Andrew Gillum’s unlikely and unprecedented gubernatorial campaign reached an unexpected apex last night, as the Florida A&M University alumnus secured the Democratic nomination to contend for Florida’s highest office.
Gillum’s run is the latest storm adding to forecasts of a blue wave set to sweep much of the country in a mid-term referendum year on conservative leadership across the federal government, and specifically President Donald Trump.
Candidates from diverse racial and gender backgrounds are mounting serious campaigns against establishment actors in the democratic party, and graduates from historically black colleges and universities have been at the forefront of some of the more notable and dramatic victories in state and federal races.
Florida A&M, one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive public HBCUs, has claimed four mayoral seats in Minnesota and Georgia. They add to victories by Morehouse College alumnus Randall Woodfin in Birmingham, AL. and Morgan State University alumna Catherine Pugh in Baltimore as recent HBCU-trained politicians moving into high profile leadership positions.
It is clear that a growing number of voters want to confront perceived rise in racist rhetoric and attitudes from the White House by influencing which elections orbit the source of their discontent. The wisdom is that GOP losses in municipal and state elections will help to galvanize support for flipping congressional seats from red to blue this fall.
But the larger point is that the Democratic National Committee and its local proxies are vetting and supporting diverse candidates to lead that charge. And in the most visible races, the antidote to Trump-ism is to go with candidates with HBCU heritage in their DNA.
This is not a foreign concept to liberal political mobilization; no candidate worth their stock and within a 500-mile radius of an HBCU would dare look to capture black liberal and independent voters without stopping by an HBCU campus.
But this appears to be a new era for the DNC; its members recognize that a white male candidate showing up and rallying an HBCU campus is not as effective as finding a candidate who represents the ideals of the average HBCU stakeholder – in presence and experience.
For a majority of candidates having ties to Florida A&M, the lone public HBCU in the state formerly known as a Republican stronghold, the message is clear that strong black candidates can reach black voters even in the unlikeliest of places. And in an era of racial antagonism, candidates can even reach sympathetic and middle-of-the-road white voters as well.
So FAMU now grows its profile as a hotbed for training 21st-century black political scientists. And if the university is smart, it will shout that designation from the rooftops as the nation becomes more socially and politically amenable to electing people outside of its racial majority.
Black politics is surging in America and an HBCU is leading the charge. For most of us within the culture, there’s nothing surprising about it.