TSU Alumna Dawson Keeps Things Moving Smoothly on Capitol Hill Amid COVID-19

Earnestine Dawson, Photo by James Marrow

By Lucas Johnson

NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover and other alumni say they’re proud of the impact alumna Earnestine Dawson is making on Capitol Hill amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dawson, a 2005 graduate of  TSU, recently made national headlines when she was profiled by The New York Times. She is the House Democratic Caucus’ digital director, charged with convening and managing digital conferences on congressional activity and policy debate. 

However, because of the virtual Congress the Caucus has set up for members due to the coronavirus, Dawson’s direction has become even more important to lawmakers. 

“At a time of stress and uncertainty, I’m so proud to see a TSU alumna helping to calm the waters at our nation’s capital, and in such an important role,” says President Glover. “Our University motto is Think, Work, Serve, and Ms. Dawson epitomizes that and more, especially during this unprecedented time in our country’s history. Her responsibilities highlight the caliber of students Tennessee State and other HBCUs produce that go on to have a global impact.”

Since March 16, Dawson has moderated more than a dozen two-hour caucus calls, and facilitated over 300 questions from 235 lawmakers. Her cheery voice is a welcome sound to lawmakers as she directs them to do things like “press star three” to ask questions, and to unmute their phones when they have the floor to speak. 

Some lawmakers say her voice is a reminder of what it was like when there was just radio, others describe the calmness of her direction as the glue that holds them together in uncertain times.

Dawson, humbled by their comments and the national attention she’s received, says she’s just doing her job. 

“The work is more important than me as an individual,” says Dawson. “I help them know that everything is going to be OK. They are making some tough decisions for the American people.”

A native of Cleveland, Mississippi, Dawson dreamed of becoming the nation’s first black woman elected to Congress from Mississippi. While at TSU, she majored in speech communication with an emphasis in mass communication, and was active on campus. She was the Junior Class Representative on the Student Government Association, and also pledged Alpha Chi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Incorporated.  

Amaris L. Johnson joined the sorority the same time Dawson did in 2003. She says even back then, Dawson’s pleasant, cheery attitude stood out. 

“She had this signature tagline. Anytime she gave a report or her name, she would say, ‘Greetings and salutations, my name is Earnestine Elaine Dawson,’” recalls Johnson, adding that her sorority sister was also good at resolving issues. 

“When we were disconnected, she was always able to defuse the situation and bring a level of calmness. When I read the (New York Times) article, I saw the same thing. That’s her.” 

Alum Charles Galbreath agrees.

“What’s so funny about the article, that was her spirit then,” says Galbreath, a former Mr. TSU who interacted with Dawson at the SGA. “Just a good energy. When she walked in a room, her positivity and her attitude walked in with her.”

Joni McReynolds, president of the TSU National Alumni Association, says the attention Dawson is receiving makes her proud. 

“I often say, TSU prepares our alumni to go anywhere and handle the most difficult situations,” says McReynolds. “She is a prime example of this.”

Dawson acknowledges TSU helped make her the person she is today. 

“TSU was my growing up moment,” she says. “I walked away from TSU being much stronger than I came in, and I’m really appreciative of that.”   

To read The New York Times profile on Dawson, visit https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/us/politics/democrats-coronavirus-earnestine.html.