‘A Mini-U.N.’

Brooklyn-born, DMV-raised Allyson McKithen has always been surrounded by diversity, and now, as executive director of the World Trade Center Washington, D.C., she dedicates her efforts to welcoming and collaborating with international business communities. The first Black woman to hold the post, McKithen says there’s “never a dull moment,” as she learns something new about politics, policy, culture and foreign business dynamics through her daily work with international delegations.

“They always say New York is a melting pot of the United States, and it’s very much the case, so in my school, in my neighborhood there was a representative [from everywhere]. It was a mini U.N., working class, global experience, where you ate different food, and you went home with your friends, and you had different experiences and you knew from the beginning that it was a bigger world out there,” she said recalling her first nine years of life. “And then, when we moved to Washington, we ended up in a small little community in Bethesda, where it was another little melting pot.”

“All throughout my life there was that common thread of having a global experience,” McKithen, who studied history at Georgetown University, added.

As the barrier-breaking leader and VP of International Programs at Trade Center Management Associates (TCMA), the exclusive manager of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, McKithen, 63, directs the first and only federal building dedicated to both public and private use.

“We’re a federal building. It’s owned by the U.S. General Services Administration and it’s operated in a public-private partnership with the company I work for, which is TCMA.”

The District’s trade center, located at 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, is one of 300 trade centers part of the global World Trade Center Association.

With its unique setup, located right in the nation’s capital– just blocks away from the White House– the D.C. trade center has a mandate for Congress to bring together both public and private resources to create a forum for international trade.

Connecting With the World

From events to programming, meetings, to initiatives, McKithen looks forward to each time she gets to work with the international business community.

“We have great opportunities to use our platform to showcase business opportunities in these regions and cultural opportunities. I launched a program here called Winternational,” McKithen said.

Though suspended during the pandemic and now offering a virtual marketplace, according to the center’s website, Winternational “brought together over 60 embassies under one roof to showcase their art, their culture,” McKithen explained. 

Providing others with cross-cultural experiences is a highlight of her work. “I think anytime you have those opportunities to show the diversity, but also the common thread of the things that no matter what culture you’re coming from, you encounter another and you say,’that reminds me of this element in my culture,’ that’s a good day’s work,’” she said.

McKithen also touted some of the trade center’s programming with local youth and its intentional work to help communities of color in D.C., nationally and abroad.

“I’ve been able, in that work, to really be able to go out there and actively find organizations that provide opportunities that can impact people of color, especially the next generation. Providing a platform here for them that are doing interesting work. There’s a program that is one of my personal favorites. Here in Washington… the Embassy Adoption Program,” she said, explaining that the latter initiative is an effort through the Washington Performing Arts Society and District of Columbia Public Schools.

“Embassies adopt a classroom and make a yearlong commitment to showcasing their art, their culture, their literature, their culinary traditions, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for kids in the DC Public Schools to work with the largest diplomatic communities. And we’ve been sponsoring their program here every year. They have their capstone program here every year and it’s just an amazing opportunity to bring students,” McKithen said, adding that the trade center also hosts programming and conferences for high schoolers and colleges, and connects them with officials and experts to learn more about trade and international trade policy.

A personal passion for McKithen is her work with the African Union, “showcasing trade and investment opportunities there,” she shared. “Our World Trade Center Association is actually going to be in Ghana this spring, welcoming 300 trade centers from around the world.” 

Why Everyone Should Care About International Trade

The executive director encourages all people to keep up-to-date with all the free and open to the public programming offered at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center by registering at: tradeinfo@rrbitc.com.

While she’s spent much of her life and career working with diverse communities, McKithen said no one should ignore international relations.

“If the pandemic did nothing, it showed us how interconnected we are as a human race. That something could start on one side of the world, and, in a couple of weeks, it’s impacting where you’re working— you’re working remotely instead of going into the office. People have to care,” she said. 

The executive director added that from a career standpoint, employment-hopefuls are up against people from all over the world when stepping into the job market. 

“You’re competing on a global stage,” she said. “So the more you understand and the earlier you understand it, the better off you are, the more competitive you are from a business perspective. It’s just survivability moving forward.”

Micha Green

WI Managing Editor Micha Green is a storyteller and actress from Washington, D.C. Micha received a Bachelor’s of Arts from Fordham University, where she majored in Theatre, and a Master’s of Journalism...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *