Rainey Program Participants Study First Black Members of Congress
More information on the first 22 black Members of Congress may soon be available thanks to the Rainey Scholars Program, a group of seven college students who are interning in Republican Members’ offices for the semester.
Deana Bass, outreach coordinator for the House Republican Conference and organizer of the group, said the program, sponsored by the House Republican Conference, places students in offices such as those of Reps. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), Chris Chocola (R-Ind.) and Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio).
In addition, the students meet every two weeks for the Rainey Scholars portion of the program, where they engage in discussion about the history of blacks in Congress or attend relevant events.
Bass said, however, that on weeks that the students do not meet as a group they are researching the first 22 black Members of Congress.
“We need to have a better understanding of who these African-American leaders were,” Bass said. “We’re finding out more about them, and the Rainey Scholars are doing that research as part of their scholarship.”
In a statement, Deborah Pryce, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, said she is happy to have her office begin the program.
“I’m really pleased to launch the Rainey Scholars Program,” Pryce said. “In the future, we hope to give this opportunity to even more students.”
Pryce explained the purpose of the program, which is named after Rep. Joseph Rainey (R-S.C.), the first black elected to the House.
“Rainey placed great value on learning inside and outside of the classroom,” she said. “With that in mind, the Rainey Scholars Program is designed to give students the opportunity to better understand their Congress by seeing it at work first hand.”
Bernie Annor, 20, from Bowie State University, is interning in Harris’ office as a Rainey Scholar. Annor decided to apply for the program when Bass visited his public relations class to speak about the benefits of interning on Capitol Hill.
“I’ve always had an interest in politics,” Annor said. “I’ll be in graduate school studying public administration and I wanted to learn about African-Americans and their influence on Congress and politics in general.”
The Rainey Scholars program began the first Wednesday in February and will last through May. Students wishing to continue their internships through the summer with Members’ offices may be able to coordinate that with their individual offices, Bass said.
The group has participated in several activities, including a trip to the Eisenhower Executive Building to hear Shelley Henderson, who works on black outreach for President Bush, speak. The group also met with Armstrong Williams, a political commentator for The Washington Post, and received a lecture on the history of black politics from David Barton, vice chairman of the Republican Party in Texas.
“It brought to life all sorts of facts that I wasn’t aware of,” Annor said. “Then he gave us a tour of the Capitol.”
Jasmine Fletcher, 20, a sophomore from Howard University who is interning for Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), is excited about the program.
“I’m kind of in my phases between Democrat and Republican,” Fletcher said. “I basically was ignorant about Republicans. The history that comes from African-Americans was fascinating to me.”
The other 2004 Rainey Scholars are Brandon Brice from Howard University, Kourtney Hollingsworth from Mississippi State University, Holland Johnson from Howard University, Bo Polacious from George Washington University, and Comora Roberson from Bowie State University.
Bass said the program is distinct from a typical Capitol Hill internship program because students will have the opportunity to sit down with staffers and sit in on committee hearings.
The students also have the opportunity to offer their input during the program’s development.
“Everyone really wants to sit in on hearings,” Bass said.
Bass said no funding is necessary for the program. In addition, she said Members have been calling the committee to see if they can get interns.