Editorial: Diversity on Capitol Hill: HBCU’s Should Take the First Step

The following is an editorial by Elesia Summers-Thomas, an alumnus and current graduate student at North Carolina A&T State University and congressional intern.

November 4, 2008 was a remarkable day. We had new leadership, President Obama, the first African American President. After that day many believed America had arrived and all were accepted. We had overcome that someday sung by so many of our ancestors, so some thought. Many have had and have a false reality of what truly exist.

On a recent trip to Capitol Hill in one of the House of Representatives Office Buildings, I became increasingly excited by the number of young people working with the policies that affect our daily lives. Yet, I noticed young African Americans were few and far between. My excitement shifted to curiosity as I wondered where all the young people like me were. Where were the political science majors, Young Democrats, and even student government association members? Then it dawned on me, they weren’t there. Don’t get me wrong, there are some young black people working in policy on Capitol Hill. But from what I saw, it just wasn’t many.

My excitement was restored when I met a young lady all suited up. I assumed she worked somewhere in the building which gave me some piece of mind because I hadn’t seen any African American females. Unfortunately, after speaking with her I found out she was a college student and was just visiting.

As the generation that is speaking out more than ever, voting more than ever, and eager to change the world, why are we underrepresented? Does our generation not understand the very things we complain about would be easier to change if we played a direct role in the policies being made?

We are more than capable to play the role of the policy maker or at least work for one. We should be knowledgeable of our politicians and hold them accountable to keep our generation in mind as they are voting. We can do more, and we need to do more or I’m afraid twenty years from now the policies being made won’t represent us at all. We complain and tell ourselves we are making big strides, but truthfully, we are not taking the steps to make the difference we claim to be making.

How can HBCU’s help? There are so many ways to gain experience and exposure to the political world. Congressional internships are a great way to get your feet wet. The Congressional Black Caucus offers great opportunities for minorities. I believe HBCU’s could help enormously by pushing politics beyond political science majors. People on Capitol Hill have various degrees. HBCU’s should influence students to use their degrees to advance our community.

There is a great need for more young African Americans on Capitol Hill. Someone has to continue to speak for us when no one will. One African American president can not do it by himself. After him, who else will make the difference? Who better to step up to the plate than students of the institutions that spoke on our behalf when no one else would?

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