What the Hell Happened to Jim Brown?

And why what ever happened should scare the hell out of HBCUs.

How in the world did NFL Hall of Famer and honorary captain of Black America Jim Brown go from this:

…to this in 20 years?

The khufi is gone, the scowl is gone, the racial pride worn in the form of self-assuredness is gone. Jim Brown has gone full ‘all lives matter’ and he, the baddest man in NFL history, is giving the impression that even he, finally, can be tackled; either by old age or political co-opting.

On its surface, it appears to be a sad darkside conversion for one of the enduring faces of what black excellence looks like; successful, insightful and unafraid. Jim Brown is one of the guys who moved people, to the point that athletes, gang members, preachers, convicts, students, fathers, sons and brothers wanted to be miniature versions in our own lives and communities.

And now this.

Brown’s legacy as an athlete and activist will largely remain untouched. He could fade out of public view tomorrow and still be regarded for the ‘A Football Life’ version of his story than the ‘I love Donald Trump’ footnote towards the conclusion of his life. But this change of racial heart is trouble for black people, and even moreso for black institutions like HBCUs.

If Jim Brown, who only has only his legacy to preserve and bills to pay, is moved to this kind of New Black rhetoric, what will be the expectation for Alt-America and its view of black institutions? Will being historically black, which already comes with its own set of political and financial targets from old white guys with lots of money and bad intentions, suddenly be pushed to the front of the line as “stuff black folks need that we ought to control for profit and silence?”

And what will we have to give up in exchange? Will we lose the autonomy to strengthen programs that generate wealth and prestige for black professionals? Will the little legislative clout we have with federal and state black caucuses be ignored in exchange for strategic investments from conservative-leaning corporations?

If they are funding our scholarships, our endowment investments, our program development, our athletics and our research centers, areas for which all colleges seek external support, then what becomes of our institutional identities and their ties to black pride and progress? Will HBCU students remain the nation’s collegiate voice representing the oppressed racial minority? Will faculty be marginalized in promoting this social responsibility in pedagogy?

Which of our presidents, whom have silently worked with outsiders to limit HBCU productivity in the name of racial harmony or improving institutional outcomes, are thinking like the great Jim Brown and do so without a sliver of the cache he’s built over 50 years of advocacy for black communities?

It’s one thing to take a business savvy approach to make HBCUs visible and attractive to a new political era as money-making resources that can build independence for black communities.

Progressive HBCU Leadership Requires Left, Right & Center Engagement

But it is something entirely different to say that blackness, black education and black pride are something to be jettisoned because the numbers and power appear to be against our favor. If Jim Brown sees a personal way forward that leaves black America on the outside looking in, could our institutions facing far more political pressure to fold be far behind?

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