Last year, CIAA Basketball Tournament attendees were hit with a “CIAA Surcharge” for food and beverage at the Charlotte Ritz-Carlton, prompting a state investigation, national outcry from Black America and a refund to those who paid the 15 percent fee.
CIAA officials made nice with the hotel and welcomed it back as one of its 28 hotel partners offering more than 4,000 hotel rooms for the Queen City’s annual $50 million party.
Last month, LGBT community members throughout North Carolina were hit with a law which essentially legalizes discrimination, prompting international outcry, and dozens of corporations refusing business and threatening to back out of multi-million deals which would bring jobs and revenue to the state.
The CIAA response?
“The CIAA is committed to provide an inclusive culture for its 12 members institutions and over 3,500 student-athletes daily. No matter one’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or physical disability, we have a responsibility to educate and eliminate biases that exclude or marginalize any human being.
Annually the CIAA is focused on educating its membership on important issues and topics that impact its membership and student athletes, to include but not limited to, graduation rates, student retention, concussion management, sportsmanship, Title IX and sexual harassment. This Spring the CIAA will partner with the NCAA to educate its membership regarding LGBQT and develop programming to implement in 2016–17 to educate its student-athletes.
As members of the NCAA, we see value in having open dialogue regarding national and local issues that impact our membership and student-athletes to support creating a safe environment and a culture that values respect, diversity and inclusion on our campuses and at our championships. We will remain sensitive to our diverse membership of public, private, and religious affiliated member institutions, and we will continue to work closely with the NCAA, CIAA Board or Directors and administrators, to address as a Conference. Additionally, we will continue to monitor the issues alongside with our CRVA partners.
The CIAA does not anticipate moving its headquarters from Charlotte, NC; nor do we anticipate moving our basketball tournament or any other conference championships from the state of North Carolina in which 9 of our 12 member schools reside.
Whatever the outcome, we will continue to do our part in being informed, and educating our membership while creating a respectful and inclusive culture for our membership, alumni, sponsors and fans.”
In the next few months, several public HBCUs in the state could be in jeopardy of merger or closure, thanks to a new, ultra-political takeover of North Carolina’s higher education system by conservative politics and operatives. Three of the state’s five public HBCUs — Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University and Winston-Salem State University — are CIAA member schools.
No one questions the difficulty the CIAA faces in managing unprecedented issues of cultural and financial stress surrounding its member schools and the communities they serve. It is not easy for any business to pack up and leave because controversial bills pass, black folks are overcharged at a hotel lounge, or even because some schools are targeted by legislative ill intent.
But the narrative constructed by all of these headlines is now undeniable. North Carolina doesn’t like black folks or gay folks, and they do not care about what either group thinks about it, let alone those who self-identify within both. Every CIAA member school stands today, in part, because of the willingness of faculty, staff, students and alumni who protested and demanded equality in Carolina college towns more than 50 years ago.
The ghosts of those fights still haunt the room full of middle-aged white men who run government and move money around the state to meet financial agendas and moral expectations, and that’s why the CIAA must sever the cords of convenience and commercial viability. The CIAA has to lead the groups and the people in North Carolina who are railing against the state’s Back to the Future brand of hate and separatism.
While there are yet still 12 schools in the CIAA and three public members in North Carolina, all must come together to unanimously move the conference tournament out of the state, and to refuse any conference-wide event or commercial partnerships in North Carolina until the law is repealed, and until better terms for the basketball tournament can be negotiated.
We don’t need history lessons to bolster today’s need for seismic advocacy for black and LGBT communities. We don’t need data, studies or different perspectives to know that North Carolina is relegating underrepresented people and institutions to second-class status. And we don’t have to look at the bank books to know that our children expect our faith and self-reliance to do more for us outside of North Carolina than any deal Charlotte could ever cut, or that legislators could offer in $500 in-state tuition.
If words many anything, then CIAA leadership has to live up to its own “we have a responsibility to educate and eliminate biases that exclude or marginalize any human being.” And that doesn’t mean asking and hoping that the legislature can be convinced of changing its mind, but by taking our money, resources and brand elsewhere. You don’t eliminate bias by simply acknowledging it exists — you eliminate bias by destroying the ecosystem where it is birthed, grows and infects others.
There is no way in hell that a historically black athletic conference should be outpaced by the NBA, NFL or any other brand on the subject of discrimination, of any kind. The CIAA should have been first to boycott the Ritz Carlton, first to denounce the anti-LGBT bill, and first on the bus out of town once the bill came down. Our institutions and our communities suffered for too long and continue to suffer, but not so the biggest collective brand representing all of these schools can mortgage racial and sexual freedom in exchange for proximity to Epicenter or tickets to Toyota Fan Fest.
If this means that the CIAA tournament has to relocate to Richmond or Washington D.C., if it means that more corporate support may be needed to void a contract with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, then conference executives must do whatever that needs to be done.
Staying in North Carolina puts the CIAA Tournament in jeopardy of losing key sponsors, and worse, the respect and pride of the schools and people the brand represents.