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Jarrett L. Carter

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White House Outreach to HBCUs is Clear; Will Public Support Follow in 2012?

Posted: 05/17/2012 5:24 pm

First Lady Michelle Obama gave rousing keynote remarks at North Carolina A&T State University's commencement exercises last weekend, marking the third consecutive year she has keynoted an HBCU commencement and four overall for the First Family, counting her husband's 2010 appearance at Hampton University.

Coupling those appearances with those of key administrators like Arne Duncan at this year's Howard University commencement and Valerie Jarrett's appearance at Morgan State University two years ago, it's clear that the White House acknowledges the value and political clout of the HBCU community.

It's a very savvy move by a very savvy administration; be around your family without giving the appearance of being only about your family. The Obama administration has quietly worked to address some pressing needs of the HBCU community, while stopping short of the president wearing a Hillman College sweatshirt to his weekly press briefings. Support of Pell Grants, an executive order to increase federal agency appropriations to HBCUs, and a general willingness to speak the sacred four letters in spots of careful choosing and in select company.

We've appreciated his quiet work, and in return, the HBCU community will again likely serve as an active red-state stronghold in his bid for reelection this year. A second and final term for President Obama is the one many are betting will produce a golden age of reform in employment and educational access for black people. And if not that, at the very least, a public acknowledgment that black folks are uniquely suffering and deserve federal attention to solve what years of racism and discrimination have yielded.

And if there is to be a public acknowledgment of how black people have been doubly disadvantaged by segregation and desegregation alike, there is no better example deserving support than historically black colleges and universities. Debate on subsidized housing and healthcare is healthy. Debate on equitable opportunities at higher education is not healthy, and no other institution is as structurally or culturally prepared to meet America's demand for an increase in educated professionals and innovators than HBCUs.

More money for capital improvements, research development and programmatic enhancement is needed, and that need has been in place for generations. The White House recognizes the disadvantage at which HBCUs have operated practically since their inception, and has covertly, from a media perspective, worked to right the wrong. Even when key liaisons between the White House and HBCUs have wrongly attributed HBCU struggles solely to administrative incompetence, sensible members of the White House Board of Advisors on HBCUs have dutifully and sternly reminded that a culture long-suffering from the "more with less" burden of leadership doesn't change over night, and the changing, ravaging demand of global economics makes the job that much more difficult for even the most keen and invested HBCU executive.

All in the HBCU circle of influence recognize that the championing for resources begins at home, and so there's no reasonable expectation for the White House to reward what HBCU alumni and corporate communities, at large, have not. But what is expected of the Obama administration and key members of the executive cabinet is a consistent, public declaration about the need for HBCUs and the national benefit for the American public and private sector to invest in their success.

The Obama administration has been on the record for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. It has been on the record for dignified and responsible measures on immigration reform and has acted in saving the financial interest of corporations intricately tethered to the economy of the nation and the world. HBCUs are intricately tied to solving a multitude of issues plaguing the black community; from entrepreneurial development, civil service, improving secondary education, public health awareness, and diversifying the fields of science and technology, HBCUs literally are a catalyst for saving and improving lives for Americans across the nation.

The White House knows what HBCUs are all about. President Obama has public declared a personal partnership with these institutions. The wheels have begun turning to engage HBCUs on the second time around for change in Washington, and if HBCU support helps them turn in favor of a second term, there's a reasonable expectation for the administration to take a stronger, more public position for HBCU support and expansion.

A position not relegated to HBCU commencement ceremonies.

 

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