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Stepping Outside Comfort Zone Leads To White House Internship

by Carmen Cash (M.A. ’19) Communications and Marketing Intern -

Ramal Johnson (M.A.’13) took a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in January 2018. Johnson, a master of media and communications graduate, took a four-month internship in the Office of Presidential Correspondence as a White House intern.

“I applied on a whim,” says Johnson, “I didn’t think I’d get it.” Yet, Johnson was not only accepted into the program, but was the only African-American among the roughly 90 interns who were selected. Over the course of the internship, Johnson realized that many of the individuals he worked with had never worked with African-Americans before, let alone a Democrat, and knew little about African-American culture.

“He is very open minded, and he can place himself in a position not to focus on one issue,” says Pamela Rodgers, Johnson’s mother. “He doesn’t have tunnel vision. He can see a situation from all different sides and aspects.”

As a White House intern, Johnson’s main job was to serve as a liaison between President Donald J. Trump, and the American people, addressing concerns, and issues. However, he didn’t learn about his assignment until he arrived at the White House the first day. “Everything is confidential, so they didn’t tell us much. We didn’t even know what department we were working in, or what we were doing.”

Recently, Johnson was on campus as part of the Mass Communications and Journalism Department’s News Engagement Day and spoke to students about his time as a White House intern and allowed them to ask him questions about his journey and experiences while stressing the importance of internships and extracurricular activities. He chuckled a little when speaking about how surprised the students were to find out that although he was not in support of President Trump, his White House colleagues are not, as Johnson stated, the “monsters” that they are portrayed to be in the media. “We disagree politically, but they aren’t monsters.”

He pointed out to students what he believes to be current issues in media, which include the depiction of minorities.

“A lot of times whenever a person of color, let’s say an African-American, is depicted in the media, he or she is depicted stereotypically, and that’s because a lot of the writers, producers, and directors have little to no contact with African-Americans so they rely on stereotypes to portray them because that’s the only way they think of us,” says Johnson.

“The excuse is well: we don’t know any African-Americans who qualify to be writers or producers–which is not true.”

Johnson believes that in order to control the narrative, African-Americans must create the narrative.

“We need to have more people of color behind the camera instead of in front of the camera, so we need to be the ones who are making the decisions.”

In the meantime, Johnson stands in front of a class as a professor at Northern Virginia Community College. Johnson credits the lessons he learned during his time at Norfolk State University as the foundation for the expectations he sets for his students.

“I had professors who were very strict as far as guidelines are concerned,” says Johnson. “In media, especially in journalism, there are standards you have to meet, and they held us to those standards,” says Johnson as he reflects on his years as a Spartan.

From his experience as a White House intern, Johnson offers a piece of advice to students.

“Go outside your comfort zone. I applied to the White House thinking I was not going to get it at all. I kind of did it just to do it.”