PHOTOGRAPH BY RADCLIFFE “RUDDY” ROYE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
On October 1st more than $250 million in annual funding mandated by federal educations laws for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions expired. The reason? The Senate did not approve it, after the measure was approved in the House of Representatives. HBCUs across the country are operating in a state of uncertainty, unclear on how to budget or operate during this time. Regardless of your political beliefs, there is one thing Black people must all agree on — no one, of any party, should mess with HBCU funding.
The fight in the Senate is not over not if but how to fund HBCUs. Democrats have offered a two-year extension, which already cleared the House. Republicans, on the other hand, are proposing a permanent funding mechanism, which would be part of a larger package of higher education proposals. Senate Republicans disagree on how Democrats would like to fund the two-year extension and are, in essence, using this very time-sensitive issue to attach HBCU funding to their plan to update the Higher Education Act. The obstacles in updating the HEA are many, ranging from student loan repayments to campus safety. In the meantime, funding for HBCUs is being squeezed.
Black is not a political party. HBCUs are Black institutions and as such, it is up to Black people to make clear that our institutions ought not be played with, bargained or trifled. Further, this is a good time to remind everyone of the strength of Black people at the polls. There is a little thing happening soon called the 2020 election, in which both parties will want a favorable outcome. Black people, especially, have the ability to complicate things. In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton fell 38 electoral votes short of the White House, something Black voters could have easily delivered. Trump actually managed to garner eight percent of the Black vote, without which his road would have been considerably tougher. Marinate on that.
There are any number of issues that Black people disagree on but our HBCUs should not be one of them. Our foreparents built those institutions, up from slavery. Our grandparents and parents attended those schools and today they are still working miracles in the world of education, despite the hurdles they face. What is happening right now should not be, for Black people, a political issue. Rather, this is an opportunity for Black people to make clear, to both sides of the aisle, that certain things should just be off limits. This is a time to let everyone know — Democrats and Republicans — that our HBCUs are a sacred treasure and should either side need a political bargaining chip, they’d best choose another one.