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D.C. government partners with local HBCUs for new public service program

Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced a partnership with Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to launch a program designed to create a pipeline for graduating seniors interested in public service.

Howard University President Ben Vinson III pictured with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and UDC President Maurice Edington at the launch event for the HBCU Public Service Program. (Photo courtesy of President Ben Vinson III/X)

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced a partnership with Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to launch an HBCU Public Service Program. The program is designed to create a pipeline into the workforce for graduating seniors interested in pursuing a career in public service.

As described in a statement released by the Executive Office of the Mayor (EOM), the program will allow the local government to create a pathway for seniors to pursue a role in public service. The HBCU Public Service program consists of D.C. government agencies turning 25 full-time positions into apprenticeships, which last for a year, starting in June 2024, as reported by Black Enterprise.

“We want the best and the brightest, the people who are passionate about our community, to work at D.C. Government. The HBCU Public Service Program will keep talent in D.C. and bring young leaders into D.C. Government,” Bowser announced in a statement released by the EOM. 

During the program, participants are full-time employees and get to take a professional development course at their universities, guided by the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services. 

Clanessa Dumas, a junior radiation therapy major from San Jose, California, believes the program is an excellent opportunity for HBCU students.

“I have high hopes for this program, and I think the program sounds amazing,” Dumas said. “I think its creation is well overdue as there are not enough [available] jobs for African Americans in the field[s] that they have studied.”

Program participants who meet all of the expectations will become eligible to obtain Step 3 status within the D.C. government. All participants must maintain a D.C. residence throughout the program and even after reaching Step 3.

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“We know that people, including many of our university students, come to D.C. and stay in D.C. because they want to change the world. We want people to know that they can change the world, one person, one program, and one community at a time, in D.C. Government,”  Bowser said during the announcement of the program. 

Richmond Danso, a political science professor at Howard University, believes the HBCU Public Service program is a positive move forward, although he is slightly concerned about the potential of perceived tokenism. 

“I think this program is a step in the right direction to give more students of color and Black people a position in the D.C. government,” Danso said. “Where I take issue is I don’t want my students to feel like they are there because they are coming from an HBCU. I want them to feel like they are there because they are qualified, which is a significant distinction.”

According to the Mayor’s office, there are more than 320 apprenticeship sponsors, including employers and trade unions, registered within the District. The participating government agencies provide apprenticeship training to more than 850 District residents across all eight wards.

Danso believes it would be beneficial to emphasize how this program will be carried out, not just by the Mayor’s office but by the people behind the agencies that the students will work with. 

“My hope is that students will take advantage of this program and expose themselves to the working environment. Entering the workforce, where you might be among the minority, which is usually the case, is different from being a student at Howard surrounded by people of color,” Danso said. 

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The political science professor underscored the importance of viewing this program as a partnership. “I want my students who join the program to feel capable, and I want the D.C. government and the implementers of this program to keep in mind that they are not doing Howard and UDC a favor by having their students there. It should be a mutual benefit,” Danso said. 

Monica Mathis, a senior political science major and English minor from Coral Springs, Florida, highlighted the impactful role played by HBCU graduates in our community. 

“I think it’s essential to recognize the role that HBCU graduates regularly play when it comes to investing in our communities and striving for change. To have an already-established program that gives us the platform to make the changes we envision is not only long overdue but much needed,” Mathis said. 

“As more HBCU-educated graduates are funneled into the DC government, I’m positive we’ll see more race-conscious programs and policies,” Mathis continued. “In the long run, this could mean a lot of things such as a pushback against gentrification, more support for HBCUs, or different policing strategies.”

The District is collaborating with the Innovation team, known as i-team, which is based in the Mayor’s Office of Innovation, to revamp the existing website. Seniors matriculating at HBCUs within D.C. will be eligible to apply for apprenticeships through the newly launched platform once it is available; a specific date has not yet been released.

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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