You can drag HBCU presidents for meeting with Donald Trump, but don’t ignore their struggles for our people

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If you were dying of thirst and some stranger rolled up to give you a tall glass of water, how would you feel about it?

What if the person giving you the water hated Mexicans, Muslims, lesbians, gays, transgendered or gender nonconforming children, black protesters, black people who vote, women, married women who resist genital grabbing men, white women who think for themselves, people who read, the media, and Rosie O’Donnell?

Such is the life of presidents leading America’s historically black colleges and universities recently invited to the White House. They are fighting for the survival of their institutions, often alone, and now they are suffering indignant Twitter challenges to their integrity because they met with Donald Trump.

“You’ve been used for a photo opp” many of the Twitter millennials – and some older people who act like Twitter millennials – are saying.

If you aren’t clear, Twitter millennials are always intellectually on point, morally pure, and insufferably “woke.” Especially the lucky few that make it through college (often through HBCUs) only to travel the country Snapchatting their picture-perfect meals while ignoring email soliciting contributions to the colleges they rep on t-shirts.

If only their activism was focused, practical, and aligned with the fight HBCU presidents are having to keep the lights on for a 150 year tradition of black self-determination in education.

University of Pennsylvania’s Marybeth Gassman, quoted in the Business Insider, says “HBCUs often struggle because they have fewer resources than other colleges — typically due to lower endowments and less money coming in from alumni giving.”

The same article points to inequitable funding from government, citing a piece by Donald Mitchell, Jr comparing ”the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill’s $15,700 in state funding per student” versus “North Carolina A&T University’s $7,800 in state funding per student.

It’s doubtful that Trump found Jesus on this issue for himself. Realty television celebrity (and ordained pastor) Omarosa Manigault, herself an alum of Howard University, is suspected to be the point of origin for his calculating interest in throwing a bone to black education.

According to HBCU Digest the result will be an executive order promising increased support for HBSCUs, one that bills itself as “among the most progressive partnerships between the White House and HBCUs in decades.”

It’s going to be huuuuge.

I’m not so sure, but I’m happy to see “White House Initiative on HBCUs” might move from out of the Department of Education’s basement and into the actual White House.
Ironically, and painfully, this showy display of Trump’s love for black colleges is in bizarre contrast to eight years of President Obama’s record.

HBCU presidents have complained for almost a decade that the needs of their institutions, and their students, were not only neglected by the White House, but in some cases they were harmed.

Black college students and HBCUs were disproportionately impacted by the Obama administration’s changes to the time span students could use Pell Grants, and his stricter guidelines for government-backed student loans to low-income families.

Those defending Obama’s record will point out he increased funds for HBCU students by $1 billion. That’s true and you should be thankful for it.

Critics, though, will remind you that it wasn’t all perfect. During the same time, our Ivy League educated “first black president” often slid into discomforting paternalism and reminded his incredibly loyal black voters that he was the president of America, not black America. He scolded us about being better parents; told us to stop complaining, pull up our pants, take off our slippers, and get to work – for him.

We obliged like good soldiers even if it felt like a slap to our esteem. It’s what we do.

Nobody felt the agglomeration of that relationship more than HBCU leaders who never received the support you might expect from a president that enjoyed nearly universal black support.

Now HBCU leaders must pivot and make the best of yet another intricate relationship, this time with an incomparably problematic president who offers thirsty people water for political reasons (see Nixon’s overture to black capitalism for a parallel).

If I were leading a historically black college and I was asked to attend a meeting with the highest elected official on planet Earth, I would go and be there early. I would resist lazy activism or childish displays of oppositional defiance that promise no gains for my constituents. I would stubbornly keep the main thing (producing more black college graduates), the main thing (producing more black college graduates!!!).

Regardless of who occupies the Oval Office, we must stay focused on our permanent interests, and the survival of black schools is definitely one of those interests.

If you want a detailed list of tangible policy aims to bolster HBCUs and their students, the UNCF (as always) has you covered. Their memo to President-elect Donald Trump from December 2016 details 10 actionable goals we all should support.

If all you want to do is be Twitter-famous for talking nonsense about people who are doing more than you increase the number of educated black people, no one can help you.

All I can tell you is that if Twitter had been active when Booker T. Washington was building black educational institutions more than a century ago – the institutions that created successive waves of middle class black intellectuals, professionals, and yes, Twitter activists – we might not have HBCUs today.

Luckily we have always had leaders that knew how to keep their eyes on the prize. Sometimes you just have to drink the unholy water and pray your people will have some grace about your sacrifices.

Tenicka Boyd: I can’t imagine a world where the NAACP would say ‘let’s pause’ on schools succeeding with black children

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Tenicka Boyd, a New York based education activist and long-standing member of the NAACP, testifies on behalf of families who are well-served by charter schools. This was the first of seven public hearings held by the NAACP to hear from stakeholders about charter schools and “privatization” in public education. This hearing was done in Connecticut on December 3, 2016.

Even when we have video showing brutalization of black students, it isn’t enough

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You remember the video from 2015. A black student ripped from her chair by a Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy – Ben Fields – and flung across the floor like a bag of beans.

The incident caused outrage and a national discussion about the existence of police officers in public schools, which led to a federal investigation. Now that investigation is done and it concluded “the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Fields willfully deprived the Spring Valley High School student of a constitutional right”

The video, graphic and horrendous, wasn’t enough.

Fields is suing the Sheriff department that fired him after the incident. He claims there is an internal affairs memo explaining his actions were within the bounds of department policy.

Let that sink in as you watch this again:

If that is acceptable within the guidelines of police department policy, reasonable people should admit that department policy is jacked and must be changed.

Here’s a kicker to it all: Fields claim his former employer took action on him after the incident because he is white.

“The unlawful conduct particularly implicated herein includes, but is not limited to: intentionally disadvantaging white employees in matters involving black individuals and disparate treatment to white employees with regard to the terms and conditions of their employment, and unequal treatment with regards to decisions to hire and fire,” his suit says.

These dramas, played out in the news and social media, do so little to examine the violation of the black students. In this case it was a student brutalized before her classmates (and then the world through a viral video), and another student, Niya Kenny, who documented the incident with her cellphone and was arrested by Fields for doing so. She never returned to Spring Valley, opting to finish her high school career by getting and GED instead.

Listen to Kenny’s account given to Ed Week:

This is a problem for us

An analysis done by Ed Week found a strong presence of school resource officers accompanied by disproportionate arrests of students.

They say 46% of high schools, 42% of elementary schools, and 18% of elementary schools have an onsite school resource officer. Those officers are sometimes trained for their unique role in public schools, but often they lack special training.

While black students make up 16% of public school students overall, the represent 33% of those arrested at school.

A 2013 Congressional report found schools with SRO’s can “deter students from committing assaults on campus,” but students “might be more likely to be arrested for low level offenses.”

On that problem criminal justice journalist Gary Fields  says “A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.”

Examples? Gary Fields has them:

“In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.”

While most parents, educators, and community members agree students need to be safe in school, and making that so may be more difficult as schools educate students increasingly coming from under-resourced communities, there is concern schools are using police officers to take action in routine school discipline matters.

The consequence: more students with criminal records.

An ACLU report called “arrested futures” says schools “have every right to hold disruptive students accountable,” but “criminalizing” through arrests makes students three times more likely to drop out. Students who drop out are eight times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

That amounts to taking the “to” out of “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“While some school districts use on-site officers to apprehend students who pose a real and immediate threat to the physical safety of those around them, others predominantly use these officers to enforce their code of student conduct. In such districts, officers are encouraged to arrest, in many cases using public order offenses as a justification, students who are unruly, disrespectful, use profanity, or show attitude,” the report says.

In the end this isn’t about Niya Kenny’s viral video of an out-of-control Ben Fields, or even the presence of officers in schools. It’s about the widespread failure to see black students as fully human, as typical youth, and as individuals with unsurpassable worth rather than threatening walking stereotypes that must be punished and made to conform.

That may not be a problem specific just to public education, but public schools, given the charge of nurturing the nation’s children, certainly have a higher calling to do better than this.

For a look at the case against using school resource officers, read “Education Under Arrest,’ a report by the Justice Policy Institute.

Education Under Arrest by Citizen Stewart on Scribd