D’shawna Bernard is a Caribbean-American woman who has spent the past seven years shaping a career that is dedicated to people, progress and politics. She currently serves as the African American Outreach Director for 2020 presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren. Find her at @itsdshawna on Twitter or @missdee_tt on Instagram.
Q: What is your first political memory that made you say, “I love politics.”
DB: I was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago and I credit my childhood to my love for politics. My parents would encourage my brothers and I to watch the news daily, it was almost routine every night at 7pm, in the middle of homework or dinner. I would often see clips from sessions in government followed by vocal or live response from the people on a range of issues. The exchanges, the opinions, the passion on both sides caught my attention, but most importantly, the resolutions.
One day I remember watching a clip of a session in Parliament, Mrs. Hazel Manning, the Education Minister, was giving an address with such grace, charm and wit and I just thought to myself, "I really want to be apart of conversations like this one day."
I wasn’t sure how back then, but from Trinidad and Tobago to Washington DC, that love has never changed, and I have stayed the course since.
Q: What made you want to make a career in politics?
DB: Interestingly enough, my first career choice was to be a teacher! I feel that one day I may revisit it, but as I explored my love for teaching I soon realized how much it intersected with my desire to see my people progress. In order to learn and teach, we must first understand, so it was natural for me to merge both.
Politics is in everything, it impacts everyday life, the choices you have access to and the ones you don’t. It’s the limited choices that caught my attention. I started asking the questions and quickly recognized where the critical decisions that impacted my community were made, and if I wanted to have a seat at those tables, this was one of the ways to do it.
Q: What made you choose the specific field that you work in?
DB: My background is unique, so I don’t necessarily believe that I have stayed within one particular field or that I’ve chosen one. I have this cool hybrid happening and I have come to appreciate it greatly. I have done non-profit work, I have had clients and consulted on my own both in the US and internationally, I have managed operations, I’ve done campaigns and constituency engagement.
Currently, I serve as the African American Outreach Director for Elizabeth Warren after working with her during her Senate re-election race in 2018. Each one of those fields all reside in politics overall and have allowed me so many opportunities, some beyond my own imagination. Together it has brought me here, working to elect the first female President of the United States. So, I guess my advice would be for those wondering if you must choose just one, you don’t. Go for it all.
Q: What have you struggled with the most in your political career?
DB: Finding balance. It can certainly become hectic at times, especially during campaign season. You have to be deliberate about pacing yourself, prioritize the things that matter most and don’t apologize for it and most importantly, be honest when you need help. That was a tough but necessary lesson for me to learn. Asking for help is ok, getting help is ok! Thankfully I have family, mentors , a core group of friends and sister friends (yes my sister friends have their own category) , and church family that are a safe space for me and have been very supportive in helping me find that balance when I need it.
On friendship, I have a solid group of folks here in the US who are my team but some of my closet and dearest friends still reside in Trinidad. Some are in-tune with politics, most aren’t, and I find it refreshing. For instance my best friend (she knows me both inside and outside of politics) has known me most of my life, she is a sounding board regarding my career at times but mainly she checks in on me and my actual life, I treasure that. (Hey Dinique, I know you’re reading this, thank you!)
Q: What has been your proudest moment?
DB: This is a tough one to answer, there are so many moments I have been proud of and so much more to come. For me, there is a series of moments in which I have felt most affirmed. Collectively, I am proud of them all, and most of them are the ones folks wont expect. You know, the moments when you just smile to yourself? The ones just between you and God.
Q: Why is it so critical, now more than ever, for Caribbean-Americans to get involved in politics?
DB: The stakes are high! The direction that we’re heading in as a country is clear and now more than ever we need every single person to get involved. For Caribbean-Americans, our desire to equally participate in the American dream is also tied to our commitment to our home country, and our ability to support our local economies, initiatives, and families - so it is critical that we stay engaged.
Caribbean-Americans are a key voting bloc and in key swing states (like Florida) and they can determine the outcome of the electoral race but are sometimes overlooked. I think it is a two fold strategy, Caribbean-Americans are already politically active but we should work to have a seat at the table prior to GOTV, we should have an agenda, a united front and finds ways to use our talents and skills to amplify our party or candidate and our message. The second part would be to campaigns, engage us early, you wont regret it.
Q: What should politicians be doing better when it comes to engaging the Caribbean-American and all immigrant communities?
DB: As the diversity of our country grows, I have seen a positive shift in how many politicians engage with the Caribbean-American community. As with anything, there is certainly always room for growth. I think it’s important for politicians to tap into their Caribbean Advisory Commission and Councils when they can, not just during Caribbean-American Heritage Month. Amplify their voices and stories on all of the issues (like health care and immigration) when those are at the forefront ensure that you include us where you can.
Q: What advice do you have for those trying to enter into politics?
DB: Go for it. Reach out to those who have already done it or are currently doing what you want to do and ask the questions you need to but ultimately understand that you have to do the work. Understand that sometimes the answers will come as you go. Manage your expectations, change takes time, but when the moment comes, seize it! A mentor of mine Chris Cobbs always says, “ Always stay ready, so you never have to get ready” and It’s so true! I don’t believe there is a perfect road map as there are so many paths and ways to get involved in politics. All politics is local, start there, it’s national and certainly global. So go for it, especially to Black girls, we need you and there is room for all of us.
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