The White House is expected to name entrepreneur and consultant Jonathan Holifield as the next executive director of the White House Initiative of HBCUs, a long-awaited appointment which will be a signature feature of its revamped convening for black college presidents and advocates to be held next week.
Two HBCU presidents and a source with ties to the Congressional Black Caucus confirmed the pending appointment to the HBCU Digest. According to his biography, the former NFL running back and West Virginia University graduate is the founder of ScaleUp Partners, former vice-president with the Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce and founding executive director of the city’s nonprofit tech incubator, CincyTech.
Holifield has not held any executive positions within the HBCU sector, but sources say he has served as a consultant to organizations like the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO).
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one HBCU executive called the hire a signal of “tone deaf” engagement between the White House and the HBCU community.
“We expected a non-traditional hire in the office, but not a complete disconnect from the schools and their partners. It shows an apparent struggle for the administration to identify with the pressing needs of the community, and to pair willing talent around which the community can rally to build real bridges of communication and progress.”
The announcement comes as the White House faces increasing controversy surrounding staffers and their influence on the Oval Office. POLITICO reports that the Office of the Public Liaison is expected to undergo massive changes in personnel and focus.
President Donald Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly has privately expressed concerns about the White House’s political and outreach operations, and is weighing changes to both offices as part of his larger effort to professionalize a chaotic West Wing, according to four people familiar with his thinking.
Omarosa Manigault-Newman, the communications director for the office and chief HBCU White House surrogate, has been reported as a possible casualty in the potential leadership changeover.
Manigault-Newman has been a central figure in divided perspectives over the White House’s annual conference, which drew calls from HBCU community leaders over the last month to be postponed until an executive director and presidential advisory board could be appointed.
Charlotte’s Rep. Alma Adams has emerged as a leading voice in criticizing President Donald Trump’s outreach effort to the nation’s historically black colleges and universities.
HBCU Caucus co-founder Rep. Alma Adams has promoted an “HBCU Brain Trust” event which will run concurrently with the White House Summit, which is slated to offer several forum-styled events to foster dialog between HBCU presidents, federal lawmakers and corporate partners.