Showing Up With My Money and Image

This morning a new scholarship was launched and announced with an article in Essence Magazine, “The Black Girl 44 Scholarship Is Leveling The Internship Playing Field.”

Organized by former White House Social Secretary, Deesha Dyer, the scholarship is funded by 55 Black women from the Obama White House, myself (proudly) included.

Here’s the high-level in case you missed it:

The private and independent initiative named Black Girl 44 Scholarship (for our ties to the 44th president), will award three $1,500 scholarships to Black/African-American women college students who have earned a Washington, D.C. internship that relates to policy, community engagement, community service, advocacy, global relations or politics for Fall 2019.

Calls to action:

  • Students: Please apply if you qualify. Applications are open starting today and the deadline is July 31, 2019.

  • Others: Help spread the word so we can reach those who can benefit.

The rest of this post is more about why this particular scholarship is important to me and why I find it worthy of multiple types of investment.

Officially, the reasoning for the scholarship is around the financial component and it is as follows:

The United States of America is at a crossroads in our democracy where everyday citizens are stepping up to run for office, start social justice movements, join campaigns and more. Now more than ever, people who previously didn't consider themselves the "political" type are answering the call for civic engagement. For college students looking to get involved in politics (local/national) or social movements, there is almost no better direct introduction than a Washington, D.C., internship. Unfortunately, many students do not apply because they can not afford it. While some internships provide a stipend, they often fail to cover the full costs needed to live and thrive in D.C. This greatly affects Black and African-American students. Through this scholarship, we join the voices of others in helping to give equal and fair opportunity to ALL students so they can gain the valuable insight, training and on-the-job education afforded to their peers. Building on the same hope and opportunity that was given to them, the organizers are not just lifting up but pushing forward Black/African-American women that are actively leading the charge for change.

And this is all very accurate.

But I have additional thoughts related to having Black women from the Obama White House fund this (we could have opened it up wider) and sharing photos of as much of our group as was able to participate in the photoshoot.

Internships in government, nonprofits, and other institutions lay the foundation for the next generation of policy designers in our country. Who can afford those positions and who gets seen in these positions ultimately impacts whether a failure of diversity and inclusion in is corrected or further compounded.

When the 2018 photo of White House interns showed just a couple people of color in a sea of white faces, it didn’t just communicate a lack of diversity — for people of color aspiring to government, it warned of the struggle and hardship it would take to break into that space. It sent an exclusionary visual message of who is fit for positions of power. The visual was a barrier rather than an invitation.

Similarly, when Paul Ryan took a selfie with a class of interns and all of the faces were white and presumably affluent, it set the tone of who is welcome in those spaces and who those spaces were designed for.

While it will take some time for us to correct the pay for internships in these varied institutions and offices — something that desperately needs to be done to level the playing field and ensure the ability for people of different backgrounds to participate, correcting the visuals propagating through our society can come much faster.

There are people of color who have walked the halls of the White House and US Congress. Sure, there’s still a very active fight for access and equity, but there are shoulders to stand on and precedent to build on in making our institutions more representative of the people they claim to support. So, we raised money and are providing scholarships, but we also had a photoshoot.

Personally, I showed up to the photoshoot because it’s in times like these we hope our young (always a relative term), successful, happy, and brown and black faces will counter the visual rhetoric of exclusion that we’ve been seeing in abundance. I want our images to counter the all-white visual narratives that so many other platforms and people are eager to amplify.

I hope our photos communicate and invite as much as our donations do. I hope they inspire students of color, particularly Black women, to strive for positions in government, community, and advocacy. I hope these simple images also say some of these things to the person who needs the message:

We’ve already broken down some of these walls. With your help, we can do it again.

We welcome you into these spaces. You’re needed and valued.

You have a support system.

See us. Join us.