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Roundtable in Honor of Black history Month with Secretary Antony J. Blinken

February 8, 2022

Tune into a discussion with the Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in honor of Black History Month. The Secretary, along with the Thursday Luncheon Group (TLG), will host a virtual roundtable with the Association of Black American Ambassadors (ABAA), Blacks in Government Carl T. Rowan chapter (BIGCTR), and the Pickering and Rangel Fellows Association (PRFA) to discuss the contributions of African American diplomats: pPast, pPresent and fFuture. The roundtable will also address priorities and issues affecting Black and African American employees as part of a broader dialogue on the Department’s work to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.

About The Speakers

Irvin Hicks Jr. - Senior Advisor Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement AffairsIrvin Hicks Jr. – Senior Advisor

Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Irvin “Irv” Hicks Jr. joined the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) in September 2020 after serving as Senior Negotiator with the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Security Negotiations and Agreements, and as the Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa based in Djibouti. As POLAD, Mr. Hicks advised the Commanding General (two-star) and his staff on foreign policy matters related to the command’s mission and activities in 12 countries throughout East Africa.

A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Mr. Hicks also served as Deputy Chief of Mission for U.S. Embassy Nouakchott, Mauritania.  His Washington, D.C. assignments include the Office of Management Policy, Right-sizing and Innovation, and the Africa Bureau where he served as a Management Counselor rover where he supported U.S. missions in West Africa engaged in the fight against the Ebola pandemic. Prior to joining the State Department, Mr. Hicks worked for several non-government agencies that included the African American Institute, Entrepreneurs International, and the U.S.-South African Leadership Exchange Program. He was also a corporate executive for General Motors’ Africa and Middle East Operations. Additional assignments with the State Department include Guinea, Nigeria, Brazil, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Mauritius and Burundi.

Upon graduating from grade school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and high school in Berlin, West Germany; Mr. Hicks received his undergraduate degree from George Washington University where he majored in International Affairs and African studies. Mr. Hicks also received a Masters of Arts degree in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and a Masters of Arts degree in National Security Studies from the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

Proficient in French, Mr. Hicks has also studied Portuguese, German, Arabic, Chinese and Amharic.

Mr. Hicks’ Department of State awards include the Edward J. Perkins Senior Award for Diversity and Inclusion, two Meritorious Service Increases, two Superior Honor Awards, the Department’s ICASS Outstanding Leadership Award, several Meritorious Honor awards.

Department of Defense awards include the Office of the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Meritorious Civilian Service Award and the Joint Civilian Service Commendation Award.

Mr. Hicks is currently president of the Thursday Luncheon Group (TLG), the Department’s oldest affinity group that advocates for the recruitment, advancement, retention and empowerment of African-American and other under-represented Foreign and Civil Service Officers in support of the Department’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy.

Mr. Hicks will join Mission Iraq’s leadership team in August 2022 as Principal Officer to the US Consulate General in Erbil, Iraq.



Photo of Amber Ruth Davis

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis (Ret.)

Ambassador Davis was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1943. She received a bachelor’s degree (magna cum laude) from Spelman College and a master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley. During her 40-year career in the Foreign Service, she served as chief of staff in the Africa Bureau (2005-2009), distinguished advisor for international affairs at Howard University (2003-2005), Director General of the Foreign Service and director of human resources (2001-2003), director of the Foreign Service Institute (1997-2001), principal deputy assistant secretary for consular affairs (1995-1997), ambassador to the Republic of Benin (1992-1995), consul general in Barcelona (1987-1991), and a consular officer in nations around the globe. She established FSI’s School of Leadership and Management in 1999, improved crisis management instruction and training for Locally Employed Staff, and led the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative that boosted Foreign Service hiring. She has also helped to increase diversity in the Foreign Service, particularly as president and adviser to the Thursday Luncheon Group.

Since her retirement in 2009, Ambassador Davis has served as the chair (and a founding member) of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC), an organization devoted to promoting women’s economic empowerment by creating an international network of businesswomen. She has also chaired the selection committee for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship at Howard University’s Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, where she helped to oversee the annual selection process. Finally, as president ad interim of the Association of Black American Ambassadors, she participates in activities involving the recruitment, preparation, hiring, retention, mentoring and promotion of minority Foreign Service employees.

Davis currently serves on the Advisory Council of the Foreign Service Youth Foundation. She is vice president of the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, and the chairwoman of the International Mission of Mercy, USA. She also acts as a senior adviser to the Thursday Luncheon Group and the International Career Advancement Program (ICAP) at the University of Denver, where she serves as a counselor and speaker and was honored with ICAP’s first Diversity Award for visionary leadership and fostering diversity within foreign affairs. Finally, Davis is a member of the American Foreign Service Association and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

Davis, a career ambassador, has received the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award, Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award and Equal Employment Opportunity Award; the Secretary of State’s Achievement Award; the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup; two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards; and Honorary Doctorates of Law from Middlebury and Spelman Colleges. She was recently named to the Economist’s 2015 Global Diversity List as one of the Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life and is the recipient of the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.



Ramona Houston, Ph.D., PMP, is on a mission to inspire social impact. A scholar, social impact
strategist, speaker, and host of The Empowerment Zone podcast, Ramona is passionate about
community engagement and solving social challenges. An American historian, Ramona
specializes in 20th century American history, civil rights and race relations, specifically its
African American and Mexican American dimensions. Through her publications, presentations
and podcast, Ramona analyzes American race relations and promotes the importance of
communities working together to solve America and the world’s most critical challenges.
A social entrepreneur and proponent of social responsibility, Ramona is Founder and Chief
Strategist of Kaliráh Strategies, a boutique agency that empowers businesses and public figures
to incorporate social impact into their business growth strategy and, simultaneously, use their
power and platforms to solve the social challenges that face our nation and global community.
Through collaborating with Ramona, clients grow their business, elevate their brand, advance the
social causes they believe in, strengthen their communities, further the United Nations Global
Compact Sustainable Development Goals, and, ultimately, enrich their legacies through social

Throughout her professional career, Ramona has supported the valuable work of the US Foreign Service. While a professor at Morehouse College, a Diplomat in Residence approached Ramona about serving as a public member on the US Foreign Service Selection Board. Since 2003, Ramona has served on three boards: once on the G-II Multifunctional Board and twice on the Senior Threshold Board. Ramona has also served on a few Reconstituted Boards. Ramona is a champion of social responsibly; diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEI&A); and racial and social justice. Her professional mission is “Inspiring minds, connecting communities, making social impact and transforming the world.” A graduate of The University of Texas (PhD in History) and Clark Atlanta University (BA in Spanish and History), Ramona is a native of Brownwood, Texas, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. To contact or learn more about how Ramona can be a resource for you, visit www.ramonahouston.com



Mr. Kerry Neal is a career member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and serves as Managing Director for Financial Policy, Reporting, and Analysis in the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services, U.S. Department of State. In this role he is responsible for leadership/oversight in the following areas: formulating and interpreting financial policy (4 FAM/4 FAH); agency financial reporting, including preparation and production of the annual agency financial report (AFR); and federal assistance financial management (grants and assistance payment systems, training, and policy). Prior to this appointment, Kerry served as Assistant Inspector General for Management / Executive Director (SES) in the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General (OIG). In that role he was broadly responsible for all executive office administrative functions including information technology, $150M+ annual budget & resources, facilities, physical security, and human capital management. Before joining OIG, he served as Office Director (SES) for the Office of Grants Management at the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of the Secretary.

Prior to the Department of the Interior, he served as Deputy Director (SES) for the Office of Grants and Debarment at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where he oversaw a diverse portfolio including overall office operations (budget, human resources, change management, immediate office resource management, and technology systems integration). He also oversaw the HQ Grants and Interagency Agreement Management Division (GIAMD) and was responsible for the timely management and administration of more than $4 billion in annually appropriated assistance activities, and more than $15 billion in overall open financial assistance and interagency agreement activities at the EPA. In addition, the Office of Grants and Debarment manages the EPA’s suspension and debarment practice consisting of a cadre of attorneys, professional support staff, and the senior level Debarring Official (SL). In 2017, he helped to establish the American Bar Association Grants Law Committee (GLC), serving as one of its founding co-chairs.

Prior to EPA, he served as Director for the Grants Division at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) Executive Office where he oversaw the operational grant administration portfolio of the largest grant making bureau at the Department. Under the Fulbright-Hays Act, he directed ECA’s grant activities that facilitated people-to-people exchanges between the US and countries around the world. From 2013-2015 Kerry served as Board Member and Secretary/Treasurer of GLIFAA, the Department of State LGBT+ resource group. Kerry began his federal service at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of the Fiscal Service (formerly Financial Management Service), where he worked on the Cash Management Improvement Act program. Prior to joining federal service, he worked in administrative and management positions at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland.

Kerry has been a member of various non-profit executive boards, including the African American Federal Executive Association (AAFEA) and the National Grants Management Association (NGMA). Kerry is also a 2021 Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

Kerry holds a B.S. in business from Long Island University, Southampton College; M.A. in business/legal administration from Marymount University; J.D. from University of Baltimore School of Law; and an LL.M. in environmental and energy law and policy from Georgetown University Law Center; he is admitted to practice law in Maryland, District of Columbia, and the U.S. Supreme Court.



Ms. Shelby Smith-Wilson serves as the Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon and is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. Prior to her current assignment, she was the Deputy Director of the Operations Center. Her overseas tours include Counselor for Political Affairs at U.S. Embassy Madrid; Counselor for Political Affairs at U.S. Embassy Panama; Deputy Political Counselor at U.S. Embassy Bogotá; and assignments in Santo Domingo and Nairobi. In Washington, she has served as Senior Watch Officer, Bolivia Desk Officer, Career Development Officer, and Watch Officer.

Ms. Smith-Wilson joined the Foreign Service in 1999 after interning at U.S. Embassy Caracas as a Thomas Pickering Fellow. She holds an M.S. in National Security Strategy from the National War College, an M.A. in International Affairs from The George Washington University, and an A.B. in Political Science and Spanish from Duke University.

In 2020, she was named a Fellow by the International Women’s Forum. She is the recipient of the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award and several Superior Honor Awards.





Steve Royster, the Consul General at U.S. Embassy Havana, is a career foreign service officer.

He also served abroad as a section head in Yaoundé and Nicosia, as a political officer in Asuncion, and in the consular section in Mexico City. In Washington, he served previously as the Deputy Director of the State Department’s Office of Caribbean Affairs, a Division Chief in the Office of Children’s Issues, a Congressional Advisor in the Legislative Affairs Bureau, the Press Spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and in the Department’s Operations Center Watch.

Steve has bachelor’s and J.D. degrees from Duke University and is a 2018 graduate of National Defense University’s Eisenhower School.

Steve, his wife, and their two teenaged daughters live in Alexandria.