Roland Martin’s HBCU Evolution

How Black America’s Journalist Became a General in the War to Save Black Colleges

How Black America’s Journalist Became a General in the War to Save Black Colleges

Frederick M. Brown/Getty

Roland Martin makes news, and on the subject of historically black colleges and universities, hasn’t been shy with his opinions on the connections between the institutions and their role in the progress of black communities nationwide.

His latest work — the destruction and resurrection of Wendy Williams’ take on the value of black institutions, to include HBCUs and the NAACP. It began with the NewsOne Now ether.

That led to the black daytime talk peace summit.

The Houston native and Texas A&M alumnus has been a decades-long black college supporter, long before his work in bringing national attention to issues like North Carolina’s Senate Bill 873, Pell Grant eligibility changes and the Obama Administration’s cold stance on black colleges.

And every now and then, he turns up an HBCU graduation.

But it hasn’t always been all-HBCU everything for Martin, who five years ago made headlines for a provocative editorial on the invisible bridges between authentic blackness and historically black colleges.

From the entry:

For instance, when I was a high school senior and decided to attend Texas A&M, Luther Booker, the legendary football coach at Jack Yates High School, pulled me aside to talk. Coach Booker said he heard I chose A&M and was upset that “the best and brightest of our Black students are going to white schools.”

“Coach, wait a minute,” I said. “Are you not the same coach who has gotten upset when major Division I-A universities aren’t recruiting your top players? Now if you want your football players to go to A&M, Texas, Nebraska and the top football schools, why is it bad for a student like me to also go to those schools?

“Coach, didn’t y’all fight for students like me to go to any school we chose? Don’t my parents pay state taxes? So why shouldn’t I have the freedom to go to a state school?”

Martin’s point was valid; academic empowerment for black folks lies in where opportunity lies, and not necessarily where they are most abundant, or convenient or racially comforting. Some construed it as an anti-HBCU hit job from a PWI-grad with HBCU envy, others took it as a statement on how blacks can pursue freedom in a variety of places and spaces.

No one would have predicted that thousands of black students nationwide would rise in unison against racial micro-aggressions, and racially homogeneous faculty and leadership at predominantly white schools. No one would have guessed that four years later, the nation’s conscience would be burdened with the proliferation of police lynchings of black men.

But everyone would’ve guessed that Martin, and HBCU students and faculty, would not go unheard on either topic.

If there are moments of transformation in the frequency and fervor of Martin’s advocacy for HBCUs, seemingly, they are built around the core notion of choice. His voice from the well-worn soapbox on charter school movements in secondary space blares onto the soundstage of higher education outcomes, where in the last three years, Martin has emerged from commentator with occasional air for HBCU crisis via the Tom Joyner Morning Show, to an aggressive, consistent voice on the value of HBCUs nationwide.

His name is speed dial programmed for several high profile current and former HBCU presidents and HBCU advocacy leaders like Thurgood Marshall College Fund CEO Johnny Taylor, United Negro College Fund CEO Michael Lomax, and National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education CEO Lezli Baskerville.

Martin didn’t find or reinvent himself post-CNN, apparently, he just got to be more of whom he always wanted to be as a journalist and media personality. His NewsOne Now and independent news media productions have claimed wide terrain for black issues to become part of the national dialog on politics, pop culture, finance and industry.

HBCUs are receiving broader coverage of their challenges and opportunities than they ever have, thanks to Roland’s revolution.

Not bad for a brother who didn’t even try to get into Morehouse.