Somehow they missed the memo. Sad!
There’s an old African proverb that goes like this: “Never trust anyone who lets people put their feet on the couch” Well, it looks like someone in the White House didn’t get the memo.
So return with me to a few weeks ago to a couple of cringe-inducing moments when many of you may recall a so-called “meeting” hosted by Trump and presidents of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) during which his press secretary, Kelly Ann Conway, straddled herself adolescent like on a couch, face glued to a hand held device. The negative reactions to that brazen act of disrespect went viral, and deservedly so. If that wasn’t bad enough, many of those 100 HBCU presidents found that meeting woefully short in both time, substance and results.
“We were played,” said Morehouse (Dr. King’s alma mater) President John Wilson who wrote that all they got was a “lousy Instagram photo”. Clearly the feeling was that they were invited solely to provide the administration with a photo op, and nothing more.
That was part one of this two-part fiasco. Part two was another “meeting,” this time with Education Secretary Betsy Vos during which she applauded HBCUs as an example of a college “choice” offered to African Americans. The negative reactions to her ignorance was equally as strong. As our Secretary of, Lord help us, “Education” was quick to discover, during segregated American, black folks had no choice but to attend HBCU schools since white schools were not an optional “choice” for them.
So duh, hello, hello, hello Madam Secretary!
However, the upside of this recent craziness is that it puts forth a smooth segue to the value of our HBCU schools and an example of the extraordinary talent (think “Hidden Figures” here) that can emerge from HBCUs. The latter proof positive is one Dr. Ronald E. McNair, Challenger astronaut.
Carl McNair, brother of the late astronaut shared that he and Ron were denied “choices” despite having sterling academic records in high school. Both enrolled at North Carolina A&T State University, a HBCU school.
“Ron and I ended up at A&T because in segregated South Carolina during that time going to The University of South Carolina or Clemson University to study engineering were not options for us. As a matter of fact, the state set up a special fund for black students to attend an out-of-state school if in state HBCUs did not offer an engineering major.”
“And guess what,” Carl pointed out with a sheepish grin, “Christa McAuliffe, the teacher-in-space who also died on the Challenger, got her graduate degree from Bowie State, a HBCU school.”
Now the question that may be darting through the minds of HBCU doubters could be one questioning the quality of a HBCU education as preparation for the academic rigors of MIT caliber universities. Well, Ron McNair’s achievements there and beyond should put that doubt to rest.
In 1976, Ron received a Ph.D. degree in Physics from MIT, becoming nationally recognized for his work in the field of laser physics. While at MIT, McNair performed some of the earliest development of chemical and high-pressure lasers. His later experiments and theoretical analysis on the interaction of intense CO2 laser radiation with molecular gases provided new understandings and applications for polyatomic molecules.
In 1978 Ron was selected from a pool of 10,000 prospects by NASA as an astronaut and was the second African American to fly aboard a Space Shuttle. His first flight on the Challenger orbited the earth 122 times. Ron was the first human ever to play a saxophone in space. Before his last fateful space mission he had worked with the composer Jean Michel Jarre on a piece of music for Jarre’s then-upcoming album Rendez-Vous. It was intended that he would record his saxophone solo on board the Challenger, which would have made McNair’s solo the first original piece of music to have been recorded in space.
Now Trump & company hear this (and it is not “fake news”).
In 2006, the National Center for Education Statistics released a study showing that HBCUs had a $10.2 billion positive impact on the nation’s economy. According to a study published by the UNCF, historically black colleges and universities are responsible for producing approximately 70% of all black doctors and dentists, 50% of black engineers and public school teachers, and 35% of black lawyers.
In 2015, a Gallup poll showed that students at HBCUs had a higher sense of well-being in five areas (purpose, social, financial, community, and physical) compared to students who did not attend HBCUs. Also black graduates of HBCUs were more than twice as likely than blacks at non-HBCUs to receive all three support measures at school (having at least one professor who made them excited about learning; having professors who cared about them; having a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals).
So yes Trump & company, you all really missed the memo.
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, trainer and story teller. He is currently a senior associate at Diversity Wealth, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal and New York-based Catalyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.