Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

HBCUs and the President

Mar 03, 2010

It’s difficult for most of us to imagine a time when Blacks were legally prohibited from engaging in one of the most basic fundamental human rights: educating one’s self. The simple act of learning, growing and developing was blatantly against the law. Illiteracy was one of the greatest forms of control, for without the ability to read and write, a man was automatically guaranteed a life of servitude. Once slavery was abolished, higher learning was still reserved for Whites only and thus the individual ability to advance and better yourself, was limited by institutional forces. It wasn’t until the establishment of Historically Black Colleges and Universities that the aspirations of equality and prosperity for an entire group of people finally came to fruition. Today, these same institutions continue to level the playing field in an unjust system of haves and have nots, and I couldn’t be more elated to learn that the President of the United States feels the same way.

Last Friday, President Obama signed a historic executive order renewing the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Housed within the Department of Education, this initiative strives to achieve several groundbreaking goals, not the least of which is to allocate $98 million in new money for HBCUs at the department itself. In addition, this executive order and the President’s FY 11 budget will add $103 million for a comprehensive science and technology workforce program at the National Science Foundation, designed to engage undergraduates at historically Black, Tribal and Hispanic-serving colleges and universities, as well as a near doubling of the Federal Pell Grant maximum award, among many other commendable actions.

Originating in President Carter’s administration, this education initiative has taken on an entirely new meaning and purpose under President Obama. With goals of achieving the highest number of college graduates in the world by 2020, the President is keenly aware that African Americans and institutions that cater to their advancement cannot be left out of the equation. Serving more than 300,000 undergraduate and graduate students in 20 states, the country’s 105 HBCUs remain the entryway by which many of those who are systematically marginalized can begin to empower themselves and their communities.

As President Obama himself stated: “They’re (HBCUs) the campuses where a people were educated; where a middle class was built; where a dream took hold. They’re places where generations of African Americans have gained a sense of their heritage, their history and their place in the American story … we’re not only doing this because these schools are a gateway to a better future for African Americans; we’re doing it because their success is vital to a better future for all Americans.”

I wholeheartedly commend the President for diligently taking urgent action to rectify an imbalanced educational system and for reiterating the notion that education itself remains the fundamental tool for success and progress. After decades of mental enslavement, it is time for all of us to rid the shackles that impede our collective futures.

They say that a man should be judged by his or her actions – and not on the verbal promises and rhetoric that may surround an individual. For those who continue to attack our President for being soft when it comes to racial disparities prevalent in society, I urge them all to take a good look at this new executive order. President Obama’s actions last Friday speak volumes a million times louder than any words ever could. And we’re all listening.