By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,
More Black women have been working their way into prestigious positions in recent years and the chief of staff (COS) role is no exception.
Chiefs of staff directly aid the most influential leaders in America, locally and nationally.
Pokuaa Owusu-Acheaw stepped into her role as the COS for Maryland Lt. Governor Aruna Miller, the first South Asian woman to hold the position in the United States, in 2023.
“I’m both excited and inspired by the influx of Black women working in chief of staff roles in Maryland government,” Owusu-Acheaw told the AFRO. “I’ve had the privilege to work with Rianna Matthews-Brown, Sally McMillan Robb and Danika A. Murray. All of them are extremely talented and capable and it’s refreshing to know that Black girls across the state have powerful role models who look like them.”
Sally McMillan Robb is the COS for Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson. She took to her position in 2021, making her the first Black chief of staff for the senate president, according to the Maryland Manual On-line Guide.
] should know that the chief of staff position is an integral part of supporting core government functions the people look to, particularly in times of crisis,” said Robb. “We don’t always think about how something gets done, but everything that happens in between is critical. It’s important for thinking about the next steps, our relationships and to ensure people feel valued.”
According to previous reporting by AFRO staff, Robb followed the path of her Baltimorean civil rights activist grandmother, Enolia P. McMillan, who was the first woman president of the National Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1984 to 1990.
Similar to Robb, Rianna Matthews-Brown is another Black, female COS that hails from Baltimore. She is the lead staffer for the first woman Comptroller of Maryland, Brooke Lierman.
“This is probably the best and most exciting job I’ve had in my life,” said Matthews-Brown. “It’s where you get to steady ‘the ship’ and build something great.”
Other Black women chief staffers include Danika A. Murray, COS for Maryland’s First Lady Dawn Moore and Tina Flournoy, the lead staffer for Vice President of the U.S. Kamala Harris.
With political divides growing and increased police brutality, diversity and inclusion is more important than ever.
“Seeing yourself in government and leadership gives you confidence and pride. The possibilities no longer seem limited when you can visualize representation,” said Owusu-Acheaw.
Robb recognized that politicians and lobbyists, persons who aim to influence legislators, tend to flock in similar crowds, just as any diaspora. This means if White men are in power, their staff will most likely be White men. If Hispanic women are in the high seat, their staff will often be Hispanic women.
“We have to be honest that racism exists and its impact is still prevalent here in the state and around the country,” said Matthews-Brown.
Matthews-Brown appreciates Lierman for her allyship.
“The comptroller values my voice enough that she wants me in the room to tell her about all kinds of , not just Black people things,” she said.
Matthews-Brown said that as she’s gotten older, she understands the impact of people seeing her in a position, representing others.
“I was promoted to an acting chief of staff position in the state and these older women came up to me saying they never thought they’d see it happen, even though it was temporary,” she said. “When you look at some of these agencies, Black people have not been there in leadership roles. It’s incredible when you look at the state government right now, but that was not the case even ten years ago.”
Maryland currently has a Black governor, Wes Moore. He’s the first Black Governor for the state and only the third Black governor to be elected into office in the U.S., according to governor.maryland.gov.
The Speaker of the House, Adrienne A. Jones, is a Black woman and there are several Black women chairing committees in the Maryland General Assembly, according to the Maryland Manual On-line Guide.
Tashi McQueen is a Report For America Corps Member.