Twenty-year-old political science majors Dariana Reid, a rising senior at Johnson C. Smith University, and Nasya Blackwell, a rising junior at North Carolina A&T State University, are interning in both a Democratic and a Republican office on the Hill this summer.
They are interns in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Internship Program, which was established last year. The universities are located in the districts of two North Carolina lawmakers, Democrat Alma Adams and Republican Mark Walker, who teamed up to create the experience.
“While we have philosophical differences in terms of partisan issues that we may have, we are still more alike than we are different,” Adams said. “We’re still working to not only enhance our communities but make things better for the citizens that we serve.”
The program spans eight weeks — four are spent in Adams’ office and four in Walker’s.
Blackwell is a self-described Democrat. HOH talked to her on her last day in Walker’s office before her move to Adams’ employ.
“I was a little nervous about going into the Republican office because I am not a Republican, so that would bring up some obvious reservations and nervousness, but my outlook has changed in me thinking that they don’t work together or it’s always a fight or some kind of disagreement,” Blackwell said. “Ultimately, I’ve found that in the end … we want the same things, and we go about it differently.”
Reid was finishing her last day in Adams’ office between switching to Walker’s.
“Initially, I was shocked because I never heard of an internship that’s bipartisan that does both parties but I was excited at the same time because [my friends] who have interned, they’ve only been on one side,” Reid said.
“Most of the HBCUs are now in Republican districts,” said Adams, an alumna of North Carolina A&T. “Many have been redrawn. So it’s not just about members who look like me. A lot of members who look like me don’t have HBCUs in their district. Many of them have attended HBCUs or many of them have family members who have attended.”
The congresswoman started the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus in 2015 with Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne. Walker then got on board for the internship program.
“Congressman Mark Walker from Greensboro and I … wanted to find a way to engage students from historically black colleges and universities in the work up here on the Hill, to get them interested,” Adams said. “Not only work that the Congress does but also give them an opportunity to maybe look toward their futures about what they could do.”
Another rare part about the program is it’s paid, which makes it that much more competitive.
“I applied and … I’m just going into my junior year, so I didn’t really think I would get it,” Blackwell said. “But, I got picked and it was kind of just a leap of faith and trusting in the process, taking advice from friends and I’m here.”
For Blackwell, the highlight so far has been meeting her “all-time hero” Jennifer DeCasper, chief of staff to South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott.
“[It] was a big plus,” Blackwell said. “Seeing us and seeing the work that we were doing urged him to join.”
Reid learned about the program from last year’s HBCU intern.
“I kind of was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll check it out.’ It got sent to one of my political science professors, who is also one of my mentors,” she said. “She sent me the email like five times.”
Reid’s favorite part of the program is building her network.
“All the connections I’ve been able to make just with who the internship has set me up to meet and once I met someone through the internship, I gained the confidence,” she said. “It’s good networking.”
While both women want to attend law school, they’re now considering slight adjustments to their paths.
“Most definitely my future plan did include law school and doing foreign affairs policy but being on the Hill hasn’t really changed what I want to do, but has definitely made [me] look at coming to the Hill between undergrad and law school,” Blackwell said.
Reid had the same sentiment.
“I’ve always wanted to go to law school,” she said. “I want to be a JAG in the Air Force. That’s been my passion since the sixth grade. Working on the Hill for the first time, I’m kind of like, ‘Hmm, maybe I should take a little break in between, then go to law school.’”
Adams said she has also learned from the experience.
“We get to learn more about them and their schools and their pride,” she said.
Currently in her second full term, Adams said she started the caucus to highlight HBCUs and their contributions, raise awareness on the Hill, and look at bipartisan legislation to help the schools.
She’s now hoping more members will get on board and run similar internships in the future.