BY CASH MICHAELS
Amid controversial remarks about historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) being “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice” from the new U. S. Education Secretary, Congresswoman Alma Adams (D- NC-12) is urging Republicans to join with the 49-member Congressional Black Caucus, and the 55-member Congressional Bi-partisan HBCU Caucus – which she founded and co-chairs – to strengthen HBCUs and partner with Black schools to ensure the future for promising students.
Meanwhile, presidents and chancellors from at least eighty HBCUs, including Interim President Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins of Bennett College, Chancellor Harold Martin of NC A&T University, and Chancellor Elwood Robinson of Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, among others, met with President Donald Trump Monday in the Oval Office, on the eve of his signing a new executive order vowing that HBCU’s will be “an absolute priority for this White House” and that the HBCU Initiative normally handled in the U. S. Department of Education, is being moved back to the White House for presidential attention.
The HBCU fly-in was arranged by US Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC-6) of Greensboro, in hopes of impressing on Congressional leaders the need to increase the federal budget for traditionally underfunded Black schools.
However, according to published reports, there is no specification for how much funding is in the Trump administration budget for HBCUs so far, and, according to The Associated Press, “GOP lawmakers said there were currently no concrete plans for increased funding.”
During remarks made at the Tuesday luncheon in Washington, DC for the HBCU Fly-in Conference, Representative Adams reminded all that she, once “a poor Black girl…from the ghetto of Newark, N. J…” is the product of NC A&T University in Greensboro. She also earned her Ph. D from The Ohio State University.
“So I stand here today as a living testament of what HBCUs do, and have always done, for students who simply need an opportunity, like I did,” she told the HBCU luncheon audience.
Representative Adams also reminded all that she also taught for forty years at Bennett College. “Those of us who have invested our life’s work on these campuses know firsthand what I’m talking about,” Rep. Adams said. Then, in an apparent dig at US Education Secretary Betsy Devos, and her much criticized statement that HBCUs were “real pioneers when it comes to school choice” for Black students, which is historically inaccurate. Rep. Adams said, “Founded out of necessity and exclusion from other institutions of higher education, HBCUs — OUR SCHOOLS – have been providing pathways to education and upward mobility for more than a century.”
After then noting that HBCUs account for half of all Black teachers and forty percent of degreed Black health professionals, Adams noted that Rep. Walker, the fly-in conference convener, is a member of the Congressional Bi-partisan HBCU Caucus.
“It is my sincere belief that the Congressional Bi-partisan HBCU Caucus planted the seed that created the opportunity we are experiencing today,” she said, later adding in an interview that, while she doesn’t doubt her colleague’s sincerity about HBCUs, she wonders why he’s carrying the HBCU support torch now, many years after his wife graduated from Winston-Salem State University with a nursing degree. NC A&T University is now part of Walker’s 6thDistrict.
“I invite, and encourage, my Republican colleagues to work with Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus, that has historically championed HBCUs in Congress, and whose members have already introduced legislation that would advance the work at these institutions,” Rep. Adams continued.
“Further, I challenge you to join me and the Congressional Black Caucus in encouraging Congress to reauthorize the Higher Education Act; support the return of the White House Initiative on HBCUs to the White House; restore year ’round Pell [Grants] and increase the purchasing power of these grants; protect and strengthen public education; co-sponsor and help push through such legislation as: the HBCU Capital Financing Act, which Congressman Byrne and I just introduced; the Historic Preservation Act sponsored by Congressman Clyburn, the HBCU Innovation Fund Act, along with other significant bills.”
“It’s time to move the conversation away from “why do we need HBCUs” to “what would we do without HBCUs and how do we work together to ensure that HBCUs, not only survive, but thrive,” Congresswoman Adams concluded.
In an interview after her luncheon appearance, Adams said that she and Rep. Cedric Richmond [D-LA-2], Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, were the only Congressional Democrats invited to speak at the fly-in luncheon because of their caucus leadership positions. In fact, her name wasn’t even on the program.
“They wanted it to be a Republican thing,” she said, suggesting that this may be part of an effort to ultimately appeal to Black voters.
The North Carolina congresswoman criticized the choice of Education Secretary Betty DeVos as luncheon keynote speaker, especially after her erroneous earlier statement about HBCUs.
“In terms of really knowing about our schools, I can’t imagine she was the best speaker [available], “ said Rep. Adams, adding that the Education Secretary, who made millions in Michigan being a strong school choice advocate, will probably have to get “ a lot of OJT (On the Job Training).”
Adams said she supports moving the HBCU Initiative from DeVos’ agency to the White House because “it might get the attention that it needs there…,” though there is some concern that it might get “politicized.”
Congresswoman Adams admitted that she was “skeptical” about President Trump’s true intentions regarding his overtures to HBCUs and promises made. “We’re going to have to hold him to what he says. He certainly wasn’t supportive (during the campaign) of people who look like me. So I don’t know.”
Of Pres. Trump’s Monday meeting with the various HBCU presidents and chancellors in the Oval Office, Rep. Adams added, ‘Hopefully it wasn’t just a photo op.”
During the interview, Adams reiterated that the idea for the HBCU fly-in conference originated from remarks she made to her HBCU Caucus last December as something she felt the bi-partisan group should do. Apparently the idea was taken to Republican House leadership and approved.
“But we planted the seed,” she insisted. “We could have done [the fly-in] as a bi-partisan effort…but this was an opportunity for Republicans to shine and show-up Democrats.”
Rep. Adam’s Maryland colleague, Congressman Elijah Cummings [D-MD), a Howard University alumnus and former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, issued a statement Tuesday, saying in part, “If President Trump is serious about helping HBCU’s, he must also be serious about removing the structural barriers African Americans still face, and he should put his money where his pen is by urging his colleagues in Congress to increase federal funding to HBCUs.”