Corps to Career: From corporate rights to human rights

Brogen Campaign - March 2014

From orchestrating a youth athletics program and teaching English lessons, to assisting with community flood relief, RPCV China Dickerson left no stones unturned during her service in El Salvador from 2007 to 2009.

Before Peace Corps, Dickerson aspired to a career in corporate law, but her work with under-served communities shifted her priorities. We asked some questions of the RPCV to learn more about her career trajectory.

Q: You attended Howard University, an institution known for its emphasis on
service. What made you join Peace Corps after graduating?

A: I was recommended by one of my professors. I had always wanted to attend law school, so I approached him for a recommendation for my law school application, and he said no, that he wanted me to consider working in diplomacy. He said there weren’t enough diplomats of African descent, so he thought I should consider it. “The legal profession is too saturated, we need more people of color representing the United States abroad,” he said. He gave me a Peace Corps application from maybe the ‘90s, and I looked into it and went online and looked up more recent work. I had never heard of the Peace Corps before he referenced it.

Q: I read that you developed an interest in human and civil rights law during your
service. 
Prior to Peace Corps, what were your career aspirations?

A: I wanted to enter corporate international law. I wanted to make a lot of money, working for a corporation like Disney World or some kind of international corporation that would pay well.

Q: What prompted a shift in your professional goals?

A: I still want to be an attorney, but now in civil and human rights law. It’s a huge difference. When I was in El Salvador there was so much going on – laws existed to protect people, but they weren’t being enforced. In the community where I lived, most people were poor, they couldn’t afford attorneys. There was corruption, too, and if you filed a claim you could have the community look down on you.

One young lady was pregnant and was 12 years old, so I went to a magistrate and was told to not make a fuss about it, because the father was a community leader. It rubbed me the wrong way and I thought it was horrible. It was just one of the many incidents that informed my change in the type of law I wanted to practice. There were also a lot of kids not going to school because they were working, and there were women being abused and not having a place to go. There needed to be representation for those people who are marginalized and under served.

Even if I were to get hired by a company like Microsoft, I would still spend a lot of my pro-bono hours working for community organizations, whether that be international groups like immigration organizations or domestic programs. I don’t want to lose the civil and human rights aspect of my passion.

Q: How did your Peace Corps service prepare you for your current work? What skills
and lessons remain useful to you today?

A: I remember when I first got back and I was applying for jobs, all anyone wanted to talk about was the Peace Corps experience, even with my resume that has the Department of Justice and jobs on the Hill – a lot of good experience. But employers understand that as a Volunteer you’re in a real leadership position. You’re able to wear multiple hats. You’re able to deal with a bunch of different personalities under extreme situations. I think all of those skills developed as a PCV are what help.