Is Shannon Sharpe the HBCU Hero Black America Has Been Waiting For?

NFL Hall of Fame tight end, one of the nation’s most distinguished voices in sports and social commentary and Savannah State University graduate Shannon Sharpe trended yesterday on Twitter for telling America that he was off the Black and Mild and Henn-dogg.

But that moment of Black Excellence shouldn’t be lost in how long Sharpe has come as an authoritative voice on black issues, and one who could be in the emerging stages of aligning that voice with his HBCU roots.

It was just three years ago that Sharpe openly admitted to not giving to Savannah State, and feeling no obligation to support the school through grudges created by SSU administration. Luckily, he was guilted into supporting his alma mater by Jason Whitlock. (Conversation starts at 29:00)

http://www.espn.com/espnradio/play?id=10492663

That revelation was a full three years after Sharpe’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and after a well publicized return to Savannah State.

http://ssuathletics.com/news/2011/10/2/FB_1002115655.aspx

Its difficult to tell where things stand now with SSU’s most famous alumnus, but it ain’t hard to tell the importance of Sharpe’s voice in social construct on FOX Sorts’ Undisputed. Most recently, Sharpe’s insight on the NFL protests.

Those remarks are built on Sharpe’s viral commentary on race in America.

No one confuses Sharpe to be a modern day civil rights activist, or a prolific spokesperson or philanthropist on behalf of HBCUs. But he is one of ours, and he is eloquently and passionately speaking to issues which have always comprised the grand design of the HBCU experience. Even with the bitterness, even with the internal struggles we have with and within our institutions, as voices created within them, our obligation is to live out their mission through our work and our lives.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jarrett-l-carter/why-hbcus-have-to-harvest_b_6765656.html

Shannon Sharpe is living out the mission. He may not cut a million-dollar check, and he may not gloss over uncomfortable HBCU truths related to his personal experiences, or those which make black colleges complex to understand inside and outside of our gates. But he has a platform that scholars like Marc Lamont Hill can’t reach through cultural critique, politicians like Kamala Harris and Cedric Richmond can’t pierce from behind the wall of politics and bureaucracy, and preachers like Bishop Vashti McKenzie and Bishop John Bryant can’t stir within the souls of HBCU folks.

Through sports, Sharpe elevates the national conversation on the issues with direct and trickle-down impact on HBCUs. His comments on race, protest, inequity and culture emboldens the work of HBCU faculty, students and alumni who advocate for these issues in teaching, research, community outreach and in the corporate workplace. If Sharpe makes it a water cooler conversation, and he is someone who has built trust or attention over an NFL career spanning playing and commentary, then our work and perspective finds a formidable ally in the likeliest of places.

And who knows – if Jason Whitlock can convince him to do better by HBCUs, then perhaps Savannah State and other black colleges may also find a place in the national conversation by way of his platform. But to do that, his school and others have to make him and other HBCU luminaries recognize that we appreciate their work and their presence.

He maybe unconventional, but hands down he’s the best that we have in the most visible of places right now. And its hard to find a better man or woman for the job.

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