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Adjoa B. Asamoah

Headshot of Adjoa Asamoah
Senior Adviser for Racial Equity at The Department of Housing and Urban Development

Adjoa B. Asamoah has had a groundbreaking career as a champion for racial equity. But she says the term is still misunderstood by many Americans, despite a nationwide awakening to systemic racism over the last two years. “Racial equity is not a catch-all phrase to be used with diversity and inclusion,” Asamoah said in an interview. “Racial equity is about looking at where groups are situated based on these histories and structures and amending our approach – tailoring our approach to policy development accordingly – so that the inequities are actually eliminated,” she added. For Asamoah, this is her life’s work. It has taken many forms over the years, including her appointment this year as the racial equity czar for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, reporting to Secretary Marcia Fudge.

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“When I talk about organizing for racial equity, I’m talking about organizing support for systems and policies and outcomes that acknowledge and change both inside and outside of institutions.”

Adjoa B. Asamoah has had a groundbreaking career as a champion for racial equity. But she says the term is still misunderstood by many Americans, despite a nationwide awakening to systemic racism over the last two years. 

“Racial equity is not a catch-all phrase to be used with diversity and inclusion,” Asamoah said in an interview. 

“Racial equity is about looking at where groups are situated based on these histories and structures and amending our approach – tailoring our approach to policy development accordingly – so that the inequities are actually eliminated,” she added. 

For Asamoah, this is her life’s work. It has taken many forms over the years, including her appointment this year as the senior adviser for racial equity for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, reporting to Secretary Marcia Fudge.

Speaking to The Punch Up in her personal capacity, Asamoah reflected on her extraordinary career so far and detailed the challenges and goals ahead in the fight for racial equity. 

Achieving racial equity “requires not just significant measures to reform and reimagine how we think about doing things,” she said. “But to truly work in tandem with communities of people who have been impacted, in partnership.” 

Asamoah is the first senior adviser for racial equity in HUD history.

But her life’s purpose first became clear to her three decades ago, crystallized on the shores of Ghana. 

Asamoah visited the country as a young girl – seeing firsthand the horrific dungeons that imprisoned Africans as part of the transatlantic slave trade and listening as her father recounted the atrocities of his birthplace. 

“All of my work to date – and I don’t anticipate a change – has been about acknowledging the historical wrongs that have been done to my people and to work in whatever capacity I can to help improve that,” Asamoah said.

For Asamoah, that quest started when she was just 14, pushing to change the term “headmaster” at her private high school in Connecticut, an effort that came to fruition years later. 

As an undergraduate, she worked with community leaders to stop her college, Temple University, from enacting a new campus plan that would have displaced Black residents in the surrounding neighborhood. 

A trailblazing career in the years since, Asamoah has used her skills as a grassroots organizer, behavioral therapist, political strategist and activist to advance racial equity in both the public and private sectors. This, Asamoah said, is part of her broader mission to make the country not only more equitable when it comes to both race and gender but also more diverse and inclusive.  

She led the efforts to codify the first Office of African American Affairs here in Washington and spearheaded the nationwide legislative strategy to outlaw race-based hair discrimination, even writing part of the original bill. 

That bill, known as the CROWN Act, passed the House earlier this year. It has also been signed into law in more than a dozen states.  

Asamoah also played a vital role in securing President Joe Biden’s victory, serving as the campaign’s national adviser for Black engagement and later as Black engagement director for the inaugural committee. This is on top of her work leading the Democratic National Committee’s African American Leadership Council for years. 

Now as HUD’s senior adviser for racial equity, Asamoah is part of a “whole-of-government” effort within the Biden administration to advance racial equity and increase support for underserved communities. 

The key to achieving success, Asamoah said, is “centering” the people whose lives would be directly impacted by any change in government policy and having a “shared language” or agreement on how to define racial equity and other related terms. 

“When I talk about organizing for racial equity, I’m talking about organizing support for systems and policies and outcomes that acknowledge and change both inside and outside of institutions,” she said. 

“For me, these solutions have to be co-constructed,” she added. “People with lived experiences have something to contribute – they have to be centered.”  

Asamoah said there has been a cultural shift in America over the last two years. She described a “watershed moment” for racial equity at the height of the protests over the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020.

“That gave me some hope in a way that I hadn’t always had about there being a real, multi-racial, intergenerational, cross-class of people acknowledging that this is not ok. Where we are in terms of race relations and how things have gone about, this is not ok,” she said. 

But since then, there has been a backlash – with a rise in hate crimes and white supremacist attacks, as recently evidenced by the horrific shooting in Buffalo in which 10 Black Americans were killed. 

Asamoah said these tragedies are anguishing beyond words, pointing to a recent poll that found 75% of Black Americans fear they will be physically attacked because of their race. 

But it doesn’t deter her mission. 

“There are people working diligently, tirelessly, collectively to address the issues that we know are systemic, that we know are real. And it’s not just the federal government,” she said. 

“I don’t think that reality cancels hope. I don’t think that looking at present conditions means that you no longer believe things will improve. That’s what I’m dedicated to doing,” Asamoah added. 

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