What a week!
The Institute for Responsible Citizenship is a program that I established 17 years ago to serve the country’s best and brightest African-American male college students. Previous classes have yielded Rhodes Scholars, Fulbright Scholars, Truman Scholars, and the recipients of numerous other prestigious academic awards.
Participants have also earned PhD’s, MD’s, JD’s, MBA’s, MA’s and other high-level degrees. And they are working as doctors, lawyers, pastors, teachers and professors, accountants, consultants, legislative assistants, and business owners. This summer’s scholars are well on their way to similar success, and the final week of the 2019 session of the Institute for Responsible Citizenship was nothing short of amazing, if I say so myself.
An Overview of the Week
The week began with our scholars attending a powerful and inspirational sermon given by Institute alumnus Elijah McDavid at the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria.
On Monday, we had the chance to visit a Major League Baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Colorado Rockies. Unfortunately, the game was rained out — but the scholars still had the special opportunity to be on the field during batting practice, making it a special event in spite of the weather.
Tuesday morning, our scholars arrived at the United States Capitol before 7 a.m. to join other interns for a briefing on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. The hour-long briefing was led by Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC) and focused on the history of the House chamber and the functioning of that body. Later that evening, the scholars participated in a seminar-style discussion on the renowned figure Frederick Douglass, which was led by Dr. Lucas Morel, chair of the Department of Politics at Washington & Lee University.
Wednesday afternoon’s session was a highlight for the scholars. It was led by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who of course is a civil rights icon, having helped form and served as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. By 1963, he was recognized as one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, and is the only speaker from the 1963 March on Washington who is still living. Rep. Lewis has graciously hosted Institute scholars in his office every year, providing firsthand accounts of the Civil Rights Movement, and inspiring the young men to get into what he calls “good trouble.”
That same evening, scholars attended a soccer match between DC United and Marseilles of France. They met with one of the team owners and were treated to a discussion with several team executives. But perhaps the most memorable moment was when player Quincy Amarikwa spoke with them in the locker room after the game. Rather than talking about soccer, he spoke candidly and related to the young men by encouraging them to be clear about their goals, and to work tirelessly to achieve them, which left a strong impression.
Early on Thursday morning, the scholars met me in front of the White House to reenact a portion of the mall walk they had taken during their first weekend in Washington. The White House, Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial all served as the backdrop for a film that the Institute is creating. That evening, I hosted eight senior participants for their final dinner of the summer at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse, where they ate to their heart’s content.
Friday marked the end of the week, and the culmination of the seniors’ two summers with the Institute. For a total of sixteen weeks, these young men had the opportunity to experience a wide variety of events, just as they did in this, their final week. At the closing ceremony, the graduating seniors were pinned by alumni, a moving conclusion to their time with the Institute.
In planning these events, the Institute aims to prepare extraordinary young men to achieve extraordinary things through three key components: exposure, rigor, and brotherhood.
Exposure: As you can see from the highlights of the final week of the Institute’s programs, we are exposing our scholars to as much as we can. The fact that these young men all have brilliant minds does not necessarily mean that they’ve been exposed to the people, opportunities, and ideas that they need in order to be as successful as their talents and hard work would otherwise allow.
Over the course of the summer, our scholars met with prominent leaders, such as General Colin Powell and Congressman John Lewis, both of whom have had extraordinary careers even before serving in the highest levels of the U.S. government. The scholars also met Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, and former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. All of these leaders gave Institute scholars insight into their backgrounds and paths to success.
The variety of career opportunities they learned about ranged from the traditional, such as law, to fields such as managing a professional sports franchise. Jordan Thomas, our Rhodes Scholar, exposed them to the Rhodes, Fulbright, and Marshall Scholarships as well as admission to top ranked graduate and professional schools. After completing his Rhodes year at Oxford, Jordan will attend Yale Law School and Harvard Business School. He is already admitted to both.
The scholars were also challenged with new ideas and concepts by professors in their course on Economics and the Constitution, and during their dinnertime conversations with me as well. Potential leaders must be confronted with a variety of ways of looking at the challenges that they and others face.
Rigor: As I often warn applicants, the Institute is not summer camp. It is hard work. It is intended to be hard. The most talented young people should be pushed to achieve the highest goals, with the expectation that achieving them will also help the lives of others. After all, achieving the highest goals takes great effort.
As you can see from the description of the final week, the scholars had activities that began as early as 7 a.m. and others that concluded as late as midnight, and they were expected to consistently perform at high levels throughout. In between the early mornings and late nights, they were also expected to perform with distinction at challenging and rewarding internships. When I have written letters of recommendation for Institute alumni, such as the six who attended Harvard Law School or dozen or so alumni who have entered medical school and PhD programs, I have addressed the applicants’ performance in a highly demanding context. Successful participation in the Institute is an indication to they can perform well in other endeavors.
Brotherhood: After being exposed to opportunities and put through rigorous experiences, scholars also benefit from membership in a network of high achievers who push and pull them toward success. For example, while Institute alumni have attended all of the country’s leading law schools, it is not a coincidence that our alumni applied, were admitted, and graduated from Harvard Law School for six years straight. This is because they created their own pipeline to support Institute scholars as they continue forward in their journeys. The same process took place at Yale Divinity School as well.
In addition, Institute scholars and alumni continue to pursue prestigious scholarships such as the Rhodes, a distinction that is typically considered a tremendous long shot to obtain, for anyone. But they do so because they are part of a network, a brotherhood of sorts, that encourages them to eschew mediocrity and pursue their highest ambitions. Even when scholars are unable to reach those ambitions, their efforts and achievements are still celebrated by their fellow Institute scholars and alumni.
2019 Institute Graduates
–Colin Ganges is a senior at Guilford College, where he is a member of the Honors College, majoring in philosophy with a minor in religious studies. He is currently working on his senior philosophy thesis, where he is analyzing the relationship between positive and negative conceptions of freedom within an ideal society. Following graduation in December, Colin hopes to move to Washington D.C. to work in politics or policy research.
Colin was pinned by Robert Hickman, a graduate of the College of New Jersey and Harvard Law School. Robert serves as a legislative assistant to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY).
–Frank Godfrey III is a student in the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where his concentration is Investment Management. Frank started the summer by traveling to Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. He then began a 10-week internship at an investment firm, Brown Advisory. He also travelled to Harvard University to participate in the Summer Venture Management Program. Upon graduation, Frank will be pursuing a career in finance before applying to Harvard Business School.
Frank was pinned by Michael Richard, a graduate of Harvard University and currently a consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington.
–Henry Jones III is a senior at the University of South Carolina Upstate, where he is majoring in exercise science with a concentration in pre-physical therapy. He is originally from Beaufort, South Carolina. Here’s what Henry says about his internship this summer: “Working at Howard University Hospital has been very meaningful and eye opening. Getting to see the ins and outs of a hospital and how the physical therapy department works – both outpatient and inpatient – has given me valuable firsthand experience. I am truly grateful for this experience. It confirms that this is what I want to do for my career.”
Henry was pinned by Warren Seay. Warren attended undergraduate and law school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. While in law school, he was elected to the school board in neighboring DeSoto County and was soon elevated to the office of president, making him the youngest school board president in the country. Warren practices law with a firm in Washington.
–Jamie Lykes II majors in fashion merchandising and retail marketing at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina. This fall, he will study in Italy at the Florence University of the Arts, and will be enrolling in design-focused classes. After graduation, he hopes to expand his fashion brand.
Jamie was pinned by Joel Bervell. Joel graduated from Yale University in 2017 and earned a Master’s degree from Boston University in 2019. He will begin medical school at Washington State University in his home state next month. Joel also served as Summer Fellow for the Institute this summer.
–Miles Martin is an entrepreneur and aspiring lawyer. This summer and last, he interned at The St. James, Northern Virginia’s mecca of health and wellness. Although a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Miles attends Sewanee: The University of the South, where he majors in political science. He is a Bonner Scholar, the founder and president of his school’s Black Student Union, and captain of the track and field team.
Miles was pinned by Brandon Harris, an alumnus of Lincoln University of Pennsylvania and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Brandon is protestant minister at Georgetown University.
–John Henry Mitchell III began his matriculation at Hampton University as a marketing major, but switched to political science after being exposed to classes in that department. His prior experience in politics includes serving as a page to the Governor of North Carolina and being elected as freshman, sophomore and junior class president at Hampton. John has worked for the federal government during his two years at the Institute. His hometown is Apex, North Carolina.
John was pinned by Caleb Jackson, also of Hampton University, and a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles Law School. Caleb is practicing with a law firm in Washington.
–Miles Veney studies biology and economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Having a passion for service, he enlisted in the Army National Guard at age 17 and was recently promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He is also a firefighter/emergency medical technician at the Amherst Fire Department, where he serves as a captain on the volunteer auxiliary force. He is the younger brother of Colin Veney, also an Institute alumnus.
Miles was pinned by Christien Oliver, a graduate of Michigan State University and the George Washington University Law School. Christien is practicing law in Washington.
-The final scholar pinned was a nontraditional participant. A native of Newark, New Jersey, Jordan Thomas applied to the Institute in 2017. He was accepted but spent the summer studying in Europe instead of interning in Washington. After he returned to the United States, he was named a Rhodes Scholar, and following graduation from Princeton University, he moved to England to pursue his Master’s degree at the University of Oxford. When he completed his year at Oxford, he came to Washington for his Institute experience. He lived with the other scholars, participated in the evening and weekend sessions, and worked on his Master’s thesis while the other scholars were at their internships.
Jordan was pinned by Jarvis McInnis. Jarvis is a graduate of Tougaloo College in Mississippi and earned a PhD in English literature from Columbia University. He is now a professor at Duke University. Jarvis was selected to pin Jordan because he first introduced Jordan to the Institute while he was director and Jordan was a 15 year old high school student in the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Princeton University. Jarvis was aided at Du Bois by other Institute alumni, who also encouraged Jordan to pursue the Institute. Jarvis also invited me to deliver the opening lecture during Jordan’s year there.