The Return of Johnny Taylor

Johnny Taylor, former CEO and President of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund was today announced as the new chairman of the White House Advisory Board on HBCUs.

The appointment, while it may have caught some attendees of the second annual HBCU Fly-In event off guard, is a stroke of genius from an administration largely (and mostly incorrectly) seen as detached from HBCUs.

First, Taylor’s appointment ensures that the White House Initiative on HBCUs primary mission – using the bully pulpit of the White House to broker partnerships between HBCUs and large companies looking to invest in higher education, takes an earnest leap forward in a pro-business economy poised for growth under a conservative government.

Tax cuts, no matter where you fall politically on them, are encouraging business across the country to hire more workers and expand benefits. Even left-leaning corporations like Apple are boasting about bringing profits back to American shores to invest in American economy and workers. Taylor, who while running TMCF worked with Apple to secure a $40 million donation to TMCF member schools and dozens of workforce training opportunities for their computer science students, brings that same blend of sector expertise and corporate networking back to all schools, not just the 47 public black colleges.

Second, Taylor brings back to the sector a bi-partisan approach to federal engagement. While many presidents have tried hard to distance themselves from Trump-ism and its associated policies, in less than 18 months the administration has rolled back costly regulations, given HBCUs unprecedented media coverage, and has elevated the voices of these same leaders to comment on issues of import to HBCU students and communities.

And then there was that whole “erase $300 million of debt for several HBCUs” thing.

Taylor doesn’t seem to care who is president and doesn’t necessarily seem to care about their politics beyond how they can play a role in creating mutually beneficial relationships between the federal government and HBCUs. And that’s the best kind of Washington advocacy you can find when it comes to a sensitive sector like ours.

But perhaps the most important part of Taylor’s return has nothing to do with his knowledge of Washington or HBCUs; it is his new day job. As the president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, he has deep connections with HR executives and hiring managers nationwide in all kinds of industries.

Who else can leverage government endorsement, a record of delivering HBCU talent to companies and their resources to HBCUs, and a network of hiring managers looking for top talent in a variety of fields? If there is someone besides Taylor who can do these things, chances are he’ll probably be extending them an invitation to sit on the White House Advisory board with him.

And that’s just the kind of experience we need at a time like this.

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