Planning and Zoning Commissioner
High School Program, 2014
Congressional Fellowship, Spring 2019
“Running Start equips you with the confidence and the tools to do whatever you dream of doing, in your career and in your community.”
Twenty-three-year-old Misaki Collins juggles multiple roles. She works as a project coordinator with a consulting company that fosters development in rural parts of Texas. She holds a seat on the Planning and Zoning Commission of the City of Irving. She is co-chair of the Young Women’s Advisory Council, a grantmaking and advocacy organization that promotes opportunity for women of color in Dallas County. And she’s planning to run for City Council. Her long-term aspiration: to become U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Misaki credits her decision to pursue a career in politics and public service back to one eye-opening experience six years ago. As a member of Running Start’s week-long program for high school students, she and 49 other young women spent a week in Washington. “It was the first time I'd been in DC or traveled alone,” Misaki says, “and the first time I met an elected person. We were trained in public speaking and to lobby our own member of Congress, which is really, really, really cool for a 14-year-old.” Another benefit: she began building the cross-country network she will rely on for her future campaigns.
Like many of her fellow alumni, Misaki went on to successive Running Start programs. One was the Capitol Hill Fellowship, which brought her to spend Spring 2019 interning in the DC office of her political hero, U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the first black woman from Dallas
to win electoral office. The intensive internship deepened Misaki’s understanding of how government really works. Equally valuable was connecting with her roommates – six women from diverse backgrounds and political perspectives.
The group bonded across political and cultural divides. “We are roomed intentionally with someone on the complete opposite side of the spectrum… It was amazing to have that space to talk about things we are passionate about and not be judgmental, but to really listen. At times, it was hard, but we learned a lot and it was an amazing experience.”
Besides continuing to support each other, Misaki and her peers serve as a powerful force for young women newly engaging in politics. She now serves as a facilitator for Elect Her. This Running Start program helps women on college campuses across the country to prepare for student body and political campaigns. Misaki most recently spent time on the Texas A&M and Louisiana State University campuses, where the young women she meets voice the same fears and questions she had when she ran for student body president at the University of North Texas.
That campaign – which she lost by a small margin – was a grueling experience, she tells them. Nevertheless, her core advice is not to be afraid. “Losing is not the end of the road -- you don't need permission or a position to lead. Even just by running, someone may see your face on that lawn sign or your campaign post on social media, it could be someone who has never seen a person running for office who looks like her. That could be your legacy.”
Misaki was raised in Okinawa, a prefecture of Japan, with an Okinawan mother and African American father, where she was often the only minority in the room. As a teenager, she observed that “the people involved in politics generally don't look like the people in the community.”
She intends to change that. She is deeply passionate about empowering other young women and people of color. And she wants to help make Texas a better place while working from within the system, an approach she gleaned from her father, a police officer. Thinking about her upcoming city council run, she recalls a statistic Running Start shared years ago – that women need to be asked to run several times. “It’s not other people holding me back,” she says, “it's only myself. I have to get over that.”
When Misaki does need advice or encouragement, she reaches out to her DC cohort (they remain in touch weekly) and the Running Start team. “I've been involved in so many organizations. Running Start is the only one that when they say that they want to do something for you, they a thousand percent mean it, and I'm not ever shy about asking them.”
“Every single time I feel like I'm down or not confident, they're just so empowering. I know that no matter what, they are rooting us on, and at times feel like they believe in us more than we believe in ourselves.”
Without that first visit to DC six years ago, Misaki sums up, “I wouldn't have thought that I could have made a career in politics. That week in DC changed my life and made me realize I am definitely able to run for office.”