The program, “McNIFICENT'', is an 8-week for-credit immersive internship program for Morehouse rising graduates where students in Communication Studies will build on their skills through real world application within one of the most recognized globally branded businesses, McDonald’s. Photo by Luis Cruz

Local franchisee Danesha Smith and her team at Sunshine & Sunrise Enterprises, in collaboration with local Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Morehouse College are paving the path to the next generation of entrepreneurs and franchisees in Atlanta with a uniquely tailored internship, designed to foster the business skills needed for success.

The program, “McNIFICENT”, is an 8-week for-credit immersive internship program for Morehouse rising graduates where students in Communication Studies will build on their skills through real world application within one of the most recognized globally branded businesses, McDonald’s.

The program offers a stipend and is oriented towards Entrepreneurship and careers in Communications. This program also provides experience and exposure for the students to understand the demands and expectations of being an entrepreneur, specifically a McDonald’s franchisee.

As alumni of HBCUs, husband and wife ownership team, Danesha (Clark Atlanta University) and Andre Smith (Southern University and A&M College) are driven by a social responsibility to create greater wealth and business ownership in predominantly black and brown communities. This project comes from Danesha’s passion for people and love for her community.

McNIFICENT: “One team, one shine, no voice left behind”

After spending some time away, the Smiths came back to Atlanta and were already franchising for McDonald’s in another market.

“We know Atlanta, Atlanta is deeply personal to us both professionally and at a personal standpoint,” she said.

Danesha said they came back to grow, but also said to themselves, “It’s (the franchise) much bigger and had to be much bigger than hamburgers and French fries.”

“We have been fortunate enough to experience a lot of really great things and some not so great,” she said. “We wanted to give back in the way that people have helped us along our journey to be able to do more than say, ‘Hey I’m a franchisee and this is what I do’ and more about what impact and how do you help others because you’ve been helped along the journey.”

The collaboration with Morehouse College, Danesha said, came to fruition from a process at McDonald’s where every other year Danesha and her team sit down with corporate executives and talk about what their future is, where they see their business going, and what’s important to them.

“A little more than two years ago, Andre said ‘we came back to give back’. One of the biggest areas we believe we can give back is in entrepreneurship and business ownership and we see HBCUs as one of the gateways to be able to do that,” she said.

After carving out a plan over two years ago, the Smiths worked with now Community and Culture lead, Colnith Brown.

Even though Brown started in several roles, he transitioned into becoming a gatekeeper for many initiatives, became responsible for ensuring part of the company’s mission, giving back, and social responsibility stewardship.

Ultimately, Brown was approached by Morehouse about a business opportunity that is now known as McNIFICENT.

“It fit so neatly and nicely into our mission and purpose as an organization,” Danesha said. “I do want to shout out Dr. Felicia Stewart, Dr. Shelva Clemons, and Dr. Cobb Fox who’s been really partners in this journey and catalysts in bringing McNIFICENT to life.”

From there, they started working as a team and many different names were tossed around, but ultimately was named “McNIFICENT” as a collaborative effort.

“McNIFICENT” is a play on the big “M” of Morehouse, the “Mc” from McDonald’s, and what the team calls “the McNIFICENT Four”.


As with any new program, it’s still learning and building. There are four interns in the McNIFICENT program currently and all four students attend Morehouse College.

What was created in partnership with Morehouse, Danesha said, is for the gentlemen to have an “immersive” learning experience, but not necessarily academic.

“You’re going to learn, and this is a prime example of seeing how business communications really happens and a mirrored way to do that,” she said. “That process and how we bring business to life through what you may know as McDonald’s so they’re really getting that firsthand experience. They’ve spoken to amazing people inside and outside of McDonald’s.”

The four are Isaac McKinney, Joshua Haigler, Justin Darden, and Miles Johnson.

McKinney majors in Communication Studies, while Haigler is a Business Administration major with a concentration in Management and minor in Communication Studies. Darden double majors in Communication and Journalism with a concentration in Sports and Social Justice. Johnson is a Communications major and minors in Sports Journalism.

“My experience has been interesting; fun and I’ve learned a lot,” Haigler said. “It’s been great overall and the team, Ms. Danesha, and her husband Andre, and Colnith, it’s just been very welcoming with this experience. It’s like a family. This experience has helped build on things dealing with entrepreneurship like being yourself, pushing forward, being an overachiever, and giving yourself a chance to succeed.”

Haigler is also a business owner. Some goals Haigler said he has includes wanting to grow his business, be financially stable, and to take care of his family.

“This experience has been immersive,” said McKinney. “I started this internship thinking that McDonald’s was all about burgers and fries, but that’s often what Black folks have as a consumer mindset because we are never taken behind the scenes and shown how the business runs and makes money. Coming into this internship, I was already kind of curious. From my mindset, it’s all about burgers and fries, but it’s about transactions, sales, hospitality, culture, and all these different moving parts that allows McDonald’s to be profitable and a family company.”

McKinney said he is applying to graduate school currently and is looking forward to opportunities in the future. He also said he is looking for a full-time job.

“These four gentlemen are really the pioneers and are piloting what we believe and know,” Danesha said. “The vision is for the program to have bigger arms, bigger legs, so we will do summer, fall, and continuing.”

Danesha also said they have another five weeks planned where the interns get a hands-on business application.

“Since Isaac and Joshua are both seniors, whether or not they choose the path of entrepreneurship or franchise management, they have much more real world experience no matter what path they may choose,” she said.

Additionally, Danesha said her team is constantly working to expose the gentleman to a wide variety of different types of communications, as there are many forms.

“In three weeks they have spoken with a few people inside McDonald’s corporate,” Danesha said. “In corporate, those folks and how we communicate with them are very differently than we may communicate in our restaurants and how you have to flex up and flex differently and find your voice and still be your authentic self.”

Future of McNIFICENT

Currently, McNIFICENT focuses on four interns, however Danesha and Brown said this could change moving forward. The goal, Brown said, is to be able to reach other HBCUs and go to other departments like the business department.

Members of the McNIFICENT team (above) stopped by The Atlanta Voice studios to talk with staff reporter Isaiah Singleton (center in white t-shirt) last week. Photo by Luis Cruz

“We are looking to grow it, but as far as opening it to the community at large, we aren’t quite there yet. However, this was a great way to create those pipelines to middle, high school, up to the HBCUs,” he said.

“We wanted to start small,” Danesha said. “We didn’t want to cast a net so wide and not have the learnings. We must start small, make the right tweaks, and refine. Let’s really make sure the folks that help us are cemented into where we are going, so we can cast the net wider. We will. Education is a pillar of ours and so this is the college piece as we talk about internships. Colnith is working with several high schools and a lot of other educational areas.”

Danesha also said to do it well and to ensure the program is a great experience, she doesn’t envision the program having more than 15 students at one time.

“What we’re finding is that given their schedules, it’s hard to have an enriching experience because they all have different class loads, responsibilities, and jobs. 15 may even be a little ambitious. We may go from four to 10 and stop there to ensure we can deliver on the promise of creating an immersive real-world experience,” she said.

Also, Danesha said the bigger picture about McNIFICENT is more about having an impact on the wealth in the Black and brown communities.

“I don’t just mean financial wealth. I mean spiritual and mental as well. We want a positive impact on wealth and wealth is much more than financial,” she said.

“We are looking to grow the program but in a way that touches the lives of other HBCUs,” said Brown. “She says 15, but what I envision is bringing in together partners that can help us satellite this into a bigger project especially when we talk about pipelines into middle and high school. That will be a bigger program.”