The Alabama Crimson Tide rolled Monday night to a fourth national college football championship in the last seven years, galvanizing millions across the state and its racial boundaries around the latest stamp in the NCAA football record books.
The game and its outcome are exciting enough to wash Tuscaloosa County and the UA campus over in celebration, and plenty of money coming in from renewed sponsorships, television deals, donations from alumni and revenues from increased applications and new students.
But in Tuscaloosa there’s another, sadder football story with implications reaching far beyond the impact of competition and the paydays a school can earn through winning. Just three miles away and a little over a month ago, a private HBCU dropped its football program, citing mounting costs and declining enrollment as the immediate reason for slashing its athletic department to just men’s and women’s basketball.
Alabama is state-supported, predominantly white, and historically built around the success and exposure of its football program. And despite its past and present issues with racial tolerance and equity, the U of A continues to attract a dominant share of the loyalty and goodwill from top black athletes around the country, and top black students in the state and surrounding region.
Stillman College is tuition-dependent, extends little brand recognition outside of Alabama’s HBCU culture, and like many private HBCUs, today finds itself in a mad scramble to find students and to make their programs attractive and competitive against larger black colleges and extra-large PWIs.
But its not the University of Alabama thriving and Stillman struggling that tells the story of inequity in Tuscaloosa, the State of Alabama, the South, or the nation. It’s the fact that we can again be so easily distracted by what resources look like, and what winning looks like, that we can so easily ignore the cataclysmic losses black people and our communities are taking as a result. Tuscaloosa, a county with just over 220,000 residents and a 34-percent black population is a place where black folks are 18-percent less likely to own a home, eight-percent more likely to attend a segregated public school, 12 percent less-likely to have a college degree and 10-percent more likely to give premature birth to a child than white residents.
Black unemployment in Tuscaloosa is 13 percent, more than double the rate of white unemployment. Black folks comprise 31 percent of the county’s poor, 20 percent more than its white residents. Black children living in poverty is at 40 percent, five times more than the rate for white children.
And the institution created to address these disparities, the school which is best equipped to deliver the job training, cultural infusion and education to draft new thinking and new realities for Tuscaloosa’s black population, is in real danger of closing. Some may say that the U. of Alabama can deliver these solutions, but the truth is that if it could, or wanted to, Stillman would’ve been closed a long time ago, and these disparities would have vanished along with it.
Is that the fault of black folks not being attuned to Stillman’s value? Is that the fault of racist white folks making anti-black policy and funding decisions independent of consideration for Stillman and schools like Stillman? Is it both?
No matter where the fault lies, it remains a sad reality against a backdrop of America’s national problem with race and the economic and political realities attached to it. And by the time we realize that the problem needs immediate resolution, we’re about seven years too late in our ability to direct resources and political influence to Stillman and its dwindling potential.
But four titles in seven years at Alabama? We’re here for that. Roll Tide — even if black folks get caught up and washed away in it right before our eyes.