John Mercer Langston Institute
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.


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.   

2023-2024 Application

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 2023-2024 John Mercer Langston Institute for African American Political Program are due by midnight December 31, 2023.  

The Political Science and Public Administration supports the John Mercer Langston Institute for African American Leadership

Contact Us

1 Hayden Drive, Petersburg, VA 23806

Dates and location are subject to change


Saturday January 27, 2024


JMLI Opening Ceremony –– Virginia State University

February 2024


Richmond/Chesterfield session: “Role of Local Government”

March 2024


Hampton - Budgeting and Equity

April 2024


Northern VA - How to Run for Office

May 2024


Charlottesville- Situational Awareness as a Black Politico

June 2024


VSU - Graduation and closing ceremony

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?

Five sessions are offered between the months of January 2024 and May 2024. 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.

JMLI Video

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. 

JMLI Video