How a young black woman from Boston rose to a long, distinguished career in foreign service.
In this highly detailed autobiography, Elam-Thomas (Director, Diplomacy Program/Univ. of Central Florida), with co-author Robison, shares her life story, from her childhood in Boston all the way through the ranks of the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service. Overall, she spent 42 years as a diplomat around the world. The author, who is younger than her siblings by almost two decades, narrates her family’s early history, from her great-grandparents, who might have been slaves, to her parents’ first meeting to the accomplishments of her siblings, before jumping into her own life. At Simmons College in 1962, Elam-Thomas was accepted into the Experiment in International Living’s Student Exchange Program and lived in Lyon for the summer, which expanded her view of the world and planted the seed that would lead her into life as a diplomat. She worked in the Nixon administration as assistant cultural affairs officer in Senegal, then moved on to Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and many other assignments before returning to act as ambassador to Senegal. Throughout her world experiences, she continued to learn from the people and cultures she encountered, especially regarding the importance of listening. “I know that listening is the most effective approach to meaningful dialogue in any setting,” she writes. “Listening is an art….It is called respect. It is called appreciation. It is called anticipation. And it is called leadership.” Throughout, Elam-Thomas includes anecdotal moments that help break up the dry recounting of the sometimes-extraneous details of her decades of service (she retired in 2005). For those interested in becoming diplomats, the book effectively shows the high standards required.
An informative, behind-the-scenes look at one black woman’s rise through the ranks of the Foreign Service when few others like her were serving as diplomats.