When former Alcorn State University President M. Christopher Brown II announced the hiring of Jay Hopson, he referred to the Vicksburg native as more than a football coach, but a ‘neighbor’ and a showing of Alcorn ‘maintaining history while embracing progress.’ The first white head coach in school and conference history has delivered on Dr. Brown’s promise, returning the Braves to the SWAC championship in just his third year as head coach.
Yesterday, Florida A&M University announced Timothy Moore as its new vice-president for research. Dr. Moore, with vast experience in higher education and federal administration, is a white man hired to do a high-profile job at an historically Black college – hired by the university’s first female president.
As the nation grapples with how to digest the merciless killings of black men in cities of varying size, political leanings, industry and demographics, HBCUs have quietly modeled for the nation a path to a more perfect union along racial lines. These campuses, which have endured economic, political and social death blows delivered by white male legislators, continue to throw open their doors to students, faculty, executives and supporters of all races and ethnicities.
Even when HBCU supporters have questioned the vision and the sanity of allowing those with the face and hue of the oppressor within our gates, some leaders have championed the possibilities of racial harmony as a critical element of HBCU survival. The obvious, legitimate question has been asked hundreds of times over in campus communities – “can’t we find a qualified black person to do it?” And increasingly, that question is answered with a question:
“Is a qualified black person willing to take the job?”
Should we wait for all black people, specifically those with no desire and no ties to black colleges, to have a change of heart on our institutions? Or do we take those students, faculty, staff and donors willing to come into HBCU communities in the way that predominantly white and for-profit schools have seemingly embraced our people as students and employees in increasing number?
Do we make the legal case that HBCUs should be funded equitably for black people only, or do we sue and win for the right to educate all with the same resources, facilities and marketing coffers which position PWIs to attract a large cross-section of students?
That’s why many black campuses are embracing the idea of “all hands of all colors on deck.” In an industry that thrives on talent acquisition and development, HBCUs are realizing that the key to success is finding talented people who are happy to help HBCU communities grow for the salary HBCUs can afford to pay. This is the full form of Dr. King’s dream – not just that black folks would be ushered into white communities and institutions, but that white folks would willfully integrate into black communities with no discernible differences in resources and opportunities between black and white spaces of profession or lifestyle.
HBCUs have stayed true to this ideal, and have done so for generations. From the early 1940’s, which brought an influx of Jewish professors to HBCUs, to 70 years later, with dwindling college options for working and middle class students creating more diversity at HBCUs. It’s hard to find more than a handful of examples over history where people of all races turned down paychecks from HBCUs, or where HBCUs turned down tuition payments, based on race alone.
And yet, HBCUs continue to be targeted and depicted as strongholds of reverse racism. No matter how many white football coaches he hired, white students he enrolled, or white executives Dr. Brown hired at Alcorn State, no matter how compliant his campus was with Ayers racial quota mandates, and no matter how nicely he played with white legislators and higher ed officials to create opportunities for all students; his trouble unfairly began and tenure unceremoniously ended when he authorized a Medgar Evers statue to be erected on the campus.
No matter how white the enrollment at Bluefield State College and West Virginia State University, they are still held up as strange fruit in the higher education grove by blacks and whites alike, even though we still wait for a major predominantly white institution in an area with high black population to adjust to its racial demographics and to enroll accordingly.
When it comes to race, HBCUs, like the people they were designed to serve, have to be all in for assimilation, or are regarded as all the way out on racial progress. And while other whiter, richer, more affluent institutions are not held to the same legislative or financial standards, HBCU leaders continue to play nice, because leading without Dunbar’s mask exposes those leaders legislative racial profiling, institutional scandal that would make Olivia Pope blush, and eventually, undignified unemployment.
It’s okay when black HBCU students are out front on issues and needs of the black community, but presidents must be silenced. They know where the money comes from, and where the enemies lurk. And so they continue to embrace the idea that only the oppressed can convert the oppressor. They continue to swing at freedom’s golden bell, and hope that it rings loud enough to attract enough white people to see things our way.
It may rankle some in the black community, but it is one of the most unenviable, despicable bullet points within one of the hardest job descriptions in the world today. Especially its hard to convince white students, faculty and staff to come to a place that physically and culturally, has been neglected for so long by the country’s racial majority.
The country is quickly turning back the clock on violence and discrimination against black people, but HBCUs continue to bear the burden of showing America’s racial potential. Hopefully, in the wake of senseless murders and racialized local and federal politics, the nation will more quickly notice that its persecuted people and institutions still believe in the ideals of a country free of its own addiction to separation.