By David Ertischek ’01
As the Deputy White House Liaison for the Department of the Interior, Chelsey Cartwright ’13 is the intermediary between the president’s house and the nation’s backyard.
An integral part of her role is building relationships and creating a sense of culture and community. She is also tasked to make sure the Biden-Harris administration’s four core agenda issues (COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change) are implemented in the department.
The U.S. Department of the Interior oversees the management and conversation of public lands, as well as programs related to Native Americans and territories, and some historic preservation.
“We see things through the lens of racial equity, and making sure that’s preeminent in the Interior, and that looks like social justice work, [striving for] net zero carbon emissions, clean energy, and that falls into the bucket of climate justice,” said Cartwright.
“We are in a climate crisis, a public health crisis, on top of an economic crisis and a racial equity crisis. We’re making sure those intersections manifest, particularly at the Interior, about how we steward public lands, and steward to have people feel more connected and accessible to public lands.”
Cartwright is passionate about the Department of Interior’s work, and said she is honored to be in the unique position to tackle those crises. She feels she can further the work to provide accessibility to public lands to people of color and women.
The work the Interior does on advancing environmental justice for indigenous and other marginalized communities is extremely important, too. She is also trying to ensure that the work being done has a long trajectory and lasts past the Biden administration.
Working with others is a skill that Cartwright honed at Emerson College.
“I think Emerson taught me there’s nothing more powerful than the power of the network. I see that as a grounding principle if you’re a student at Emerson who wants to be successful,” said Cartwright.
“Politics is all about relationships with people. Emerson equipped me with resources to navigate, understand, and mediate. Also, how to connect with folks who aren’t like me. It was a challenge at first being at Emerson as a young Black girl from Houston and coming to Boston. Working through those kinks was informative for me.”
At Emerson, Cartwright assisted the women’s basketball team, and was DJ C Royale on WERS, regularly helming The Secret Spot show. She found her true calling at the Cultural Center working with SpeakUp and EBONI. Mentors, including Senior Advisor for Student Affairs Tikesha Morgan, helped her find her wings.
Cartwright added she’s also thankful to President Lee Pelton, Associate Professor Roger House, former faculty member Carole Simpson, Assistant Professor Mike Brown, and former staff member Steven Martin.
“They informed my experience as Black staff and faculty who nurtured me and made sure I was good and had a hot meal when dining services weren’t as fancy as they are today,” said Cartwright.
Since Emerson, Cartwright’s political career has been ascendant. She worked in former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration as a constituent services aide, and then deputy director of the Office of Boards and Commission. She moved into city politics as a neighborhood liaison, and then director of constituent services for Congresswoman’s Ayanna Pressley’s office when she was a Boston city councilor.
She then went into campaign work, with two positions in Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign, before transitioning to be the Northeast regional political director for President Joe Biden’s campaign.
“Align yourself with a candidate who speaks to what you believe in. Internships really change the world,” said Cartwright who interned with Patrick’s administration before being hired. “This new generation thinks they can be influencers. You have to know the right people, but they also have to know you and speak to you and your work ethic.”
Cartwright said she’s been able to work for public servants in whom she genuinely believed.
“I’d go to bat for all of them,” said Cartwright. Her experience n Pressley’s office was indelible. “I learned the power of community, and how Black women can actualize themselves in the political sphere.”
In the future, Cartwright said she’d like to create a nonprofit that operates at the nexus of arts and political action, and what that means for young Black artists. She also has her eyes on another position.
“I do want to run for office at some point. That’s definitely been a goal for a long time,” added Cartwright.