It’s National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week, and President Trump is marking the occasion like no president in history — including with a Sept. 10 speech at the annual National Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Conference. This should come as no surprise if you look at the facts and don’t listen to the “fake news.”
In February 2017, during a listening session with African American leaders in honor of Black History Month, I found myself with a seat at the table in the presence of the president. On the campaign trail, he had talked about working to get the African American vote, and he spoke about the plight of urban cities under long-term Democratic rule. He spoke about parental choice in schools, religious freedom, and the dignity of work for all Americans. He famously asked black voters, “What the hell do you have to lose?” I felt that with President Trump, the black community had everything to gain.
One thing he did not talk a lot about on the trail were HBCUs. As an advocate for them, I know how significant they are to America’s past, present and future. I knew it was an issue where I would engage the president and his staff, just as I did during the campaign.
Sitting across from Lynne Patton, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and the new president of the United States, I had the opportunity to say whatever I wanted, unscripted, unrehearsed, and unscreened in front of live television cameras. I told President Trump one of the things he could do to be one of the greatest presidents was to be a champion for HBCUs. He asked many questions to learn more about them.
When President Trump was told how many people believe the Obama administration negatively impacted HBCUs, he seemed disturbed. From the Parent PLUS Loan debacle to reduced funding, the Obama years were not the best for HBCUs.
Later, the White House held a meeting of nearly 100 HBCU leaders, agency representatives, Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The president later vowed that he would not cut HBCU funding — and he followed through.
Unfortunately, President Trump will never get the credit he deserves for all he has done for HBCUs. Those accomplishments include:
- Moving the White House Initiative on HBCUs back under the auspices of the White House
- Placing the executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs in the White House and on the Domestic Policy Council
- Relieving four HBCUs from $322 million of past Hurricane recovery loan debt
- Maintaining about $80 million in HEA Title III carryover funds for HBCUs
- Re-chartering the HBCU Capital Financing Program Advisory Board
- A $35 million increase in funding for the Strengthening HBCU program
- A $9 million increase in funding for the Strengthening Historically Black Graduate Institutions program
- A $1 million increase in funding for the Strengthening HBCU Masters program
- Support for year-round Pell grants
- Executive Order 13779, or the White House Initiative to Promote Excellent and Innovation at Historically Black Colleges and Universities
- Ordering federal agencies to develop annual plans to boost HBCU competitiveness and set up an interagency HBCU working group
In taking the podium at the 2019 National HBCU Week Conference, President Trump is accomplishing something President Obama never did. In standing before thousands of HBCU leaders and advocates, Trump will do so proudly because of his unwavering record and indisputable support, appreciation and achievement for the 101 HBCUs in America.
He will also be able to talk about the inclusive Trump economy, which has black unemployment at a record low. President Trump is a history-making leader who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. I believe he is just getting started on leaving his mark as one of the greatest presidents for the black community.
The president’s address at the HBCU Week Conference gives him the opportunity to tout what his administration has done across the board and in concert with Congress, highlighting how he has made America great again by providing HBCUs with public support, active engagement, greater funding, increased accountability and positive public policy. He is saying with a loud voice, “I see you, I hear you, I appreciate you, I value you and I want you all to win!”
Paris Dennard (@ParisDennard) served as the associate director for coalitions at the Republican National Committee from 2009-11 and worked in the George W. Bush White House.