John Mercer Langston Institute

John Mercer Langston Institute



Fredrick Douglas said that it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. However for Black people in America today’s society, we don’t have that luxury. We have to discover ways to empower both now.   

-U.S. Senator Cory Booker, 2018   

The John Mercer Langston Institute for African American Political Leadership is a development program suited for collegiate scholars as well as current and emerging African American Virginians who are interested in becoming more active in public service. Community leaders, local elected officials, state officials, non-profit leaders, and any African American interested in expanding political power for African Americans in Virginia are also invited to participate. Comprised of annual cohorts, the JMLI is based on the campus of the historically black college/university, Virginia State University (VSU). VSU is home to the first African American Congressman from Virginia, John Mercer Langston, who served as the institution's first President.   


The John Mercer Langston Institute for African American Political Leadership (JMLI) at Virginia State University was created to assess, develop, and empowerment of African American political leadership in the Commonwealth of Virginia through innovative training, policy collection and assistance, programming and research, and networking.   

The JMLI seeks to actively promote and advance the knowledge about African American political leadership while simultaneously empowering, growing, and connecting future and current leaders from across the state.  

Objectives and Core Principles  

Develop a Pipeline  

Being an African American Elected Official and/or leader is unique to say the least. In the opinion of some, it is one of the most challenging tasks that one will ever do. The John Mercer Langston Institute is committed to preparing leaders with a path to sustainability as well as growth while in leadership positions. Participants will learn the “do’s and don’ts” of campaigning, getting elected, and sustaining themselves while in office.   

Public Policy  

Participants will engage in presentations and discussions of a variety of public policy issues facing state governments. As an African American Elected Official, it is often stated that we are held to a different standard. How we govern, our policy initiatives and the way in which we move and operate is viewed on a different scale than our counterparts. Being able to balance representing your constituency while still doing what you believe is best for underserved communities is a skill that few have mastered. The institute will point our measures that have been pushed forth by African American legislatures and will go into detail describing how their items were passed and adopted.   

Power and Capital  

Raising money and leveraging resources is challenging for all people, and in some cases, even more challenging for African Americans. The John Mercer Langston Institute will describe different techniques for African American leaders to leverage their influence, generate resources of support, and collectively develop and harness their political power.   

Alignment with University values and mission  

  • Student-Centered – Promoting the intellectual, physical, social, and emotional development of students in all facets of University life.   
  • Engagement – Developing civically engaged citizens who value all persons and demonstrate the desire to positively impact their immediate surroundings, nation, and world.   
  • Scholarly Research – Conducting scholarly activity is at the forefront of our disciplines and applying translational discoveries and intellectual pursuits to benefit the community.   
  • Teaching – Providing learning environments and activities consistent with best educational practices to create a framework where scholarship is intentional, transformational, and deepens understanding in the preparation of future leaders.   

Application Information  

Selection Criteria  

The John Mercer Langston Political Institute is a program suited for current and emerging African American leaders interested in issues affecting African Americans and their communities across the Commonwealth of Virginia. Political experience is not a prerequisite for consideration or participation.      

Application Requirements  

The next class of the John Mercer Langston Institute for African American Political Leadership will be held in the Fall of 2021. Complete application packets are due June 18, 2021 .      

The application process is open to Virginia residents who are African-American with an interest in improving the political landscape for African Americans within the Commonwealth. A commitment to fully participate in each session of the program is required. Applicants must include two references from colleagues who can attest to the applicant’s leadership potential and abilities and current responsibilities.  

Those selected to participate in the John Mercer Langston Institute are expected to fully participate in the four two-day sessions offered during the months of September and October. Accepted participants are responsible for securing transportation to all meeting locations.  

All required documents must be received by the application deadline for your application to be complete. Please ensure that your application contains the following:  


The application process is open to Virginia residents who are African American with an interest in improving the political landscape for African Americans within the commonwealth. A commitment to fully participate in both of the programs is required.  

Applications for the 2021 John Mercer Langston Institute for African American Political Program are due by midnight on Sunday, June 18, 2021.  

  • One-paragraph short (no more than 100 words)  
  • Two reference letters  

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Program Fee  

The program fee for the John Mercer Langston Institute for African American Political Leadership is $500 (which includes the $150 application deposit) and covers all program costs, including intensive leadership assessment, lodging, and meals on program days. Payments can be made by the sponsoring organization or by individuals. Participants are responsible for securing their own transportation to program sessions.  

Once accepted, all JMLI candidates must submit the remaining program fee amount to secure space as a participant. Individuals selected for participation in the John Mercer Langston Institute  will be notified of acceptance by July 12, 2021. Once accepted, all JMLI candidates must submit the remaining $350 program fee balance no later than August 1, 2021.  


Participants who complete the John Mercer Langston Institute will receive a certificate of completion from Virginia State University and the John Mercer Langston Institute.  


2021 At a Glance  


Session location  

Friday, September 10 
Saturday, September 11  


Friday, September 24 
Saturday, September 25  


Friday, October 8 
Saturday, October 9  


Friday, October 29  
Saturday, October 30  

Northern Virginia  


Team Projects  

Each weekend, JMLI participants work on project teams to advance the understanding of issues facing Black communities in Virginia. The team project experience facilitates experiential learning of politics in action to garner networks, contacts and resources for effective information sharing, collaboration and decision- making. The diverse nature of the teams provides excellent opportunities for learning new perspectives and networking across Virginia, which assists participants in identifying cutting-edge solutions that fit the community’s needs. Project teams also provide a venue for applying new skills, developing creative strategies for solving problems, as well as a laboratory for working on diverse teams.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Who may participate in the John Mercer Langston Political Leadership Institute?

JMLI is designed for all aspiring leaders who from the Commonwealth of Virginia who identify as African American or Black who are interested in issues that affect underserved communities. The institute is open to both individuals in college (undergraduate and post-bachelor studies) and persons who are no longer in school. Our institute is for African Americans who believe in developing political leadership. To that point, all participants must be over the age of 18.


How many sessions are offered and when are they scheduled?

Four sessions are offered during the months of September and October. Each session lasts two days, usually starting at 10 a.m Friday and continuing until 5:30 p.m and starting at 9 a.m Saturday and concluding at 4:30 p.m Saturday. Lodging and meals on program days are included in the program fee.


What is the cost of the program and what is included with the cost?

The program fee is $500. This fee covers all program costs including program materials, intensive leadership assessments, lodging and meals on program days. Participants are responsible for securing their own transportation.


Are there any available scholarships to help cover the program fee?

Unfortunately, at this point participants are responsible for securing their own funding. Payments can be made by sponsoring organizations or by individual participants. If costs is a barrier, please let us know.


Do participants receive credits that they can later transfer to a post-secondary institution?

No, we do not offer academic credit for participating in JMLI.


Does the applicant have to be interested in running for office in order to apply?

No. JMLI is for the person who wants to run for office, wants to work in local or state government, who is an activist, who is an organizer, who is politically involved or may still be learning. Our objective is to provide every participant with what they need in order to help improve our communities.