“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.