By Tavian Southall
This year I had the amazing opportunity to work in the District Council as an intern for the summer! The wonderful staff at Mikva Challenge DC made it their mission to place high school students and high school graduates in District Government agencies as interns. The purpose of this was to ensure that District youth are seen as valuable resources to elected officials and community leaders, and to help DC youth learn about local government.
I was luckily placed in my Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie’s Office.
What To Expect
How many coffee runs did I make? What about those spreadsheets? And how many papers did I file? Well, when I first met everyone at the office, they were extremely friendly. My supervisor for the summer, Chief of Staff Ronan Gulstone, showed me around both CM McDuffie’s committee and council offices. We also walked around the building making runs to other offices in the building, meeting several other wonderful people. My supervisor even took me out for lunch at his frequently visited fast-food spot, McDonald’s — he even got me to download their app.
I had my own desk space with a computer. And I even got my own District Council email account. I was too excited!
I was not expecting to receive as much project work as I did but here’s a glimpse into some of my work.
1. Creating more opportunities for youth engagement in the District!
My supervisor asked me on the first week, “what type of legislation would you like to work on?” I went home that day and wrote down a list of issues I wanted to work to improve. At the top of my list, “Youth Engagement”. Youth engagement in the District is one of my favorite topics to discuss. I believe youth are the future and we should be offered many opportunities to become successful. The next morning I ran into Ronan’s office and quickly shared my ideas to improve youth engagement. And he told me to draft a document that explained the issues, solutions and possible legislation. Luckily, through a little research, I was able to find (through the very complex DC Code & Regulations) written legislation that was intended to create a Youth Council at the District level. Sounds amazing! Unfortunately, a week later, I was informed that this Youth Council had not yet been initiated. And so, I made it my mission to work to initiate a similar group that would work under the District Council, but work independently similar to the District’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission. I believe youth in the District need a group that primarily focuses on youth. Now, I am still working to draft legislation for a productive and youth-lead group that could increase youth input on policy issues before the DC City Council.
2. Drafting multiple memorandums!
At the office, there were plenty of times when I was tasked with creating a memorandum for public record or just for the Council member. One of these tasks were condensing a research report on innovative strategies for creating new businesses in the District. It was a roughly thirty page powerpoint slideshow that I needed to get down to a few pages. I got it down to six or seven, I wasn’t sure if that was good or not, but I gave it a try!
3. Meetings, events and more!
Fortunately for me, during my first week (second day), the Councilmembers scheduled a Legislative Meeting. During this meeting, all the Councilmembers sent on the dais and introduce or review three types of legislation. They are named emergency, temporary and permanent legislation. The emergency legislation is directly put on the agenda, is voted on same-day and does not require congressional review; however, the legislation is in place for a 90-day period. Temporary legislation is similar, the only differences are that it needs congressional review and is in effect for no more than 225 days. Before the meeting, the Council members always have a breakfast meeting to have brief discussions on topics they’d like to discuss. After the breakfast, I was able to meet a few Councilmembers and have mini conversations with them. I was also able to sit behind the dais while meeting progressed.
As an intern, I attended a handful of events intended for Ward 5 residents to speak on community issues they faced. We call these “Public Hearings”. Residents of the Ward — or in the District in general, can attend these hearings and provide testimony that will become documented in record. I was able to hear multiple testimonies from residents about issues facing their communities. After these hearings were over, I drafted a memorandum that outlined each witness testimony and a summary of what they discussed.
I am so humbled that I was able to work in the District Council. I have memories I will keep with me forver, and the experience has made me more motivated towards my future goals. I made connections with important people whom will be able to help me give more opportunities to youth in the District. I am in the process of creating my own nonprofit organization that focuses heavily on youth engagement and education in the District. The primary mission is to actively encourage youth in the District to be involved in the decision making for the policies and programs that directly affect youth. In the meantime, I encourage all young people in the District to find ways to make their voices heard at the DC City Council. And, of course, check out Mikva Challenge DC’s great Summer Fellowship opportunity if you want to have an amazing experience internship experience in DC Government!
“I am a college student! I just graduated from high school, and now I am on my way to change the world. At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I told myself that I wanted to complete as many challenges in an efficient and timely manner. I wanted to be engaged in and out of school. I participated in my school’s Student Government Association as the 12th Grade Representative. I advocated to the Executive Director of the school to partner with an organization named Reach Inc. I was a tutor for Reach Inc. for two years as an underclassmen at my old high school, so as I came to my new school for eleventh (and twelfth) grade, I made sure Reach Inc. was a program that was coming with me. Consequently, when I began twelfth grade, Reach Inc. was at my new school! From there, I led the ninth and tenth graders in the program with tutoring second and third graders in reading and writing. I soon joined the State Board of Education’s Student Advisory Committee — advocating and discussing issues we faced at our respective schools. I also continued to work with the SBOE Representatives to ensure that the upcoming committee members are more productive and action-based. And of course, I joined Mikva Challenge DC, an organization focused on youth civic engagement in a variety of ways. Now, I want to fuse youth engagement and education into one organization and call it my own.”