When it comes to reaching your base of support, say the things its members want to hear. Do the things that make them believe in your sustainability, even if it costs you relationships.
And most importantly, think long-term investment and not short-term appeal.
These are the three elements that have created the movement around Donald Trump’s presidential bid, a thundering approach to the Republican presidential nomination that no one, including the rich and ranking elite of the GOP, can stop. Trump is fueled by a constituency exercising the expression of white anger, southern fear, and fierce anti-establishment Americanism.
Everything that this country was built upon, and everything that positions it as a world superpower, is what Donald Trump is tapping into, and extracting in record numbers.
And yet, after 150 years of the existence of HBCUs in the American psyche and economy, many of our best leaders haven’t figured out the ways in which Black Americans can be activated to support HBCUs beyond crisis fundraising or social media advocacy.
There are exceptions. Paul Quinn College commands a respect among national media and presidential campaigns as HBCU devoid of excuses and big on aspirational goal setting. Howard, North Carolina A&T, Southern, FAMU, Jackson State, Morehouse, Spelman – they all have loyal alumni followings which would never allow the school to be compromised or closed because of political pressures or financial shortcomings. Most of their allegiance is tied to the role of these schools during the Civil Rights Movement, which birthed within baby boomer students and the generations which followed them, a genetic allegiance to these institutions that resonates today in the midst of increasing college options, and decreasing freedoms for black people.
But even with those examples, only two out of every ten black college students in the country attends an HBCU. Public HBCUs across the country are being bullied and backed into corners by legislative budget cuts and assaults on programs which could make them attractive to all kinds of students. Several private HBCUs have closed temporarily, and others follow closely behind them on the path to permanent closure, thanks to increasing costs, dwindling enrollment and extraordinary lack of promotion of their programs of strength.
All HBCUs are now forced to recruit from subpar talent pools and to play fast with federal financial aid in a way to get students in, lose them at faster rates than we ever have, and all while watching mainstream media transform truths about alumni not giving and students not coming into false narratives that black colleges do not matter; a notion that is often repackaged by other black folks as “freedom of choice,” “doing our part to end racism,” and “it doesn’t matter where you go to school, just as long as you go to school.”
Trump enjoys a certain amount of privilege in offending women and minorities, berating media, and inflaming the passions of racists. Those things are reprehensible, but he will enjoy the fruits of his stupidity with short-term support for his presidential bid, and long-term allegiance to his products, businesses and brands – whether he becomes president or not.
Are HBCU presidents and board members still in position today to avoid doing the same for our base? Is it wrong for us to speak out and say “no, we want black and Hispanic students to attend HBCUs because they don’t deserve to be ostracized or put off simply for being brown on a predominantly white campus.” Is it wrong to say “black folks pay taxes and deserve financial support to our schools like everyone else?”
Why is it okay for us to claim ownership of Civil Rights and social justice imperatives when it comes to addressing integration-gone-wrong, but not when it comes to self-empowerment-gone-right, in the form of HBCU growth? Maybe HBCUs wont win the favor or endorsement of white media or legislators with clear and definitive stance on minority recruitment and support. But has working to appease those groups worked out for our campuses, or nah?
We have enough cultural currency built up over generations, and we have enough black-owned media outlets to plead our own cases to our own people for our own survival. Technology and culture have made it so that people and organizations no longer have to work to build constituency; you only have to send out the right signals to get like-minded niche communities to respond.
Political politeness and partnership have failed our schools. Now we face dire consequences for trying to impress communities which have never understood and never supported in full the HBCU mission or its impact on America.
Fear and loathing may drive an opportunistic, egotistic white man to the White House in spite of opposition from his own political constituency. Is it too much to ask for HBCU leaders to do the same, or is it too late to undo the generations of political correctness which have sabotaged the culture beyond repair?