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The Honorable Ertharin Cousin

Foreign ambassador, food service executive, and public affairs director Ertharin Cousin was born in 1957, in Chicago, Illinois. She received her B.A. degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1979, and went on to receive her J.D. degree from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1982. In 1993, Cousin moved to Washington D.C. and began working as the deputy chief of staff for the Democratic National Committee. In 1994, she began serving as the U.S. State Department’s liaison to the White House, in which capacity she received a Meritorious Service Award.

In 1996, Cousin stopped her work for the State Department in order to run the Illinois portion of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Albert Gore’s reelection campaign and in 1997, Cousin was appointed to the board for International Food and Agricultural Development and began serving as vice president for government and community Affairs for Jewel Food Stores. Two years later, when Albertsons Foods bought Jewel, Cousin began serving as group vice president of public affairs for Albertsons and was later promoted to senior vice president of public affairs. In 2002, Cousin joined the board of directors for food bank and food relief distribution nonprofit Feeding America and in 2004, she became its executive vice president and chief operating officer. In this capacity, she led food relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina which helped to deliver over 62 million pounds of food to the devastated Gulf Coast of the U.S.

In 2006, Cousin left Feeding America to found and serve as president of the Polk Street Group, a public affairs consulting firm based in Chicago, Illinois. After serving in that capacity for three years, Cousin left the company in the hands of her son, Maurice Cousin, in order to accept President Barack Obama’s appointment as U.S. Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Italy. During her time with the U.N. agencies, she has worked to help set up several new country-led aid programs and has also worked to bring food relief to Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, after the massive earthquake there in 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.099

Sex

Female

Interview Date

7/30/2010

Last Name

Cousin

Maker Category
Schools

Lane Technical College Prep High School

University of Illinois at Chicago

University of Georgia School of Law

Presentation School

St. Louise de Marillac School

First Name

Ertharin

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

COU04

Favorite Season

Summer, Winter

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Keep Moving Forward.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

5/12/1957

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Sweets

Short Description

Food service executive and foreign ambassador The Honorable Ertharin Cousin (1957 - ) served as a chief executive of several corporations, worked extensively with food relief charities like Feeding America and continued to promote food equity in her role as the U.S. ambassador to the UN agencies for food and agriculture.

Employment

Jewel Food Stores

United States Government

Albertsons Foods

Feeding America

Polk Street Group

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Ertharin Cousin's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin talks about her maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers her paternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes how her parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her likeness to her parents

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin lists her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes the changes in the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her early activism

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin talks about her early education

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin recalls her influences at the Presentation School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers her early aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin talks about her family's conversion to Catholicism

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers Albert Grannis Lane Technical High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her experiences at Albert Grannis Lane Technical High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin talks about her relationship with her sister

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin talks about attending college as a single mother

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin talks about her early exposure to civil rights activism

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin recalls her decision to attend the University of Georgia School of Law in Athens, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her activism during law school

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers working for E. Duke McNeil

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin recalls her work at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin talks about the Black Women Lawyers Association of Greater Chicago

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers her campaign for the commissionership of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers the death of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers working on Neil Hartigan's gubernatorial campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin talks about her involvement in Illinois politics in the late 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin recalls volunteering for William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton's first presidential campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin recalls serving as the White House liaison to the U.S. Department of State Department, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin recalls serving as the White House liaison to the U.S. Department of State, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers her involvement in President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton's reelection campaign

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin recalls directing President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton's reelection campaign in Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her vice presidency of government and community affairs at Jewel Food Stores

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her start in the field of food security

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her tenure as the COO of America's Second Harvest

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers the hunger relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers the hunger relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers founding the Polk Street Group, LLC

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers working on Barack Obama's first presidential campaign, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers working on Barack Obama's first presidential campaign, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ertharin Cousin remembers President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin recalls her appointment as a U.S. ambassador

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin talks about her U.S. ambassadorship to the United Nations agencies in Rome, Italy

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes the World Food Programme's work in Haiti after the earthquake of 2010

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin reflects upon her life

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes how she would like to be remembered and her advice to young people

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ertharin Cousin reflects upon her legacy

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

5$1

DATitle
The Honorable Ertharin Cousin describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood
The Honorable Ertharin Cousin remembers her campaign for the commissionership of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
Transcript
Did you have other memories about growing up, what were the kind of smells and sounds of your--$$Growing up we grew up where (laughter) it, it's, it's it was a great, as I said a great block to grow up on, lots of kids. When I was in grammar school, we attended Presentation Catholic school [Presentation School, Chicago, Illinois] which was at the corner of my block. So we, we you lived in, in a three block area from the candy store, two blocks away to the, the grammar school. It was the kind of block where the watermelon man came down the street in the summertime. The ice cream man came down the street in the summertime. If my sister were sitting here she'd say, "Tell him about Nana." Nana as I told you Nana was my father's mother [Carolyn Brown Harris (ph.)] who my father [Julius Cousin] was able to buy this house because he bought it with, with the help of my grandmother who lived on the first floor, we lived upstairs. My grandmother was this person who was an entrepreneur she owned, as I say, she owned restaurants, she owned bars, and she made early entrepreneurs out of all of us. She, we'd go to the candy store she'd say, "You don't need to go to the candy store; you need to sell the candy." So she would take us to the warehouse and we would buy boxes of candy and sold candy on our porch. And so if you sold enough candy, then you could eat it (laughter). And so we had the porch that had all the kids, because it was the candy house, and anybody he grew up in, in inner city neighborhoods can tell you about the candy house. It was the place that you went and you had a nickel and you got you know ten pieces of candy, 'cause they were two for a penny. And so that's one of my earliest memories as a child is being you know nine, ten, eleven years old outside selling candy on our porch. And had, always having money for the ice cream man, because we sold the candy. So it was, it was very much though the place where children gathered, and, and I think about it now, they did that very purposefully. It was also having four girls away that they kept us right there that they could see us, because everybody came to us. And so they knew all of our friends because they were always on our porch, and they knew where we were because we were on the porch selling candy or we were standing in front of the porch jumping rope. And it was the kind of block where everybody on that block knew whose children, who belonged to whom. They knew where you were supposed to be. And they knew if your parents weren't at home that you weren't supposed to be someplace and you knew they knew. And you knew that before your parents' first--their foot would hit the first step they would tell if you (laughter) weren't where you were supposed to be. So it was very easy for us to stay on that porch because we knew we had lots of prying eyes if we didn't. The interesting thing for me though during this period was if this was during the Civil Rights Movement in the City of, of Chicago [Illinois], as well just as it was in the South. And if you remember this was the period that Martin Luther King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] came to the City of Chicago, and came to the West Side. I remember Martin Luther King giving a speech on top of the hot dog stand, two blocks from my house, and the entire neighborhood going out to see him speak. I remember the, the fire hydrants being on and shutting the fire hydrants 'cause out, we didn't have pools, neighborhood pools so you'd turn the fire hydrant on in the summertime. But turning the fire hydrant off and nobody complaining about it, because you went to see Martin Luther King speak on, on, on the corner.$Now we're at '87 [1987].$$Um-hm. Um-hm.$$And you're involved with the black women's bar association [Black Women Lawyers Association of Greater Chicago].$$Um-hm. Who are you working for at this time, you're still the Water Reclamation--$$I'm still at the Water Reclamation District [Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago], but then I decided I should run for commissioner of the Water Reclamation District because it wasn't being run well. And why wouldn't I run for commissioner and then we could change it? Same thing how do we continue to change things? But at that period of time, the Water Reclamation District was an at large election. Was a low ballot, no visibility at large election that you had to win countywide, and the top three won. Shows how naive I was though, because, but we actually ran the best yuppie buppie campaign that the city had ever seen. Because at this point, I'm what twenty-nine years old, about '87 [1987] yeah that's about right. Yeah I was born in '57 [1957] yeah, so we were, I ran. We had bus stop signs, "L" [elevated train] stop signs-- that was when I learned that bus stop signs and "L" stop signs do not vote. And so you can have lots of bus stop signs and "L" stop signs does not when your, mean you gonna win an election. Also because it was a low visibility office and I was not the Democratic nominee, the Democratic chosen candidate there. There were twelve people on the ballot; I was not the Democratic candidate, but their party candidate on the ballot. It means that I got beat terribly in all of the white wards around the county, but I won, I came in you, as I said it was they, the top three win. And I came in first, second or third in all the lakefront wards and all the African American wards in the city. So what it did was it made the Democratic Party take notice, and they were like oh my god, you know this is somebody who is actually smart and has put together something here. Because we did put together a coalition of, of young activists whites from the international, I- independent voters association of Illinois [Independent Voters of Illinois Independent Precinct Organization]. IVI IPO on the North Side, as well as from Buffy [ph.] on the South Side of the City of Chicago [Illinois], and the churches on the West Side on the City of Chicago. And so after I lost, I went and got another job at the, the ethics board of the city, but--$$Now year was it, was this election?$$The election was an off year election, so it's probably '87 [1987].$$Okay.$$Yeah, it's probably '87 [1987]. Okay, I feel like I should have my resume in front of me so I can make sure all of my years are absolutely correct. So don't hold me to the exact year here. It was, in, so and because it was an off year election, then I was at the, ethics board of the city [Board of Ethics]. I was working at the ethics board when Neil Hartigan decided that he was gonna run for governor. And so the party came and asked me to serve on his campaign as deputy campaign manager, but they first went, when I first went to work for the Illinois attorney general's office, and was volunteer on the campaign. And so I served as the West Side regional director for the Illinois attorney general's office. And opened the first office for them in Austin [Chicago, Illinois] on Pulaski [Road] and, and Washington [Boulevard], serving the West Side of the City of Chicago, and the near west suburbs.