Policy Experts

Meet our team of experienced policy analysts.

  • Menna Demessie, Ph.D.

    Dr. Menna Demessie is the vice president of policy and research for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF), where she works on public policy issues relevant to African Americans. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of California, Washington Center.

    "In her latest publication, Toward A More Inclusive America: African Americans & Voting Rights, she discusses the significance of restrictive voting law changes in the context of the Voting Rights Act and recent age discrimination."

    Prior to joining CBCF’s staff, Dr. Demessie worked for Representative Barbara Lee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow focusing on unemployment legislation, poverty, and foreign policy. Her honors include the NCOBPS Presidential Award for Outstanding Dedication and Service (2010), Ginsburg Award for Community Service and Social Action (2010), Congressional Research Award (2008), and the National Conference of Black Political Scientists Graduate Paper Award (2008).

    Dr. Demessie holds a joint doctorate in Public Policy and Political Science as well as a Master of Arts in Political Science and Certificate in African American, African and Black Transnational Studies from the University of Michigan. She also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Law and Society from Oberlin College. She has been interviewed on NPR and other media outlets and currently serves on the Alumni board for the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, on the advisory board of the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN), and has served as National Youth Coordinator for the Society of Ethiopians Established in the Diaspora (SEED) since 2000.

  • Jay Arzu

    Jay Arzu is the State Farm Transportation & Equity Research Fellow for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Incorporated (CBCF) in the Center for Research and Analysis (CPAR) department.

    Mr. Arzu is responsible for data collection and the production of policy analysis and research as it relates to transportation equity. He will analyze best practices and policy solutions for the promotion of integrated and comprehensive impact in black communities; and be responsible for the dissemination of research findings and relevant information to inform CBCF partners, stakeholders and the general public.

    Prior to joining CBCF, Jay had experience working on Capitol Hill, formerly serving for Congressmen Jose Serrano and Senator Chuck Schumer where he worked on Transportation and Development related issues. Jay also worked for Public Affairs Company Vox Global where he assisted with research, media outreach and writing.

    Mr. Arzu graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Art in Political Science with a Minor in Public Relations. Jay was awarded a U.S. Fulbright Grant. He obtained his Master of Public Administration (MPA) at SDA Bocconi in Milan Italy, while on Fulbright. Jay’s concentrations at SDA Bocconi were City Management/ Competitiveness and Business/Government Relations.

    Jay’s experiences have given him high hopes for the future this has transformed him into someone who can give hope to others. He will never let insurmountable challenges stop him from being active and engaged in his local community, state and country. Jay is an American Patriot who loves his country and is highly engaged in its future. His interests includes development, transportation, community/urban/regional planning and innovation.

  • Dr. Tiffiany Howard

    Small Business and Entrepreneurship Fellow

    Dr. Tiffiany Howard is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Center for Migration, Demography, and Population Studies (CMDP) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and will serve as the foundation’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Fellow sponsored by Bank of America.

    Dr. Howard’s extensive research portfolio in mixed methodological analysis and empirical approaches to understanding the impact of economic indicators on forced migration in the international context positions her well for analyses she will be conducting on the factors that help or hinder minority access to capital, black business growth and entrepreneurship. Furthermore, her joint PhD in public policy and political science allow for a more comprehensive focus on the sociopolitical factors and public policies that influence economic policies and vice versa at the local, state, federal, and international level.

    Dr. Howard is a member of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and works with the organization to provide resources and educational opportunities to help Nevada businesses succeed and create jobs. She has worked with businesses such as Home Depot, Walmart, Nevada Energy, Cox Communications, MGM, and Nike to promote community engagement and corporate social responsibility. Additionally, her expertise in fund development, launching capital campaigns, cultivating donor relations, securing foundations grants, and program and policy evaluation position her well for understanding how business and community leaders work together around common interests of economic empowerment for disadvantaged communities.

    Dr. Howard is the author of The Tragedy of Failure (Praeger Security International/ABC-CLIO, 2010) and Failed States and the Origins of Violence (Routledge, 2014), the co-author of Sex, Power and Politics
    (Palgrave: 2016), and series co-editor of Migration, Demography and Environmental Change: Global Challenges (University of Nevada Press). Other notable peer reviewed publications appear in Civil Wars, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, the National Political Science Review and the Journal of Political Science Education.

    She earned a joint doctorate degree in public policy and political science from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in 2006 and joined the UNLV faculty in 2008.

  • 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.