Zion Rice, a 16-year-old rising junior at Annapolis High School, was walking around downtown Annapolis this summer when a man pulled up in a car and handed him a business card. The man was William Rowel, a senior adviser to Mayor Gavin Buckley.
“I was walking a friend home from a sleepover not far from City Hall when Mr. Rowel pulled up beside us,” Rice said. “He talked to us about our future and told us about an internship he was heading up in the mayor’s office. My friend said he was too lazy but I applied and here I am.”
Rice was among 25 other young city residents selected to be a part of the OneAnnapolis Summer Work Initiative, a program through Buckley’s office that provide participants with on-the-job training and paid work experience in city departments like fire, finance and police.
The initiative is meant to invest in and support the youth of the community and ensure every young person has an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through opportunity, determination and skill-building, Rowel said.
“What we wanted to do was to mindfully [eliminate] some of the normal barriers that exist for young people and more specifically people of color in certain communities who don’t have access to as many opportunities to participate in things of this nature,” he said. . “To make sure everyone had a chance, we didn’t specify an academic criteria for our applicants.”
The competitive application process saw 80 applicants get trimmed down to 25. Since the program launched in the summer of 2020, a collaboration between Ward 6 Alderman DaJuan Gay and Buckley’s office, it has grown each year, expanding from 12 interns to 15 last year and 25 this summer.
“We just want to provide an entryway for young people who are interested in public service to get an idea of how it all works,” Gay said. “Based on the results of who we selected it seems to be working.”
The program spans five weeks and is open to high school and college students between the ages of 14 and 23. Students under 18 are paid $20 an hour. Those over 18 are paid $25 an hour.
The pay was a selling point for interns like Shawn Pollard, 22, a Towson University senior who has ambitions beyond City Hall.
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“I’ve been heavily involved in state and local politics since my freshman year of college so this was a fun opportunity to stay involved and generate income to continue funding my bachelor’s,” Pollard said. “I want to be a lawyer and maybe one day a Supreme Court judge.”
While some of the interns are like Pollard who have been working in politics prior to this opportunity, other interns like Moussa Toure, 23, a computer science major at Anne Arundel Community College are new to the experience.
“I moved to America from Senegal in 2020 because I wanted to pursue a career in computer science. It’s been a huge transition going from primarily French learning to English, but I’ve worked hard and am very grateful for this opportunity with the mayor’s office,” Toure said.
Stories like Toure’s are indicative of how far-reaching this program has been. Rowel, Gay and others believe that by investing in interns and using them to their full potential, city government adds to its own value.
“When you create clear pathways for talented individuals in our communities you get fresh perspectives and you create a better-prepared member of our workforce,” Rowel said.
In the first two weeks of the program many of the interns have already learned a lot about what goes into governing the city. Especially Rice who admittedly hadn’t thought much about local politics or government until Rowel spoke with him that day.
“It’s all very interesting,” Rice said. “I wanted to do this because I have had a hard time communicating publicly but I’m getting used to working with others and seeing how community government works. It’s cool.”