HBCU Alumni React to Democratic National Convention
By: Laurie Willis
Special to The HBCU Digest
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Calvin Coppedge has lived in Charlotte more than half his life since arriving in 1981 to attend Johnson C. Smith University. The Rocky Mount, N.C., native has never been prouder of his adopted city than he was last week when it hosted the Democratic National Convention.
“Everybody keeps saying the DNC put Charlotte on the map, but those of us who live here and are familiar with Charlotte already knew it was a great city,” said Coppedge, a UPS truck driver who is known as “Pop” to his friends. “We are a banking mecca, we have an NFL team and an NBA team and the Charlotte area is home to some top-notch colleges and universities.”
Coppedge didn’t make it to Time Warner Cable Arena last week, where Democrats held their convention, but he watched as much of it as he could on TV, including First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech on Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton’s speech on Wednesday and President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech on Thursday.
The president’s speech was supposed to be delivered in Bank of America Stadium, which seats about 74,000 and is home to the Carolina Panthers, but was moved to Time Warner Cable Arena, which seats about 20,000 and is home to the Charlotte Bobcats, because of bad weather predictions.
“I know a lot of people who didn’t get a chance to hear the president’s speech in person because of the venue change were disappointed, and I can certainly understand that, but I hope they realize the most important thing is the president made a good case on Thursday for why he should be re-elected to a second term in The White House,” said Coppedge, who has a degree in computer science from JCSU.
“Mitt Romney and the Republicans are trashing him with their TV ads and disparaging words,” Coppedge continued, “but when it’s all said and done and people look at the accomplishments President Obama has made, particularly given the mess he inherited, I am confident they’ll join me in helping him get re-elected.”
African-Americans have a particular interest in the upcoming election, not only because the country’s first African-American president is running for re-election, but also because of charges that Romney cares about only the wealthiest 1 percent, plans to cut education, including Pell grants, and will outsource American jobs if he wins the election. The jobless rate among African-Americans is much higher than it is nationally.
Sabrina Roberts is a 1994 graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C. She has a degree in consumer affairs and works in human resources in Charlotte.
Roberts spent some time last week inside a tent dubbed The American Presidential Experience, at the corner of West Third and South Mint streets. Inside the tent, patrons toured a makeshift Air Force One, took pictures with a cutout of President Obama and the First Lady, read historical snapshots of the country’s presidents, posed behind a White House podium and purchased buttons, T-shirts and other paraphernalia bearing the president’s face.
Roberts said she supported President Obama in the 2008 election and plans to vote for him again on Nov. 6.
“I think his chances for re-election are good, especially if everybody gets out and votes,” Roberts said. “The GOP is doing everything they can to make sure he’s a one-term president. It’s going to be a tough fight, but I think he will be victorious.”
Roberts said she’s fearful a Romney administration would be detrimental to historically black colleges and universities.
“Having a black person in the White House has already had a positive impact with respect to the Pell grants and student financial aid,” she said. “I think President Obama, more so than Romney, will be sympathetic to HBCUs as far as getting them the assistance and resources they need to stay open and vibrant because they’re just as important as majority schools.
“Most of the people in my family that went to college went to HBCUs,” Roberts continued. “’I’m glad I went to Howard because I got that nurturing that only HBCUs can give, but I think if Romney is elected HBCUs are in trouble for sure.”
Janice Stone, a 1984 graduate of North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C., said she’s concerned if Romney gets elected he’ll outsource jobs to other countries. She heard former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland on Tuesday night say during his fiery speech to the DNC crowd, “If Mitt Romney was Santa Claus he’d fire the elves and outsource the reindeer.”
Stone said she fears Strickland’s words could come true – for American workers.
“I do not think the country will move forward under a Romney/Ryan administration but instead will continue going backward,” said Stone, who has a business administration degree and works in education.
Stone’s husband, Eddie, has a business administration degree, with a minor in computer science, from Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“My husband and I are both proud HBCU graduates, but we’re fearful of what might happen to black colleges and universities if President Obama doesn’t get re-elected,” Stone said. “We’re certainly going to cast our vote for him on Nov. 6, and we hope anyone who wants to see true change in this country will follow suit.”
Dr. Gary L. Callahan, associate vice president of academic affairs and Dean of the Holistic College at Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., said his biggest concern is what will happen to Pell grants if Romney wins the election.
“President Obama has done so much to increase Pell grants, a major source of funding for HBCUs students, and I’m afraid if Romney wins the election he will roll back the funding for Pell grants,” said Callahan, who has also worked at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., Alabama A&M in Huntsville, Ala., and JCSU, all HBCUs.
Callahan watched the Democratic National Convention on TV. He and his wife, Linda Florence Callahan, had tickets to see the president’s acceptance speech at Bank of America Stadium but didn’t get to attend because of the venue change.
“I thought First Lady Michelle Obama was just outstanding with her address on Tuesday night,” Callahan said. “I thought she was real personable, and she talked about her experiences in the White House and why it was important for us to re-elect the president. I also thought the speeches by former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden were strong, and I thought the president’s speech was on point with respect to how he plans to move the country forward over the next four years.
“Romney talks about issues, but he doesn’t specify how he’s going to fix anything,” Callahan continued. “Given the challenges he faced when he took office in January 2009, I think President Obama has done a yeoman’s job and deserves another four years in The White House.”