My Life’s Work, a podcast created by myself and Nathaniel Liu, recently released an episode featuring Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D). Our podcast delves into the career paths of our neighbors and explores the decisions that guided them along the way.
Charles Allen is a familiar name on the Hill. He has served as Ward 6 councilmember for the past seven years and previously as Chief of Staff for former Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells. Still, many of us don’t know the origins of his journey towards political office.
With Allen’s announcement that he is running for his third term as Councilmember this year, this episode presents an opportunity to hear his story in his own words and to learn about the experiences and principles that guide his work today.
As a young adult growing up in Homewood, Alabama, Allen wasn’t thinking he would one day go into politics—let alone become a DC Councilmember. A self-described “medical-health nerd,” Allen had his heart set on becoming a doctor.
“What I envisioned the job to be was: someone’s in crisis, someone’s hurting and I’m going to go try to help figure out how to make that better. I’m going to be someone who helps fix what’s ailing them,” he explained. “That was my calling.”
His underlying calling to be a helper has remained a guiding force throughout Allen’s life, even though he transitioned away from his childhood aspirations of a career in medicine.
Allen’s transition began as a premed student at Washington and Lee University. He decided to take a course titled “Malcolm and Martin”. The course, an introduction to civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., opened Allen’s eyes to the issues of social justice. “A lot of my decisions that I ultimately made I really pinpoint back to one course in college, [to] one professor who really lit a spark and changed my entire trajectory,” Allen reflected.
That summer, Allen decided to volunteer at a health clinic in South Boston and, after a couple months spent taking vitals, he decided to shift his focus to community health and pursue a masters in public health.
Allen came to DC as an intern in the federal government after focusing on policy and epidemiology in graduate school. He quickly fell in love with the city and while he was frustrated with the pace of federal work, his work with Senators Paul Wellstone and Governor and former presidential candidate Howard Dean led him to see that politics could also allow him to play a role as a helper.
“It matters that you have good policy, but there’s lots of really great smart people out there who can tell you ‘here’s the way you can try to fix this problem’,” Allen said. “But if the right person is not in the right seat, it [policy] doesn’t matter.”
Allen found himself in that seat soon enough when he was elected as Ward 6 Councilmember in 2014.
DC is currently facing a challenging recovery from the pandemic. Allen sees this as an important crossroads for the city. “As we think about what an equitable recovery means and what it looks like, I think we have a huge opportunity for us to really think about where we go from here and what kind of city we want to be.” This moment uniquely pulls on the core elements of Allen’s journey—from his experience with public health to his focus on social justice.
Listen to the episode to hear Allen describe how he developed an appreciation for the power of politics to make the world a better place. Allen discusses his proudest legislative moments and how they build directly on his upbringing, his transformative college experience, and his work in public health.
You can learn more about Allen and his re-election campaign at charlesallen2022.com. To listen to Allen’s story in more detail and in his own words, visit the My Life’s Work website, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Sarah Cymrot is a 17-year-old from Capitol Hill who occasionally contributes to the Hill Rag. She is the co-host of My Life’s Work podcast and is completing her junior year of high school at the George Washington University through the GW Early College Program. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.