Virginia Commonwealth University is bringing back its Minority Political Leadership Institute following a two-year COVID pause.
During the eight-month program, working-age students study decisions made by Virginia’s General Assembly and assess whether those decisions promote racial equity.
The hope is to create leaders who understand politics and community engagement and who consider “What does your voice look like in the public space?,” said Nakeina E. Douglas-Glenn, director of VCU’s Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, part of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.
Designed for leaders in nonprofits and local government — not just those interested in running for office — the program focuses on Black, Latino and Native American issues. Participation is open to anyone interested in understanding how Virginians can equally access public service and how they couldn’t always do so, Douglas-Glenn said.
Tuition is $1,800, and the deadline to apply is Jan. 15.
VCU typically hosts the program every other year, but opted to cancel three months after it started in 2020. Students from that class will return in 2022.
On six weekends throughout the year, students visit a different part of the state to learn an issue’s history. To study education policy, the class visits Prince Edward County, where in the 1950s and ’60s, the county opted to close public schools instead of integrating them following Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case that ended segregation in schools.
It’s important to learn “in a space where the conversation about education erupted,” Douglas-Glenn said.
Students use that history to understand why charter schools are still a contentious issue today.
The students also create group projects studying legislation from the previous General Assembly session.
In 2018, one student project focused on three bills that would have provided $4 million annually for grocery stores in underserved communities, including one by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond. The funding would help build, rehabilitate or upgrade grocery stores in places where there’s a dearth of them. The three bills died in the House Appropriations Committee.
The students’ project determined that the fund could have held significant value.
“There is current and real evidence of local governments and grassroots organizations working with limited budgets to establish alternatives for getting healthier food options into their communities,” the project read. “The fund would create opportunities to build a stronger economy, build strong communities and healthier people.”
Two years later, a similar bill was approved and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam.
In 2020, Virginia State University opened an institute for college-age students who want to hold elected office or work in local government, the John Mercer Langston Institute for African American Political Leadership.