Of the People

Of the People

For many alumni, government careers offer the best opportunity to serve

By Alexis Grant '03 | Photos by Fred Field

A Voice for the Less Fortunate

After graduating from Colby in 1984, Leon Buck, a Ralph Bunche scholar from Philadelphia, was offered a staff position with a Republican senator.

But he didn't take it.

Instead he taught government at a boys' school in Baltimore, earned his law degree at Howard University, then worked as a prosecutor in the Navy. Now, 20 years later, he's made it to Capitol Hill as a staff member for a congresswoman. So why is he doing now what he could have started doing 20 years ago?

Leon Buck ‰84
Photo by Fred Field
Politics, in a word. Unlike the senator who gave him the initial opportunity, U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.) shares many of his basic beliefs and political goals. "I liked what she believed in. I liked the fact that she was a strong, progressive Democrat,— Buck said. "We basically fall on the same political side of the fence.—

As Jackson-Lee's chief of staff, Buck works in the congresswoman's Washington, D.C., office, managing staff and preparing legislative strategy. He's helping encourage change in various political arenas, including expanding immigrants' rights and fighting the Patriot Act, he said. "The woman I work for, she fights for things like children, more money for education,— said Buck, dressed in a black suit and wearing black-rimmed glasses. "We believe in helping the needy and unfortunate who don't have a voice here in Washington.—

His interest in government started in high school, when his mother worked as a history teacher. At Colby the history and government major served as the student government's cultural life chair. "Being in student government, I think, helped me to become politically aware of how things work,— said Buck, a charter member of Colby's Alumni of Color Network.

He built upon that in the late 1990s as Jackson-Lee's legislative director and later as a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee, in which capacity he argued against impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. "It was then I realized that politics is a nasty, dirty business,— he said. "One side will do whatever they can to bring down whoever is in power.—

The rewards of service in the legislative branch of the federal government notwithstanding, Buck said he hopes to transition to the private sector, as he did briefly in 2002, when he left government work temporarily to work as a lobbyist. Working for a private firm would give him more time to spend with his wife, who also works for a lawmaker, and their three children, two boys and a girl, all under age 10. As a Hill staffer, it's sometimes after midnight before Buck returns to his home in Bowie, Maryland.

"You can effect change either way—private or public,— Buck said. "You can successfully take the skills and experience you acquire while you're in government and take them out into the private industry. And that's eventually what I want to do.—