Raven Witherspoon at the Great Wall of China near Beijing, China

When I joined NABEA less than two years ago, I was a senior in undergrad with only a strong interest in nuclear policy and a bit of Mandarin—though no direct experience in China—under my belt. I couldn’t anticipate then, where I am now as a Tsinghua University graduate studying intensive Chinese and publishing my research on the US-China nuclear relationship. Moreover, I couldn’t have foreseen the incredible role NABEA would play in this trajectory.

As a senior, I was seeking to expand upon my previous internships in nuclear security, policy, and social justice by shifting my focus to international elements of the field. I had begun relearning Mandarin only a few weeks before stumbling upon the Schwarzman Scholars program—a fully funded master’s degree in leadership and global affairs. I simultaneously began applying to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s nuclear research fellowship, which I’d planned to do since I began reading their publications two years earlier. I was accepted by Schwarzman before submitting Carnegie’s application, but maintained hope that I’d one day contribute to the think tank’s meaningful work.

Around this time, I discovered NABEA while seeking out Black voices in the China space. I joined the Slack channel and dove into its myriad resources. One summer day after graduation, I noticed a self-introduction from Karl Jackson who oversees Carnegie’s internship program among other duties. I reached out to schedule a coffee chat and discuss his career, experiences in China, and advice for a young Black woman seeking to learn Mandarin and engage on topics related to international affairs. Our conversation was so lifegiving, and Karl encouraged me to apply for Carnegie’s year-long Young Ambassadors program.

Unfortunately, I was facing a challenging medical situation and knew I could not manage my health while completing an internship in conjunction with classes. However, I stayed in touch to update Karl about my projects and accomplishments throughout the year. I later applied to, and was accepted for, the summer program after obtaining my master’s degree. During the summer internship, I was honored to work with Senior Fellow Dr. Tong Zhao, an expert in my field who I consider to be one of the most prolific writers on the US-China nuclear relationship and international nuclear matters generally. Karl was my manager and was so supportive! I’ve since connected with like-minded interns and am still so grateful for my time at Carnegie.

Through NABEA I also learned about the American Mandarin Society’s African American China Leadership Fellowship which has paired me with my incredible mentor, Terri Batch, and allowed me to connect with other Black China scholars. We attend regular meetings with China-focused scholars, politicians, business leaders, etc. to develop our expertise and awareness beyond our personal fields of study.

I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed participating in the NABEA community generally. Through our Slack community, I’ve met wonderful people further along in their careers who have shared their expertise and career advice. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed  the Chinese language tables hosted by NABEA’s Chinese Language Group, which have inspired me so much throughout my language-learning journey! The preparation team’s dedication is evident in every session; the content and guest speakers are always so enriching.

Overall, being a part of the NABEA community has already provided me access to so many incredible people and opportunities that have significantly shifted the course of my career in the best ways possible. I’m grateful for the wisdom and support I’ve been blessed to receive here, as well as the connections that have helped turn dreams into reality.


If you identify as Black American or African-American, join our Slack community to connect with other Black Asia experts by filling out our Slack sign-up form! Also, fill out the Database sign-up form to be added to NABEA’s Database, a publicly accessible resource for institutions to find Black Americans across academia, government, and private sector industries who specialize in the Indo-Pacific.

If you do not identify as Black American, sign up for the listserv to receive newsletters and stay up-to-date on NABEA’s activities and programming. Also, please spread awareness by sending this information to any Black American, Asia specialists in your network.

Because of NABEA – Raven Witherspoon
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