The Dallas Morning News calls it a virtual last-ditch effort for Texas Democrats to find a viable candidate to run against a popular incumbent. But the HBCU community should see a possible Gubernatorial bid from Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell as the ultimate platform for the sector’s ambitions.
Texas Democrats’ search for a candidate for governor has led them to southern Dallas. On the rugged campus of Paul Quinn College, Michael Sorrell, the school’s president, could be the last hope for Democrats to field a credible candidate to face incumbent Greg Abbott in next year’s governor’s race.
It would be a heavy burden for Dr. Sorrell, a two-time HBCU President of the Year who led Paul Quinn from near extinction to a national model for re-imagining the HBCU business model. In seven short years, Dr. Sorrell has grown enrollment by more than 400 percent, set campus fundraising records that would make large public HBCUs blush, and turned the small private liberal arts campus into a entrepreneurial bridge institution, guiding it to becoming the nation’s first historically black work college and developing its organic farm enterprise.
His bipartisan appeal as an HBCU President makes his profile highly attractive as a liberal political candidate, even in beet-Red Texas. But beyond the prospects of leading a potential Democratic renaissance in the age of Trump, Dr. Sorrell’s presence could be historic outside of his role as a sitting HBCU president running for office; his campaign could be the first political platform centered around the HBCU mission as a model for governance and social reform.
Dr. Sorrell has created jobs, addressed environmental issues, tackled poverty and formed conversations around public entitlements and educational access – all with little Paul Quinn as the incubator. And nearly all of his efforts have won big, even as a private HBCU on the outskirts of the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex with virtually no black political capital in or around the city boosting his causes.
He has made diversity a more comfortable topic in Texas, seamlessly integrating the African American, Latino and white interests of his region into programming, while still being clear about PQC’s role as a historically black campus serving historically black goals.
If he can do that with the Quinn in Texas, then how much would HBCUs be able to grow as an additive in political campaigns all around the country? How many candidates in other HBCU states would look at his successes in Dallas and seek out the same in their HBCUs to serve as endorsement vehicles to captivate black voters in places like Maryland, North Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, and Georgia?
We saw it with Bernie Sanders in Hillary Clinton just last year, who heavily courted HBCU audiences to galvanize support for their platforms, fully aware of how much black turnout would mean in primary and general elections.
The possibilities are as endless as the chances are slim for his candidacy. Dr. Sorrell is a young man with a young family, and heads a campus where he serves as its primary fundraiser, recruiter, lobbyist, spokesperson and operational executive. Those aren’t things which mix well with a serious political campaign in a state so large and which represents so much in the national political landscape.
But should the Sorrell family choose the path to Austin, it could help to usher in a new era of political clout for all black colleges. Win or lose, it would be a lightning rod for our campuses.
But is the storm of an underdog political campaign worth the sacrifice for a president whose legacy is already set, and whose best years as an HBCU leader may be yet to come?