Kayla Neal’s interest in politics began in 2008, before she was even nine years old. That was the year that Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.
“Being the first black male in office, there was a lot controversy,” offers Neal. “And me, also being black, had to wonder if people wouldn’t like me because of the color of my skin. As I got older and learned about slavery and how most race problems are based in politics, it made me want to study it to fight for equal rights and protection for all people.”
Obama is high on the list of Neal’s favorite presidents. And so, too, is the lesser known James Polk, who served as commander in chief from 1845 to 1849.
“Polk is one of my favorites because he is one of the only presidents to keep the campaign promises he made,” says Neal, of the eleventh U.S. president, best known for territorial expansion. “Everything he told the people he would do, he did. I think that is really admirable.”
Neal started college as a high school junior as part of the Early College of Macomb program. She took classes simultaneously at L’Anse Creuse High School North and Macomb, graduating with her diploma in 2018 and an associate degree in 2019. With the two years of tuition at Macomb covered by her school district, it’s an academic path she would recommend to others.
“I appreciated being treated like an adult by my professors, says Neal. “I loved the independence and freedom that came with being a student there. It was absolutely wonderful.”
Not surprisingly, when Brooke Allen, Macomb political science professor, began recruiting for a trip she leads to Washington, D.C. every other year, Kayla Neal signed up.
“Politics has always been a potential career path for me. Having been in Washington makes me feel like I’ve done something,” says Neal, who is now majoring in political science at the University of Michigan – Flint. “Seeing The White House, Supreme Court, Library of Congress and so on inspired me to follow my values.”
Because of a grant from the Thomas S. Welsh Fund for Public Service and Political Science, the cost to individual students was kept at $300. That made it a manageable expenditure for Neal, who works at a local Dairy Queen, and a worthwhile one.
“My favorite landmark would have to be The Lincoln Memorial,” says Neal. “I don’t know how my life would have turned out without him as a free black woman in this country.”
In addition to the Capitol tour, which offered students insight into all three branches of the federal government, there was also a visit to some of the museums that comprise the Smithsonian Institution.
“This was my first time in the African American Museum and while the content, at times, could be hard to look at, I felt a sense of unity with myself and my identity,” says Neal., shown here in front of it. “It was empowering.”