The Next Generation of Black Leaders

Fifty-five Black students from across the country were selected for a renowned congressional internship. Three of them are University of Arkansas students.

Headshots of Daniel Webster and Elijah Conley
(Left to right) UA students Daniel Webster and Elijah Conley were among the five Arkansans selected for the internship.

As the nation mourned the death of Civil Rights icon John Lewis on July 17, a new generation of Black leaders began its final week of a prestigious program—the Congressional Black Caucus Internship.

Three honors students from the University of Arkansas—Elijah Conley, Daniel Webster, and Justyce Yuille— and incoming graduate student Jamari Rose were among the fifty-five students from across the country selected to participate in the internship.

Senior Daniel Webster, 21, of Marion, Ark., said he had hoped to meet Congressman Lewis during the internship. While that wish was unfulfilled, Webster put the matter into perspective.

 “We can be sad, and we can mourn the passing of Black leaders, but we have to remember that this is a new opportunity for people that are currently being built up to step up and shine,” Webster said.

Webster, a first-generation college student, studies psychology, sociology, and criminology.

 The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation was founded in 1976 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan institute designed to give a platform to Black politicians. In 1986, the same year Lewis was elected to Congress, the foundation created its internship program.

 “A lot of the past members of this internship have gone on to be staffers for congressional members,” senior Elijah Conley, 20, Melbourne, Ark., said.

For example, U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., is an alumna of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Leadership Institute. At the age of 32, she became the youngest Black woman elected to Congress in 2018.

Conley, a political science and journalism student, said he was proud to be a part of an organization that advocates for systemic change.

“They are really about advancing the global Black community, whether that be through policy, programming, and things like that,” Conley said. “This internship program is to educate the next generation of leaders.”

But the COVID-19 pandemic forced these students to adapt to the times. Under normal circumstances, the selected interns would travel to Washington, D.C., to work for a member of Congress. That did not happen this summer as the program was forced to go virtual. Conley said that made the internship more of a “professional development/public policy-type internship.”

As such, the internship looked much like the rest of the professional world in the wake of COVID-19: Zoom meetings throughout the day. But the Congressional Black Caucus Internship still found ways to give the students governmental experience, including drafting congressional record statements, legislation, and floor speeches.

To Webster, the internship didn’t lose its impact in the transition online.

“We met so many people that are already established in their careers, but also fifty-four of the next world leaders,” Webster said, referring to the other interns in the program. “They’re really passionate and going to make a change.”

Also participating in the internship was University of Arkansas student, Justyce Yuille, who was unavailable for comment. Yuille, herself the first African American Associated Student Government Chief Justice, graduated in May 2020 with degrees in African and African American Studies, political science, and criminal justice. Rose, who graduated from the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff and now is a Journalism graduate student, was a director of public relations for the National Association of Black Journalists at UAPB.

Of the fifty-five interns, five students, including the three from the U of A, came from the state of Arkansas, a fact that Webster said he is proud to be a part of.

 “That’s something that I think is just absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “Out of a national competition, five people—five Black Arkansans—got a spot in this leadership position.”

 Between professional development and hands-on congressional projects, Elijah Conley said the internship offered him an awakening on his role in society. Having met the other fifty-four interns in the Congressional Black Caucus, Conley said he feels the next generation is in safe hands.

 “The people that I interned with, they’re very motivated, highly educated, and I just know that they’re going to go on and do some really great things,” Conley said.

Michael Adkison
Michael Adkison

Michael Adkison is a graduate student in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media at the University of Arkansas and a graduate assistant for the student media program.