U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-Charlotte, is helping build a pipeline to Capitol Hill for students from historically black universities in North Carolina.
Her office has served as the home site for interns taking part in an eight-week internship program, which was designed to give students from historically black colleges and universities a shot at working in Washington.
The Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus Internship Program is in its pilot phase, but those few students who have had the opportunity to participate in it have gotten a taste of what their lives might look like if they were to get jobs on Capitol Hill. This year, 20-year-old Quanetta King and 21-year-old Vashti Hinton got a glimpse at the complicated legislative process and political power struggle that create turmoil on Capitol Hill. King, a Johnson C. Smith University student, wants to return to Washington D.C. while Hinton is preparing to graduate from N.C. A&T State University and plans to look for a job that would lead her back to the inner workings of the nation’s capital.
North Carolina is the launch site for the pilot program and Adams’ office has served as an incubator for the state’s talented students.
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African-Americans make up less than 1 percent of top Senate staffers, according to a study commissioned by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The center gathered information on 336 top Senate staffers and found that only three of them were African-Americans. Additionally, since 1989 African-Americans have remained “almost wholly absent from top staff positions,” according to the report.
“While key Senate staffers’ names may not appear on legislation or in headlines, these powerful actors leave an indelible imprint on American public policy,” the report states. “The lack of diversity among this group influences problem-solving, interactions with constituents, policymaking, and the ability for the legislature to represent diverse constituencies. We believe that increasing the presence of people of color in top Senate staff will enhance representation, legitimacy, innovation, and opportunity.”
The Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus Internship Program aims to close that type of gap. Hinton and King could be two of program success stories in the near future.
Hinton said she has enjoyed being able to provide a public service to the North Carolina community by devoting her time to Adams’ office.
“My mom is very big on us having and open heart and helping people and my parents are actually pastors as well, so they’re really big on public service and giving back,” she said. “Like this, for me, is my way of providing a public service.. . . being (a historically black colleges) student and being able to come here then go back to my community and share my experience.”
King said she hopes to return to Washington as an intern in a different program. That way, someone else would be able to follow in her footsteps through the Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus Internship Program.
“Hopefully we’ll see them in high positions, chief of staff, legislative directors and all the other things that we need here, communications directors,” Adams said.
An understanding about how Capitol Hill operates and the right connections could help interns like King and Hinton land a job at the epicenter of national politics after they graduate college, Adams said.
“Sometimes the interns move into positions because they’ve done a good job as an intern. I’ve certainly have hired interns in my office to as a permanent workers,” she said.
Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048 @MolotovFlicker