The Power of Public Service: Mickey Leland’s Transformative Legacy at UH

Mickey Leland

During six terms in Congress, six years as a Texas state legislator and Democratic National Committee official, Mickey Leland focused much needed attention on issues of health and hunger and rallied support that resulted in both public and private action. He died tragically in 1989, when his plane crashed in Ethiopia while he was leading a relief mission to an isolated refugee camp.

But, his legacy lives on in the lives and accomplishments of the Leland Fellows: UH students who complete internships in Washington, D.C. and, more often than not, have life-changing revelations that often lead to a career in public service.

A program of the Hobby School of Public Affairs, each Leland Fellow receives a monthly stipend, round-trip airfare to Washington, D.C. and housing during their internships. Fellows are sent to Washington every other year. The Leland Fellowship opens the door to students who often would not otherwise be able to afford it, and philanthropy is vital to keeping programs like this one running since it was founded in 1981.

As Mickey Leland’s widow, a UH Honors College professor and Hobby School board member, Professor Alison Leland has a unique insight into her late husband’s impact on UH students, and countless people around the world. She met Mickey while she was a law student at Georgetown University, and remembers being struck by his dedication to students and interns. “As a member of Congress, he was committed to having interns engaged in important experiences and developing an understanding of the legislative process,” she recalls. “He would make a point of taking interns with him to hearings, meetings, even with the president. He knew that this exposure would be transformative.”

Mickey Leland’s personal experience made helping students a priority for him. Born in 1944, he attended segregated schools in Texas, graduating from Phyllis Wheatley High School in Houston. He went on to study pharmacy at Texas Southern University, always making a point of caring for his communities, whether it was going door-to-door to help people with their medications or organizing initiatives to empower communities.

“One of the reasons he was passionate about this internship program and other internship programs that bear his name is because he was that kid, and wanted to have the opportunity to see the country, and, ultimately, the world,” explains Alison Leland. While many programs and buildings bear Mickey Leland’s name, she notes that Houston students always held a special place in his heart: so many of them mirrored his own experience of working his way up the ladder.

As a Hobby School board member and a UH professor, she sees the difference that experience can make on students first-hand. “Giving to the Leland Fellows program is an important investment in students,” she says. “When they return to Houston from the internship, they are filled with possibilities of what they may do next in terms of career and public service or graduate degrees. If you are someone who wants to invest in the future, this program is where your giving should go.”

Visit the Hobby School of Public Affairs online to read Mickey Leland’s full biography and learn more about the 2016 Leland Fellows. For more information about how to make a gift to the Leland Fellows program, contact Lauren Futch, Director of Development for the Hobby School of Public Affairs, at 713-743-1301 or

Taylor Hicks

“This opportunity has not only opened so many doors for me, but has also created bridges and pathways for me that I never knew existed. I have learned so much not only about the legislative process but about myself and what I am capable of accomplishing. Working on Capitol Hill and living in DC is unlike anything I have ever experienced or even imagined and has led me down a pathway that I know will lead to success.”

–Taylor Hicks (’16), 2016 Intern for Congressman Al Green

Auruba Al-Zibdeh

“Honoring Congressman Mickey Leland as a Leland Fellow for the spring of 2016 semester has truly been one of the most memorable and incredible experiences of my life. This experience has emphasized the endless possibilities that lie ahead that coincide with my passions of affirming human rights for all. I am looking forward to exploring all of the different fields and policy areas I have learned about in D.C., and I am eager to see where the Leland Fellows program will take me.”

– Auruba Al-Zibdeh (’17), 2016 intern for Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson.

William Janowski

“A metamorphosis has occurred amongst each fellow; we have now come out of a cocoon of inexperience, emerged more knowledgeable, realizing we have to influence to be at the foreground of change. For me, my calling is to become more civically engaged in Houston. I want to give back to the city, university, and program that holistically made me a better person, and in time, foster the next generation of public servants.”

– William Janowski (’16), 2016 intern for Congressman Gene Green