A ground­break­ing dis­cus­sion about race and pol­i­tics

Trump has given his­tor­i­cally black col­leges a prom­i­nent seat at the table

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Johnny C. Tay­lor Jr. Johnny C. Tay­lor is pres­i­dent and CEO of the Thur­good Mar­shall Col­lege Fund.

For the sec­ond time in three months, His­tor­i­cally Black Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties (HBCUs) have been thrust into the news — and not al­ways in ways that were pro­duc­tive to the con­ver­sa­tion we should be hav­ing about the val­ues and goals we share for build­ing a more ed­u­cated, pros­per­ous na­tion for all Amer­i­cans.

The first in­stance was in Fe­bru­ary, when a group of HBCU pres­i­dents were part of an his­toric se­ries of meet­ings in Wash­ing­ton with Pres­i­dent Trump, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, Sec­re­tary of Ed­u­ca­tion Betsy DeVos, and Repub­li­can con­gres­sional lead­er­ship.

The sec­ond was ear­lier this month, when Mrs. DeVos was a part of an his­toric com­mence­ment ad­dress at Bethune-Cook­man Univer­sity — 30 years to the day af­ter Pres­i­dent Rea­gan gave the com­mence­ment at Tuskegee Univer­sity.

The cir­cum­stances for these two events were dif­fer­ent, and the re­ac­tion in the re­spec­tive com­mu­ni­ties were dra­mat­i­cally so. But in the end, the truth about both meet­ings has been washed over in a strange nar­ra­tive min­gling race, pol­i­tics and the most di­vi­sive con­jec­ture of both del­i­cate top­ics.

What we are see­ing is ex­actly what ad­vo­cates for HBCUs have long worked for, asked for and hoped for many years — a voice that is heard, a pres­ence with and val­i­da­tion from our two pri­mary po­lit­i­cal par­ties. And more than in the past, we’re see­ing sub­stan­tive ac­tion tak­ing place as a re­sult of so­phis­ti­cated and bold lead­ers at HBCUs and in the White House see­ing beyond rhetoric and fear to make things hap­pen.

Our HBCU lead­ers went to Wash­ing­ton, and a sit­ting sec­re­tary of ed­u­ca­tion went to Day­tona Beach; both with the in­ten­tion of build­ing re­la­tion­ships that can hope­fully one day soon ben­e­fit HBCU stu­dents na­tion­wide. And both par­ties were sub­ject to the most hurt­ful scorn and al­le­ga­tions of racial trea­son, short­sighted po­lit­i­cal ma­neu­ver­ing and sell­ing out.

We’ve heard the mis­guided crit­i­cism that such events are just about “photo ops.” We can have de­bates on ci­vil­ity and the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of boo­ing those with whom we dis­agree. But we’re miss­ing the po­ten­tial for an un­prece­dented pe­riod of heal­ing and bi­par­ti­san ap­proach to im­prov­ing con­di­tions for some of the na­tion’s most trea­sured higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions and the com­mu­ni­ties that are eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially an­chored by them.

I can ac­cept that some may as­so­ciate this kind of pos­i­tive move­ment and au­then­tic col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween our schools and this ad­min­is­tra­tion with skep­ti­cism. But ev­ery Repub­li­can isn’t our en­emy, just as ev­ery Demo­crat isn’t our friend. Know­ing this, we should also un­der­stand that ev­ery op­por­tu­nity for di­a­logue is a chance for rea­son­able peo­ple of mu­tual in­ter­ests and com­mon sense to po­ten­tially find agree­able ground on vir­tu­ally any sub­ject. We are in the midst of this ex­act kind of dis­cus­sion about higher ed­u­ca­tion (and specif­i­cally the fate and fu­ture of HBCUs) with those who will be run­ning the coun­try for at least the next four years. This is ground­break­ing. The level of at­ten­tion given to HBCUs these past five months is un­prece­dented. We shouldn’t take it lightly, nor ap­proach it with jaded views steeped in the na­tion’s un­for­tu­nate his­tory of poor race re­la­tions and dis­crim­i­na­tion. We must look for­ward.

This is a chance for like­minded in­di­vid­u­als, even if from dif­fer­ent back­grounds, to lis­ten, seek un­der­stand­ing, gather the facts and the data and then di­a­logue about how the na­tion moves for­ward, and all its cit­i­zens are made bet­ter as a re­sult. For too long, African Amer­i­cans have not been able to be a part of this con­ver­sa­tion — now we are. To be beyond the pe­riph­ery of what hap­pens to our com­mu­nity is not some­thing given by ei­ther side of the dis­cus­sion; it’s earned by au­then­tic gen­uine­ness from our HBCU pres­i­dents and chan­cel­lors, and our fed­eral of­fi­cials.

Lis­ten­ing does not mean uni­ver­sal agree­ment, and ac­tively en­gag­ing and ad­vo­cat­ing in a pos­i­tive fash­ion does not equate to blind loy­alty. Let’s clear the air; re­fo­cus on what mat­ters and work to­gether to make sure our HBCUs thrive.

For too long, African Amer­i­cans have not been able to be a part of this con­ver­sa­tion — now we are.

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