There’s bipartisan energy for HBCUs


From the time Alma Adams (D-NC) was elected to Congress in 2014, she was committed to making a difference.

One of her early acts was the founding of the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, which she co-chairs with Alabama Republican Bradley Byrne. She has grown the Caucus to a bipartisan, bicameral group of 74 members, including an array of Democratic Congressional Black Caucus members like Karen Bass (D-CA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), G.K. Butterfield (D-MO), HBCU champion Jim Clyburn (D-SC), former Delta Sigma Theta Sorority President Marcia Fudge (D-OH), and many others.

They understand
Many of the HBCU members aren’t African-American or Democrat but understand the value of HBCUs, like Adams’ fellow North Carolinian Mark Walker (R), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Trent Kelly (R-MS), Jared Polis (D-CO), and others.

Adams has also attracted 13 senators from both parties to the HBCU Caucus, including Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Burr (R-NC), Tim Scott (R- SC), Kamala Harris (D-CA), David Perdue (R-GA), and others.

Alma Adams has done an outstanding job in making the case for HBCUs with her colleagues. I’m not surprised.

She is a double-dipping HBCU graduate, having earned an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree from North Carolina A&T State University. (She earned her doctorate in Art Education and Multicultural Education from the Ohio State University).

Retired professor
She spent nearly 40 years as a professor at Bennett College (she was a faculty member when I was president of Bennett), while serving on the Greensboro City School Board, the Greensboro City Council, the North Carolina State Senate (and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus).

After retiring from Bennett, she ran for Congress and prevailed through gerrymandering to be elected to a second term in 2016. Through it all, she has been a champion for HBCUs, using her platform through the North Carolina Legislature to provide scholarship opportunities for students and infrastructure provisions for campuses. Steele Hall, Bennett’s art gallery, is there because of Congresswoman Adams’ advocacy and her acumen for collaboration.

As a member of Congress, she has assembled a coterie of HBCU advocates to lobby for HBCUs, even as higher education authorization is being considered. Between a breakfast sponsored by Lyft, a lunch sponsored by Intel, and a reception at Google headquarters, 300 or so people, including members of Congress, HBCU presidents, and other stakeholders challenged themselves to think about ways HBCU can both attract more resources, and prepare themselves for the evolving world economy.

One study indicates that HBCUs must have a social justice and equality focus and that they must “actively and purposefully combat the insidious effects of racism in society.”

Curriculum change?
The study has thrown a gauntlet out for HBCUs because too many are so busy replicating the Predominately White Institution model of higher education that they’ve forgotten part of our original purpose. It’s suggested that a “woke” HBCU has a curriculum that focuses on Afrocentric education, global education, and community education.

HBCUs were founded to educate African-American people, but they were also founded to liberate us from the shackles of enslavement and economic disparity. This can be done both by educating professionals – lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, and the like – but also by preparing freedom fighters. In recent years, the focus has been more on the former than the latter.

While much of the conversation at the luncheon I attended focused on engineering and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), one of the more poignant moments was Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s plea for financial support for HBCUs as she lamented the projected closing of Selma’s Concordia University at the end of this academic year.

Her plea made me wonder why there aren’t more members of the Congressional HBCU Caucus. Every Southern Republican senator ought to be HBCU advocates because HBCUs are economic drivers for their states. They provide education, generate jobs, and are engines of local economic development.

While most African-Americans are Democrats, few are indifferent to Republican support of HBCUs that is transformative. Instead, at about the same time that Congresswoman Adams’ luncheon was taking place, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) was forced to take Miseducation Secretary Betsey DeVoid (of good sense) to school for her apparent indifference to the racism that young Black and Brown students experience in school.

Can’t lose them
Everyone who spoke at the Adams/Intel luncheon was clear about the value that HBCUs bring to our nation, even as some made the case that HBCUs must step up with innovation, certificate programs, community college partnerships and more. There are many ways we can improve HBCUs, but we can’t afford to lose them.

Christian Josi, former Executive Director of the American Conservative Union and (gasp!) former board member of the Jesse Helms Center, is alarmed at the frailty of our HBCUs.

Lamenting the closing of Concordia University, he said, “Historically, culturally, morally, we have an obligation to ensure that our HBCUs thrive. If Concordia fails, it is on all of us.”

Yet tragically, despite the energy of legislators like Congresswoman Alma Adams, there are too many Southern senators who are prepared to turn their backs on HBCUs.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. Her latest book, “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available at



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