Policy Experts

Meet our team of experienced policy analysts.

  • Menna Demessie, Ph.D.

    Dr. Menna Demessie is the Vice President of Policy Analysis and Research at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. She leads the foundation’s research and policy initiatives that affect African Americans and the global black community in areas including education, criminal justice, economic opportunity, voting and environmental sustainability, among many others. In her capacity, Dr. Demessie has spearheaded several partnerships with the White House, Congress, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and other nonprofit stakeholders to advance strategic efforts to influence and inform public policy. Prior to joining the CBCF, Dr. Demessie was one of five scholars in the United States to receive the prestigious American Political Science Congressional Fellowship. For the fellowship, she joined Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s team to work on federal unemployment legislation, antipoverty initiatives, and foreign affairs in the 112th Congress.

    She is the founder and co-managing editor of the CBCF’s Journal of the Center for Policy Analysis and Research, a multidisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal on public policy issues related to black politics in the United States and abroad. Dr. Demessie is also the founder of the CBCF’s first editorial board, an initiative she facilitated in honor of Dr. Ronald Walters’ legacy of advancing and engaging scholarship in the overall mission of the CBCF.

    In Benin, Ethiopia, Liberia, and Nigeria, she has also worked on democratic governance and gender equality, and in August 2017 traveled to Kenya as an election observer. In 2016, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser recognized Dr. Demessie with the Community Advocacy Award for her successful efforts to help secure funding from the DC City Council for the District’s African communities. In August of 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, appointed her as Secretary of the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund Advisory Council.

    Dr. Demessie has interviewed with NPR and other media outlets, presented to several universities and members of Congress on various policy issues, plays piano, and performs spoken word. Additionally, she has published on the critical importance of mobilization and representation of African Americans, black immigrants, and the need for the U.S. government to recognize the value of working in partnership with diaspora communities in addressing domestic and international policy.

    She received her joint Ph.D. in political science and public policy from the University of Michigan where she conducted the first and only empirical and qualitative study of African congressional caucuses in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the significance of the Congressional Black Caucus’ influence on U.S.-Africa foreign policy. She earned a Master of Arts in political science, and a certificate in African American, African, and Black Transnational Studies from the University of Michigan. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Law and Society with honors from Oberlin College.

    Dr. Demessie received the highly competitive Congressional Research Award from the Dirksen Congressional Center and is an adjunct professor for the University of Michigan and the University of California Washington Center.

    Currently serving her second elected term on the Alumni Board for the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, Dr. Demessie, a proud Ohio native, also serves on the Board of Visitors for her alma mater at Western Reserve Academy and on the Congressional Fellowship Program Advisory Committee for the American Political Science Association.

  • Naomi Smith

    Naomi Smith is the research policy analyst in the Center for Policy Analysis and Research (CPAR) at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF). She assists with research, data collection, and analysis across critical policy issues related to African Americans and people of African descent. Naomi has published issue briefs focusing on minority access to capital and the state of black-owned businesses. In particular, she analyzed two case studies of post-disaster recovery in Houston, Texas and the landscape of black-owned businesses in Detroit, Michigan.

    Naomi has been instrumental in the planning and execution of national policy forums on voting rights, juvenile justice, STEAM education, and the National Town Hall at CBCF’s Annual Legislative Conference. She has also co-produced the minority access to capital summits that have traveled to six cities across the nation. Most recently, Naomi spearheaded a partnership with the Sojourner Truth Legacy Project to build a database of organizations focused on the interests of black women and girls to help facilitate mobilization around key policy priorities and advance comprehensive policy strategies of engagement with policymakers.

    Ms. Smith is a graduate of the University of Michigan where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a minor in Afro-American and African Studies. While at the University of Michigan, Naomi worked in the Office of Academic and Multicultural Initiatives, where she mentored students as an Academic Success Partner and served as a secretary for the Black Student Union. She was also very involved in organizations created to advocate for students of color in an effort to facilitate effective change in her community while educating her peers and neighbors on local, national, and global issues that affect Black people. She currently serves as the co-chair of the Community Service Committee through the University of Michigan Alumni Association.

  • Afia Zakiya, Ph.D.

    Afia S. Zakiya is an African-centered political and cultural scientist, eco-activist, international educator, facilitator, and global sustainable development professional working to create a more socially just, egalitarian world. She joins the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) as the Water Infrastructure and Workforce Development (WIW) Fellow in the Center for Research and Analysis (CPAR) department.

    Before joining the CBCF, Afia was formerly Country Director for WaterAid, Ghana, Sr. Program Manager, Legislative Strengthening, Civic Advocacy & Constituency Outreach, West Africa for with the National Democratic Institute, based in Nigeria, and was a distinguished Investing in Women in Development (IIE/IWID) Fellow/Gender advisor for USAID Africa Bureau, in Washington, DC. She has held posts in academia as a Sr. Researcher and Policy Analyst at the Southern Center for Studies in Public Policy at Clark Atlanta University, and as an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at Morris Brown College, Atlanta, GA. Afia also held visiting scholar posts at the department of Political Science & Institute of African Studies at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and at the Centre for Development Studies, Cape Coast University, Ghana.

    Afia holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Clark Atlanta University, a dual Masters (MPA) in Organizational Change/Development and Public Policy from Cal State University-Hayward where she interned for the late Congressman Ronald V. Dellums, and has a BS in Business Administration from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She has worked and/or conducted research in over 22 African countries. A 2003 alumni of the prestigious International Career Advancement Program (ICAP-Aspen), her current research focuses on the global politics/political ecology of water, land and food sovereignty, the emerging agroecology movement, and water and sanitation infrastructure, access and governance issues in the US and Africa. She has produced numerous policy reports, scholarly articles, a co-edited book, and several book chapter contributions on topics that include environmental justice, women and politics, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and public health, and African indigenous knowledge systems. In addition to serving on several non-profit boards, Afia is a member of the International Society for Third Sector Research, National Conference of Black Political Scientists, African Heritage Studies Association, African Studies Association of Africa, and the African Philanthropy Network, among others.

  • Dr. Regan F. Patterson

    Dr. Regan F. Patterson is the Transportation Equity Research Fellow for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Incorporated (CBCF). Prior to joining the CBCF, Dr. Patterson was a postdoctoral research fellow at The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, where she examined the linkages between racial residential segregation and air pollution. She earned her PhD in Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. While at UC Berkeley, she was a recipient of the US EPA STAR Fellowship, the Switzer Environmental Fellowship, and the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Fellowship. Dr. Patterson’s dissertation research focused on the impact of diesel truck emission control regulations and freeway routing policies on air pollution and environmental equity. Parts of her dissertation are published in the peer-reviewed journals Atmospheric Environment and the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Additionally, she has conducted air quality research in Kenya and China. Dr. Patterson has taught courses on the environment, environmental justice, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). In the past, she interned with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in their Community Engagement Office. She also interned with the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Dr. Patterson is passionate about volunteering with environmental justice organizations. She has volunteered with Communities for a Better Environment on their Just Transition climate justice initiative. She has also volunteered with Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, where she served as a member of the Bayview Hunters Point Environmental Justice Response Task Force. Dr. Patterson is also passionate about her engagement with underserved youth by critically engaging environmental issues and STEM topics. She was awarded the inaugural Kapor Center Impact Award for increasing access to STEM education. Dr. Patterson holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UCLA and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from UC Berkeley.