The Institute for Responsible Citizenship: Royal Expectations

The Institute for Responsible Citizenship: Royal Expectations


“Lord, place a crown high above their heads, yet allow these young men to constantly grow so that they can eventually wear it.”

Together as young black men, we stood hand-in-hand in a small, back -corner church office, voices booming and heads nodding in unison with the prayer. The prayer perfectly aligned with what we had been learning as Institute for Responsible Citizenship Scholars for the past couple of weeks: With high expectations comes great effort.

Founded in 2001, The Institute for Responsible Citizenship is a Washington, D.C. based leadership  program that selects high-achieving African-American college males from across the nation and prepares them for successful careers ranging from  business to public service to medicine, just to mention a few. The Institute is a two-summer commitment that places these scholars in high-level internships aligned with their interests. Internships have ranged from stints in foreign affairs at The State Department to public health at Blue Cross, Blue Shield to corporate consulting at AT&T and beyond. In addition, scholars network with various movers and shakers on Capitol Hill.

To date this summer, Institute scholars have met with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Congressman John Lewis, and former Secretary of State General Colin Powell, among others.  A strong alumni network of over 130 graduates includes a Rhodes Scholar, multiple Truman Scholars, an All-American athlete, Coro Fellows, and an exhaustive list of other leaders and public servants.

The Institute is breeding royalty with its high expectations for black men.

In a world where it seems as if all the odds are stacked against black men, the Institute is teaching and equipping us with the tools to make sure that we defy the odds. Not only are we being told about what we can potentially be, but we are also being told that nothing less is expected of us. Bluntly put, there is no other option for us but to be successful and fulfill our purpose.

In our communities, we often become complacent with just making it. We set a goal, reach it, celebrate, and then we’re done. We graduate, we get a job, we get married, life is good, and we are satisfied. While those are all things that are certainly worth celebrating, we must continue to push our peers and ourselves to go above and beyond. Sure, we may face certain obstacles that make our goals more difficult to accomplish, but why let these challenges  stop us from achieving greatness? Yes, it takes hard work. No, it’s not easy; but, in the end, our struggles only strengthen our triumph. We have to earn our crowns of glory in order to fully appreciate and wear them properly.

Good grades, community service, high school graduation, leadership, athletic accomplishments, college admission, college graduation, and career satisfaction should be the expectation, not the things we merely hope will happen. We must hold our peers and ourselves accountable to higher standards when it comes to what should be considered the norm. We must constructively push each other to continue to strive for better, to continue to grow and reach for that crown above our heads. And, even when we do reach our crown of success individually, we must remember to reach back and help others fulfill their own goals.

Once we understand and practice the idea of high expectations and accountability, we’ll see a majestic change in our youth, families, and communities as a whole.


Nicholas Hall is currently a student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. This is his first summer participating the Institute for Responsible Citizenship.


  1. Nicholas–

    Your …Royal Expectations was a well-written and inspiring essay. I admire your literary skills as well as the high goals you and your fellows have set for yourselves. Congratulations!

    But would you be willing to accept a few observations–from an old white guy, no less–in regard to your writings? I expect that you are the kind of guy who might…

    My first impression upon reading the piece was a sense of pride in your accomplishments. Many of us '60s liberals still tear up when we see young people of color "beat the odds," especially in the face of covert or even vicious social discrimination. My problem is this–I wish all children of color could have these expectations and the support and resources that would allow their dreams to be achievable. And while I'm at it, I might as well throw in the hope of Martin Luther King, Jr, that someday all children would be judged not by their color but by the content of our character." Wouldn't that be a helluva day!

    You know, of course, that those of us who were born into middle-class white American families rarely ever had to break a sweat to attain the same honors that you guys had to scaled a mountain to earn. I didn't go to either my high school graduation or the university celebrations of either of my college degrees. I didn't do it because I felt it would be fraudulent to bill my success as a triumph, when all I ever did was just bump along the white waxed path that delivered me to the hand holding an outstretched diploma–as easy as 25¢ rolls a gum ball to the dispensing point.

    That said and acknowledged between us, I want to take issue with the apparent goals of "The Institute." By the light of your descriptions, it annually "selects" a tiny minority of high-achieving African-American college males …and prepares them for successful careers…" Where do high-achieving African-American females fit into this picture, brother? The internships sound fascinating and fun. But I have a sneaking feeling that you and your obviously- exceptional group of guys are being groomed to join the league of largely white, wealthy elites who run this country.

    If this is true, my friend, I feel that you have fallen into bad company. It is especially chilling for me to read your phrase that, "The Institute is breeding royalty with its high expectations for black men." Though you no doubt meant to employ these words in a figurative sense, Americans do not aspire to become royalty. Our founding documents declare that the purpose of our Revolution, and the struggle to be independent from such entrenched human follies is rooted in the belief that "all men are created equal."

    Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that "someday this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of this creed." Any man or woman who sets his or her goals "to speed up that day" will go to their rest weary, I suspect, but comforted by the knowledge that they have led a righteous life. Those who brawl in the petty battles of business and the political aristocracy for the sake of success (aka, personal wealth), will have left their potential behind. I hope you will be one of the former, Nicholas.


  2. Thank you to all who have supported by either re-posting or commenting. It's wonderful to continue this dialogue beyond just my voice.

    Jack, thank you for your well-articulated thoughts. They really made me think and reflect upon my experience as an I4RC Scholar and young professional. A few points:

    You are correct in saying that this lesson of high expectations can and should be applied to all children of color and beyond. It is a universal message that pertains to all, not exclusive only to black men. However, for me, personally, as a black man who reads the disparaging statistics and sees how black men are perceived by others, I wanted to make this specific to my black brothers. Sure, this is a universal message, but I want it to strike particularly hard to our black males.

    Your assertion that you have a sneaky suspicion that the Institute is leading us down a path to join white elitists is partially correct. However, scholars are not exclusively in white-collar, elite corporations. Scholars have a breadth of interests ranging from ministry to education to public health. Scholars also intern at black-run organizations including the Joint Center for Political and Economic Development, which is a think-tank geared to the development of the African-American community. In addition, others have interned at the Stafford Foundation, a philanthropic non-profit.

    Furthermore, yes, there are scholars who are on the path toward "high status" and "elite" job titles in corporate America and politics. First, what is the problem with that? It's important for minorities of all types to join the ranks of these high-status elite organizations so that we can be representatives of our communities and have a voice at the table. With power and wealth, there are opportunities that allow us to help our communities in different ways. While not having power and wealth is not an excuse not to help or impact others positively, let's face it, money and influence definitely helps.

    That brings me to my second point. The Institute does not define success as merely having material possessions and numerous prestigious titles; rather, it encourages us to use our accomplishments as a way to reach back to others and help them, to be advocates. You're right in saying that those who aspire for aristocracy will fail to reach their potential. The Institute instructs us to reach our full potential beyond a career.

    One way that it does so is through the Youth Scholar Academy (YSA). Two weeks out of the summer, 2 summer youth groups participate in leadership and college prep seminars. Institute Scholars coordinate the week, spending time with the high school students by teaching courses in American History, Economics, Etiquette, and Leadership. In addition, there are college tours, museum visits, and free time for scholars to develop mentor relationships with the high school students. We spend time with them to personally grow in service and to always remember to help others reach their own goals and beyond.

    Check out the website:
    You can find YSA's description under the Programs tab.

    Thanks for your comments. What you said is important for us to remember as we define success for ourselves and for others. It's something that I'm constantly considering and reflecting upon.


  3. Sounds like a wonderful organization. But I'm concerned about whether or not you all are going to, at some point in the future, start losing your BLACKNESS, as you climb up the corporate ladder, like so many other blacks do. I hear you talking about all of the BIG white colleges, while not hearing enough about any of the black colleges. Why should there be so much emphasis on graduating from some damn white college? Drop that kind of thinking, NOW ! And, PLEASE, include some ideas and goals to push for more black-owned businesses, rather than just running after jobs with white folks. And I do mean 100 percent black-owned businesses, and not some of the many that whites and Jews are involved in, which usually makes them really the folks in charge. And puts them in control of black folks, as is what has always been the case. Work for more black independence, which will mean real freedom. — Rev. George Brooks of Murfreesboro, TN. (615) 494-9056

  4. Recent world economic events and other calamities have created rich soil for uprooting and replanting. It's time to teach the world to sing a New Song. You are in the sunrise of your life's journey, and I am in my sunset years, so perhaps I can impart some words from the Master — punctuated by my own experience. Jesus said, "I come that you might have life more abundantly", and He also said, " foxes have holes and the birds have nests and yet I have no where to lay My head."

    We must contextualize His two statements in order to bring validity to either or both of them. Our perception of "success" must penetrate more deeply than that which includes elite status, in order to embrace the model lived out by the Master. His life model was so powerful that — in spite of physical torture and death — we still celebrate and are guided by His teachings. Perhaps His model of servant leadership — which stands in sharp contrast to our elite aspirations — should guide our path.

    I commend you and your group for the work you are trying to do. Please give prayerful thought to structuring your long-term plans so that they will be pleasing to the heart of God, who is the Creator of All that is.