addressing that problem, because it’s a major one; not just for African-Americans, but for poor people, Latinos, the elderly and seniors, the college students.
Some college students are being told that their college ID wouldn’t even be wouldn’t even be suitable for voting.
LAMB: What though we have to have a license to drive a car. We have an ID to get on an airplane. Why wouldn’t we want to have an ID to do the very simple thing of the most important thing we do is vote.
RYE: Well, I think that when you change to go back to race, when you change the dynamics of what you need to vote after you elect your first black President and people know exactly who this disproportionately impacts and they’re all people who traditionally vote more Democratic; I think that that’s where you have a problem.
If I can go online, onto my iTunes and download a song, because I’ve entered my credit card, and just type in a password and that’s sufficient, why do a need a valid government issued ID proof when before I can get that proof of ID, a marriage certificate, if my last name has changed. There was an example of a 90-year-old a 91-year-old woman in Tennessee that didn’t have her marriage certificate anymore.
So when you put additional barriers up and it doesn’t seem rational, I think that’s when you have the problem, especially because this is the Internet age. I mean I can log into my Gmail account with just a password. I don’t need an ID for that.
LAMB: So what kind of activity does the Congressional Black Caucus have during a year?
RYE: Well again, this year we’re going to focus a lot on voting rights, Faith Leader Summit; it takes place on May 30th. We are focused very heavily on the best ways to ensure people know and are educated about some of the new voter restrictions that exist.
LAMB: What is a faith leader conference?
RYE: Faith Leader Summit is designed to talk to faith leaders about some of the voting rights challenges that we have coming up in 2012; ensure it’s designed to ensure that they are also aware about how they can equip their congregations without violating any rules, just to make sure that they know their parameters as leaders in the community.
I mean for black communities and others, faith leaders is the first place we go to figure out what our minds should be how our minds should be made up on varying policy issues, on what to do at the polls, on when election day is for some folks, so we definitely want to talk to these people that have tremendous influence in our communities.
LAMB: I notice that in some of the biographical material on you that your church is listed.
RYE: It’s an important part of my life.
LAMB: Explain how.
RYE: Well, I was born and raised Catholic, actually, and in high school I decided I didn’t want to be Catholic anymore and faith is just such an important part of who I am. I feel, even from my own journey, there are so many things that have happened that are purely God’s grace and I just it’s an important part of who I am.
LAMB: What was the most difficult time in your life?
RYE: That is tough. Death is hard. For me, I was just talking to my dad a few days ago, because it’s the anniversary of my grandfather’s death; not first anniversary. He actually passed when I was ten, so 22 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday, because he was such an important part of me. I have other family members that passed away, tragically or through illness and that kind of thing, so I think death is always is always tough. I can’t point to one singular incident.
LAMB: Your father’s job over the years, you say he was active in civil rights; what’d he do?
RYE: He’s also a small business owner. Now he does a lot of small business consulting, but he was a federal government contractor for years, for the majority of my life, which is also probably why he felt so strongly about parity in the system and access.
LAMB: What kind of work?
RYE: They did food service work, janitorial services; they would hire different employees that could handle the capacity of either of those. I remember one particular incident in high school; he’d won the company won a Naval Service award two years in a row and they decided not to renew their contract, based on what and there was someone in that space that made the decision that said they didn’t want to award it again to a black man.
LAMB: Based on the skin color?
LAMB: Did he prove that; your father?
RYE: I think he worked really hard to for years and couldn’t get a lot of help.
LAMB: Did he hear somebody say that out loud?
RYE: I think that there were employees that heard it and there was proof; I think written proof, written documentation that that did in fact occur.
LAMB: So today in your life, where do you see prejudice the most? Beside the you told us earlier about being a woman is can be difficult.
LAMB: Being young can be difficult.
RYE: I think I still see a lot of racial bias. When I think about the most recent Travon Martin shooting, based on the stand your ground laws defense in Florida, I know the case is currently pending, but just the whole process. I watched this young man and his family continue you know going on television to try to provide additional exposure for the case.
When I watched their hearts break when their son was demonized because he had a hoody on. We say Geraldo talk about you know when you have a hoody on, you look more suspicious; those kinds of things, so you judge someone because of their skin color, because of how they’re dressed, because they talk differently than you. It’s really bad. It’s really, really bad.
LAMB: As an outsider looking in on both sides of this, I my reaction was so often the conservative set in this thing; you could just see the tilt toward the Mr. Zimmerman and the black audiences would tilt toward Travon Martin. How can we know? We don’t know a thing, really, if you think about, as far away as we are from this. Why did people automatically jump in and take sides based on skin color?
RYE: I think, from my vantage point, there were a lot of things that didn’t make sense. And to demonize a victim; it’s always heavily criticized. If it’s a white woman, if it’s you know a child, but in this situation, this boy who is not alive anymore to tell his side of the story was quickly demonized. And that’s where I take issue.
I don’t take issue with the facts as George Zimmerman articulates them or as a witness may have articulated them. But there are so many conflicting stories and the fact that they said well you know he was kicked out of school or you know he smoked marijuana or whatever those things, it doesn’t give you the right to take someone’s life. And I think that we lost the real point of the conversation in trying to demonize this child.
LAMB: What happens if the jury would find him guilty or find Mr. Zimmerman not guilty?
RYE: I think a not guilty verdict is extremely problematic in 2012.
LAMB: What would it do?
RYE: I’m not sure. I know folks have talked about race riots and . I don’t know that. And I think that we live in a day and age where people are educated enough not to do that. I know that his mother and his father have asked for peace; peaceful solutions, not retaliating, not repay evil with evil, so I’m just not sure. I think it would be it would set us back.
LAMB: Talk about race riots for a moment. Back in 1967, there was a race riot in Detroit, where we just saw Maxine Waters. They’ve never recovered from that. You know 43 people were killed in that time. What would you say? Is that is that is there any evidence says there’s value to a race riot?
RYE: No. I don’t support race riots; no. Oftentimes, you hurt people within your community that are trying to rebuild it or be a part of it, be equal participants, give back in some ways; there’s no value to racial violence or any other kind of violence. There’s no value to that at all.
LAMB: Historically Black Colleges and Universities; what do you know about them and how long did you work around that issue?
RYE: I think to this day I still work around the issue. Personally, I have friends and family members who attended an HBCU. I was supposed to go to one. I was supposed to go to Howard and opted to stay home in Seattle.
LAMB: Would you have rather gone to Howard?
RYE: I’m grateful for the journey that I took. I think I took the journey that I was supposed to take. I get jealous in terms of some of my friends that had a really great on-campus class experience. I stayed at home with my parents and didn’t have the experience.
But HBCUs, I first worked for NAFEO ...
LAMB: What’s that?
RYE: It’s the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and was just entrenched with historically black and predominantly black colleges and universities work. You know when you talk about parity and racial issues; when I think about every year or you know several times a year, HBCUs having to fight for their relevancy again, whether or not they should still exist when they you know disproportionately educate great amounts of students in the STEM areas.
LAMB: STEM meaning?
RYE: Science, technology, engineering, mathematics; those programs. There’s one HBC; I believe it’s Xavier that graduates the most students in those programs who matriculate to and go on to medical programs, so the ...
LAMB: How many historically black colleges and universities are there?
RYE: I believe 120. I believe 120; might need to fact check that, but I believe it’s 120.
LAMB: And what are the rules about non-blacks going to them?
RYE: They’re open. Historically black is exactly that; they were founded for black students when black students couldn’t go to traditionally white schools.
LAMB: Mostly in the south.
RYE: Mostly in the south, mostly in the south. There are some in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, but overwhelmingly in the south. ...
LAMB: And I saw the list of Bluefield State in West Virginia I think has the least number of black students.
LAMB: Only 13 percent.
LAMB: But the average is what is 11-12 percent whites in overall.
RYE: Yes, yes.
LAMB: Why do we need, at this stage existence, to have historically black colleges, or for that matter, congressional black caucuses? Why do we need to separate into race?
RYE: I don’t think that it’s a separation as much as it is an appreciation for what exists. Again, we talk about historically black colleges; if they are doing well and educating students in certain programs other schools do not, why not? Because it has black in there; so what about the schools that don’t have black? Why keep a traditionally white college? That’s not an argument that they ever have to have. These colleges do amazing things with less resources. They’re traditionally under-resourced, they have less financial capacity, and they still do amazing work, so why not?
LAMB: Why do they have less financial support from, say the federal government?
RYE: I think that that is a question for members of Congress. Over time, there’s Title 3B funding and I know that funding pot has decreased or they it’s been stretched and you know divided from multiple schools with focus on different types of students; minority-serving institutions.
So when that funding stream dries up and you’re in a budget crisis right now, so of course the budget’s going to be reduced over time; that has impact. I know some schools have issues with endowments; the size of their endowments aren’t as large as other schools. There are all types of reasons and not one singular reason.
LAMB: As you go back to your own education, University of Washington in Seattle, Seattle University for your law degree; how’d you pay for it?
RYE: Student loans. I’m still paying for it. I’m still paying for it.
LAMB: How long will you pay for it?
RYE: I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe after I leave the government, I’ll have a good high-paying job and be able to eliminate the debt.
LAMB: But if you took out student loans, why can’t everybody else do it? I mean in other words, why should there be favoritism toward one segment of the society?
RYE: Where do you see that happening?
LAMB: Well I suspected that that’s what you meant about the historically black colleges.
RYE: No. The funding for the actual institutions, not for the students. Although there are still some concerns, so for Pell grants, you have to have your parents have to be under a certain income level. For most of my undergrad, my parents paid for it out of pocket. Well my dad’s firm went bankrupt while I was in undergrad, so we had to change the way in which I was paying for college, like a lot of other students.
I was just really fortunate and ended up in an unfortunate circumstance. I’m grateful that there are student loan programs, but I just wish I wasn’t still paying on them.
LAMB: Now you’re very conversational, very relatively quiet here; when do we see Angela Rye excited about an issue or in upset about something?
RYE: Well, Brian, I’m on my good behavior right now. I think I’m a very passionate person.
LAMB: How do we know that? Where do we see that?
RYE: At work. We see that I have a nonprofit called IMPACT. We see that there, in the IMPACT meeting. One of our more subdued directors, Joe always talks about David Johns and I being really loud, impassioned and argumentative about issues. But I have a passion in just about everything; strong opinions about a lot.
LAMB: Number 1 passion?
RYE: Making a difference. You know I mean, again, we talk about this organization we founded; IMPACT. The name is IMPACT. We really wanted to make a difference. I came to Washington D.C. in hopes of making broad scale change. I wanted to be a trial lawyer before and I was like well, that’s micro level change, because it would only help one client. Probably nice to have a policy area. I wanted macro level change so I came to the to the bed of things; to the nation’s capital where that happens.
LAMB: But give me an example here. In the you’ve been elected President.
RYE: I don’t want to do that. ...
LAMB: And you can change things. I mean give us specifics of what you would change.
RYE: Well, speaking of the President, I think that you know a lot of the decisions he’s made are exactly what needed to happen. Healthcare; we have major healthcare injustices. Job access, resolving the economic crisis; like those are precisely the things we want to do. I have a Homeland Security background, so Osama bin Laden; those are some of the things that you know I would have hoped to have been a part of if in that same situation, but I don’t want to be there.
LAMB: So you were on the Thompson Committee.
RYE: Homeland Security.
LAMB: Homeland Security. What why did you do that?
RYE: When the Democrats took over the House in 2007, I was asked to talk to Mr. Thompson and his chief of staff about that role. Initially, I was like Homeland Security; how am I going to figure this out you know. But ended up being an amazing fit; it’s a fascinating policy area. There’s so much work that can be done in that space. I ended up focusing a lot of my work on kind of big picture, out of the box solutions.
And then on the whole other extreme, on contracting; DHS, the Department of Homeland Security is the third largest federal purchaser of goods and services, so spending time trying to figure out, again, parity for companies that are owned by minorities or women or disabled vets. We did a lot of good work there. Hopefully when Mr. Thompson becomes chair again, he’ll continue that same work. I’m sure it is; it’s probably more of a passion for him than me. He’s very passionate about that.
LAMB: What did you see when it came to women and minorities, when it came to contracting at Homeland Security?
RYE: It’s the same as in every other federal agency; definitely underutilized.
RYE: You have program managers and contracting officers in some of the agencies that you know utilize one company, because they know them and then they’ll go back, just like if someone cleans your home or you have maybe you do parties and use the same event planner; you go to what you know. So it’s not necessarily malicious, but the result is very bad because you don’t give companies who are qualified and very capable opportunities, just because they don’t look like you or they aren’t familiar to you.
So I think it’s a problem that we have across the board. And then overall I think a lot of federal entities don’t have enough staff. In that space, program managers, whoever see, big picture, what the needs are for each agency are contracting officers who just fill the fulfill the actual bids. I think that folks are stretched really thin and we got to figure out a way to make it work so that the goals the federal goals that exist for contracting are met without being double, triple and quadruple counting, or counted, if you meet multiple classifications.
A woman, black, who is a disabled vet can be counted three times. That’s not fair. So ...
LAMB: Who counts them? For what purpose?
RYE: The contracting officers have goals. In each federal agency, they’re pretty much the same. There’s a 23 percent overall small business goal. They break those out in small like HUBZone I think is three percent, disabled vet is I think at three percent, so you have these goals that you to meet. And in meeting those goals, sometimes the golden ticket is finding somebody who can fit three or four categories. And then you end up locking somebody else out of a of a contract they could probably perform very well.
LAMB: So what would you recommend? Knowing what you know now and you want to go out and set up a company.
LAMB: What would you recommend to somebody that wanted to take advantage of the rules?
RYE: I want them to follow the rules.
LAMB: In other words, if the three percent they have to do.
LAMB: How would you get into that? In other words, what would you recommend to somebody that’s in a minority class?
RYE: I would recommend that they first you know have a good hold on whatever service or good you know service performed or good offer to the government; they know exactly what that is. Do they know it would fill a need, not just in one agency, but in multiple.
I would recommend that they find a large company partner to form joint ventures with or to form alliances with. Why? Because a lot of those entities have good relationships. D.C. is a relationships town, whether you’re in the executive branch or on the Hill, in Congress or whatever else, so I think relationships is an important part of that, because unfortunately, it’s not just about the goal and the quality of your work. It’s also about who you know.
LAMB: What does IMPACT do and how big is it and where do you get your money?
RYE: IMPACT is a 501c3 organization that we established in 2006 to connect young professionals of color to one another, to help see each other succeed. Every month we recognize an IMPACT leader you know somewhere in the country who’s doing really good work.
But we founded it to ensure that we were engaged in civic engagement activities, political involvement and economic empowerment, because to us, the meshing and the melding of those three things is, I think what ensures your success, not just in D.C. but period.
We have events and we do different program where we raise money for those programs to ensure that they’re funded, but it’s ...
LAMB: So how do you pick people every year to highlight?
RYE: Oh, the IMPACT leader of the month; we get recommendations. People send us e-mails and tell us you should look at this person in L.A. or this person in Wyoming, wherever they’re making a difference in different fields, medical practitioners, lawyers, community activists, entrepreneurs. And after we get to we have a annual reception in September where we recognize person who got the most votes online as the IMPACT leader of the year, which is always, I think a really cool award to win from your peers.
LAMB: And is that person always a minority?
LAMB: Well where did you get this idea?
RYE: From watching the success of others. And when I talked earlier about the village that I have around me, I know that I wouldn’t be who I am without a lot of different people pouring into my life, whether they’re mentors or my peers, and so we wanted to create and foster an environment for people who may not automatically have a village. We wanted to help them to create a village.
LAMB: Do you anywhere in this society now where it is a plus to be a minority?
RYE: Yes. I’m happy with who I am and ...
LAMB: I don’t mean quite that much as , but people look at you and they say you will fill my quota and I want you in here. You’re sharp, you’re intelligent, you’re bright, but I like the fact that you’re a black woman.
RYE: I don’t know. I don’t know of any place where somebody speaks openly about a quota. I certainly don’t support quotas in that sense, because I think that goals and affirmative action policies and equal employment opportunity policies exist because there’s a major problem, so a quota or a set-aside, in that sense, I think is a very different ballgame and I’d like to avoid that like the plague, so I don’t know.
I would like to for the country to get to a point where being a minority is just as great as being anybody else. But I just I don’t know that we’re there across the board. I don’t know.
LAMB: So what are the chances that you will go into elective office at some point?
RYE: I don’t want to do that.
LAMB: At all?
LAMB: Why not?
RYE: I would rather be in the background, helping with strategy and that kind of thing. I have a deep admiration for people who can do that, but that is just a lot of burden and it’s really tough, so being able to have an opinion and advise members and other elected officials, candidates; that’s exciting to me. I don’t want to be the candidate.
LAMB: What is your guess about race relations and in 20 years; will there be a Black Caucus?
RYE: You know the chair says often that he hopes there will not have to be. And when I think about what that means, I think it means that we would have had to cover a lot of ground in race relations. We’d have to have a lot of independent advocates of you know voices for the voiceless in the Congress. We’d have to cover a lot of ground in kind of the economic injustices that exist and the educational lack of educational access and other access to healthcare and all of that, so if all of that is obliterated, no; there won’t need to be on. We have to cover a lot of ground.
LAMB: So where do you think you’ll be in 20 years?
RYE: Hopefully married with older kids. I would like to continue to make the difference at IMPACT, in my job, in my community, in my church, in my family, with my friends.
LAMB: Well I didn’t ask you, but do you have brothers and sisters?
RYE: I have one older brother. He’s 14 years older than be; Brian. He still lives in Seattle.
LAMB: Angela Rye is the executive director and general counsel of the Congressional Black Caucus. And what’s your title with project the IMPACT?
RYE: IMPACT, I’m just a director. We just have a horizontal structure; everybody’s the same.
LAMB: And you do that outside of the Congressional Black Caucus.
RYE: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s my baby.
LAMB: Thank you very much for joining us .
RYE: Thank you so much, Brian.