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Black in the White House: 'American Dream is accessible to anybody'

  • Story Highlights
  • Karen Richardson, 30, is a graduate of Howard University in Washington
  • Richardson says she was inspired by former Secretary of State Rice
  • She originally worked for Obama's Senate office and later on his campaign
  • Richardson: "I don't want to lose sight of what it took to get here"
By Xuan Thai, Dan Lothian and Elena Slavin
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Karen Richardson may not have known where she would end up, but she has always known that with hard work, anything is possible.

As a student at Howard University, Karen developed a passion for international affairs.

Karen Richarson, a White House staffer, says anything is possible in America.

Richardson, 30, works as a White House staffer on what the Obama administration sees as the most pressing issue of the day: health care reform.

She meets with President Obama several times a week and expresses the same kind of determination and sense of hard work to her job.

"You have to continue to plow forward and just keep working until it gets done," she explained. "I stay focused on the job at hand and I'm committed to getting this done."

Richardson didn't always want to work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As a student at Howard University, a historically black college, she developed a passion for international affairs and originally wanted to follow the path set by another African-American woman.

"Watching [former Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice at the prime point of her career, [I began] thinking, 'I can do this.' "

So Karen moved to Italy and started working for UNICEF. But then she got a call from someone asking if she might be interest in interning for "this new guy, Barack Obama."

Watching the news from abroad, she didn't know much about Obama, a senator at the time, except that he was the guy "with Kenyan roots," as she put it. So she decided to put her dreams of international field work on hold and give Capitol Hill a try.

"I thought, 'Well, I've never done anything on Capitol Hill, I've never worked over on Capitol Hill.' " Karen recalled, "So this would be a great opportunity and let me just go see what this is about and learn as much as I can while I'm there,"

What was supposed to be a six-month internship with Obama's Senate office became a full-time position after only three months, and she followed that trail all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Although Karen's journey to the White House was never "inconceivable" to her, she still takes time to appreciate how far she has come.

"I don't want to lose sight of what it took to get here, what it means to be here and what an extraordinary honor it is to be working for President Obama," Richardson said. "I have those moments every day and I really do try to remind myself every single day why I'm here and what an extraordinary privilege it is."

She also tries to go back to her alma mater to speak to students, particularly African-Americans who might not think they, too, can work at the White House someday.

"It gives me the opportunity to go back and speak about my path because it can inspire them," Richardson explains. "It's changing a perspective for them in light of what it is they can achieve."

"The American dream is accessible to anybody," Karen said. "Your options and the possibilities in life are really limitless."

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