When con­sid­er­ing bud­get, De­San­tis should spare HBCU

Orlando Sentinel - - Opinion - By Ran­dolph Bracy

In the con­text of the many dis­rup­tions caused by the cur­rent pan­demic, many of us have been forced to re-eval­u­ate the way we live our lives.

COVID-19 has prompted much re­flec­tion and many tough choices, as we cope with lim­ited ac­cess to oth­er­wise rou­tine ser­vices and goods — from as­sess­ing more quo­tid­ian pri­or­i­ties as we ex­pe­ri­ence a life de­void of for­mer con­ve­niences, to the dire cal­cu­lus of al­lo­cat­ing strained re­sources. Th­ese in­di­vid­ual predica­ments are par­al­leled by those faced in gov­ern­ment and civic lead­er­ship, as in­di­vid­u­als and so­ci­ety alike must make the chal­leng­ing dis­tinc­tion be­tween the es­sen­tial and non-es­sen­tial.

The bud­get ap­proved by the Florida Leg­is­la­ture for the fis­cal year 2020-21 rep­re­sents one out­put of such dire cal­cu­lus, and when Gov. Ron De­San­tis di­rects his veto pen toward its $93.2 bil­lion in fund­ing, he is sure to con­duct his own painstak­ing re­view in the con­text of es­sen­tial vs. nonessen­tial spend­ing. In this as­sess­ment, fund­ing for His­tor­i­cally Black Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties (HBCUs) ought to fac­tor as deeply es­sen­tial to our state’s eco­nomic health, cul­tural stand­ing and in­fra­struc­ture.

A prod­uct of ex­haus­tive ne­go­ti­a­tions that I spear­headed, the Leg­is­la­ture’s al­lo­ca­tion of $34 mil­lion toward BethuneCoo­k­man Univer­sity, Ed­ward Wa­ters Col­lege and Florida Memo­rial Univer­sity rep­re­sents a much-needed in­ter­ven­tion toward sus­tain­ing th­ese long­stand­ing cul­tural and ed­u­ca­tional land­marks. Th­ese in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing — grounded in com­mu­nity-based, val­ues-ori­ented schol­ar­ship — will pre­pare many fu­ture driv­ers of our state’s civic and eco­nomic en­gines. Th­ese in­sti­tu­tions con­tinue to shape an ag­ile work­force that is welle­quipped to in­no­vate in the face of chang­ing times and volatile cir­cum­stances.

Most uniquely, th­ese in­sti­tu­tions serve and up­lift a pop­u­la­tion that is sig­nif­i­cantly more likely to be un­der­served and disen­fran­chised else­where. Th­ese HBCUs are pro­pel­lers for the minds and prospects of count­less young Florid­i­ans of color, many of whom would face in­sur­mount­able op­por­tu­nity-gaps in the ab­sence of th­ese cul­tur­ally in­formed in­sti­tu­tions.

The fund­ing in the cur­rent ver­sion of our state’s 2020-21 bud­get will al­low th­ese HBCUs to con­tinue their lega­cies as in­cu­ba­tors of civic en­gage­ment, eco­nomic in­no­va­tion and com­mu­nity-minded lead­er­ship — crit­i­cal in­gre­di­ents for our state and coun­try’s sur­vival in times of cri­sis and tran­si­tion.

The his­toric rel­e­vance of th­ese in­sti­tu­tions speaks vol­umes about the need for their con­tin­ued ex­is­tence and suc­cess. Much as they pro­pelled African Amer­i­can Florid­i­ans through the civil rights move­ment and other pe­ri­ods of ad­ver­sity, they are es­sen­tial to the ad­vance­ment of our peo­ple, and in turn our en­tire state, through the COVID-19 era and be­yond.

As COVID-19 re­shapes our out­look on the world, I hope we will not lose sight of the vi­tal needs met by his­tor­i­cally black in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing like Bethune-Cook­man Univer­sity, Ed­ward Wa­ters Col­lege and Florida Memo­rial Univer­sity.

When the time comes to re­view the state’s bud­get, I en­cour­age Gov. De­San­tis to re­flect on the eco­nomic, cul­tural, and hu­man value that th­ese uni­ver­si­ties sus­tain, es­pe­cially dur­ing times like the present.

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