Spring 2016

Making Positive Changes from the White House

Meet Ashley Allison ’11, deputy director in the Office of Public Affairs at the White House

When President Barack Obama first ran for office in 2007, Ashley Allison ’11 was inspired, like so many other young people, to get involved with his campaign. A journalist and high school teacher at the time, she began volunteering in her Brooklyn neighborhood, and eventually went to work in South Carolina for the primary race there. After graduating from Brooklyn Law School three years later, she moved back to Ohio, where she had grown up, to work full time on Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Allison served as a regional field director for Organizing for Action, and soon became the state’s African-American vote director. She then moved to Washington, D.C., to work on the inauguration. A position with a nonprofit focusing on the Affordable Care Act led to her current job at the White House.

“It’s kind of been like a very fast dream since then,” she said.

Today, Allison serves as deputy director in the Office of Public Engagement for the Obama administration. She focuses on policy areas including criminal justice, education, and economic ladders of opportunity, working closely with President Obama’s senior advisor and director for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement, Valerie Jarrett. She also manages a team of associate directors who work with leaders in the African-American, entertainment, faith, disability, and international communities. Her projects regularly cross over with the communications team and the Department of Justice, among other agencies.

Every day, we’re dealing with important policies that will impact people for the rest of their lives."

“We’re the outward-facing component of the White House,” she explained. “We bring folks into the building to make sure they know where the president stands on policies and issues, and what his priorities are. We also host and speak at other events to hear from the public; we want to know what people’s thoughts are on issues that are affecting their community, so that we can communicate them to the president and ultimately make positive changes.”

In January, for example, Allison coordinated the president’s first visit to a U.S. mosque. And last year, she helped create the vision for President Obama’s speech on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Ala., which marked the 50th anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery.

“Every day, we’re dealing with important policies that will impact people for decades, for the rest of their lives,” she said. “It’s rarely an eight-hour day, but it’s worth it.”

Allison’s wide-ranging background includes working as the national director of partner engagement and outreach at Enroll America. Prior to that, she was a constituency coordinator for the 2013 presidential inaugural committee, focusing on women and faith outreach. Earlier in her career, as a New York City Teaching Fellow, she was a special education teacher at Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn. She also worked as a freelance journalist.

“Back then, I saw some of the challenges that the high school was facing and I thought that I could probably have a bigger impact if I learned the law,” Allison said. “Brooklyn Law School was particularly attractive to me because of its location and its part-time day program.”

Allison was an active student at the Law School. She was an Edward V. Sparer Public Interest Law Fellow, participated on the Moot Court Honor Society as a member of the national trial advocacy team, and served as the vice president of alumni affairs for the Black Law Students Association (BLSA).

As the president’s second term in the White House winds down, Allison is looking ahead to more opportunities in public service. “Whatever I do next, I want to continue working to help people improve their quality of life. That’s what I love most about what I do now,” she said.

—by Jen Swetzoff