The Democratic, Republican National Conventions Missed the Mark on HBCUs, and Black America Let It Slide

A search of CSPAN.org of the national conventions for the Democratic and Republican parties provides unique insights into the key themes each party believes will carry them to victory in November. Public health and safety, the economy, and America’s character were the pillars of their respective platforms.

But historically black colleges and universities found very little real estate in the spotlight. For the GOP, the terms ‘HBCU’ or ‘black colleges’ were mentioned at least six times as a highlight of Donald Trump’s outreach to Black Americans through HBCU funding. Most of these mentions were exaggerated or outright false in how historic or how permanent the funding will be in comparison to previous administrations.

But even in their frailty, they were far stronger than the mentions of HBCUs from the Democrats, who only mentioned HBCUs once — when Vice-Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris mentioned her ‘HBCU brothers and sisters’ during her acceptance speech.

This is the sad fate of anonymity for black colleges. For as much as we have to fight for Black lives to matter, for Black women to be believed, for Black men to avoid being targeted and murdered by police and vigilantes, these fights are welcomed battles for the collective conscience of Black America. We’ll march, protest and fight to avenge the dead and dishonored; we’ll even put our own lives at risk to do so in the midst of a global pandemic.

But in the best of times, HBCUs do not attract marches on the nation’s capital. Underfunding, political interference, and assaults on our institutions or our leaders don’t get national headlines and do not draw the attention of talking heads on cable news coverage.

The only time we have national conversations about black colleges beyond the spectrum of feel-good stories of marching bands, football games, and nurturing culture, is when we surprisingly attract millions in donations or when one or some of them are on the verge of closure.

Historically black colleges have collectively done more than any other organized entity to build wealth, political capital, and social freedom for Black Americans in this country. In just over 150 years, their impact has put a significant dent into the 400 years of trauma inflicted upon a single race and an entire society by legalized chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregationist policy.

If there is a strategy to be found to ending police violence against Black people, it is the HBCUs that will be at the core of the solution. Black colleges are the likeliest institutions to train Black police officers and mid-to-high level executives in public safety departments. It is HBCUs that train the greatest share of the nation’s Black K-12 educators, social workers, and entrepreneurs that teach the babies, guide the babies and employ the adults; reducing the likelihood of Black people being assaulted or killed by police in any kind of community throughout this nation.

And at a time when we need them the most, we’re authorizing the people at the center of what may be the most important election in generations to get away with silence on Black colleges, the institutions which will do the heaviest and most prolific lifting in this dawning era of racial reconciliation.

Why are we so willing to let our silence kill the institutions that have proven for generations their worth as our very best chance for survival?