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The Unfair Reality of Donald Trump and HBCUs

The cruelty of being closer than we’ve ever been, yet further than we ever imagined we would be.

It’s just not fair.

It’s not fair that historically black college presidents are on the precipice of doing something with Donald Trump in less than two weeks that they couldn’t accomplish with Barack Obama in eight years — a single meeting with the president of the United States to address critical issues facing our campuses.

It’s not fair that in the last 24 hours, Trump and his cabinet has generated more goodwill between the White House and black colleges than Obama was disinclined to even feign in three commencement speeches and eight national HBCU week conferences — none of which he attended. And with one executive order unique to HBCU federal support, Trump could become one of the greatest advocates black colleges have ever seen.

It’s not fair that the first black president created this culture with his neglect of our schools, and that Trump can get back at him through the searing dissonance set up by his willingness to help these critically important institutions. His rhetoric has been especially offensive and harmful to people who look, think and live like many of us — and his words empower some of his supporters to threaten violence against our schools for voices of dissenting opinion.

It’s not fair that Trump could be so helpful, yet so many Republicans in state legislatures throughout the Rust and Bible Belts will dig in deeper to harm public HBCUs with budget cuts, program duplication and tampering with executive boards. Even if Trump declares two years of free tuition for students attending public or private HBCUs, or mandates five percent of federal research grants and contracts to be awarded to HBCUs, he may not be able to stop governors and state lawmakers from levying anti-HBCU policies of merger or audit.

It’s not fair that Democrats didn’t see this coming, and only sees HBCUs as catalysts for momentum among black voters during election cycles. It’s not fair that the NAACP, the Urban League and other black advocacy groups put HBCU support on the backburner for generations, remained silent when Democratic leaders neglected these schools, but now want to broker with the Trump Administration behind the scenes in support of the same institutions.

It’s not fair that trustees, alumni, and students will turn their backs on every HBCU president who sits to meet with Trump and other Republican lawmakers in the next week because they will emotionally react to engagement built upon mutual political and financial interests. And it’s not fair that we have to view their emotional reaction as purely emotional because we don’t have enough money to justify it as logical.

It’s not fair that we have to potentially sacrifice donations and students coming from our communities for trying to work with a president who will grant support in exchange for black loyalty from key influencers and silence from influential black media creators. It’s not fair that Trump might be more loyal to HBCUs to gain Black America’s trust, when Black America itself has been so disloyal to HBCUs over generations, and will hypocritically dismiss Trump’s interests which may replace those we willingly have withheld from our own schools.

It’s not fair that wealthy liberals, black and white, are silently allowing this to happen without offering alternative facts and alternative funding to support the HBCU narrative which has supported their political and business interests for so long. It’s not fair that wealthy conservatives can’t wait to hold an audience with the major HBCU influencers, to reinforce the certain point that while Republican policies have harmed HBCUs, Democrats haven’t been much better and still mark us entrenched in their ideology and campaigns in the next mid-term elections.

It’s not fair that BuzzFeed, The Griot, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal can report the news about the unlikely alliance between Trump and HBCUs, but that it’s solely up to the Digest to contextualize it and to make enemies and detractors as a result.

It’s not fair that even if Trump creates a windfall for HBCUs, that it still may not be enough to effectively chip away at the damage of underfunding, biased media coverage and neglect over the course of years.

HBCUs need and want Trump’s support. Trump wants and needs to earn the support of Black America. And in the scope of American political culture, we may never see stranger bedfellows generate a more positive outcome for the nation’s history of race relations and minority progress.

But given from whence we’ve come over the last 152 years since the abolition of slavery, 53 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, eight years since Obama’s first historic election, and the 48 hours since Trump threw open the White House doors on HBCU engagement, none of this seems fair.

It never has and never will. But fair or not, we need this now more than ever.

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