“Tell Them They are Rising—The Story of Black Colleges and Universities” is Inaccurate Representation of How and Why HBCUs are Today Rising

The #MeToo Campaign and the #TimesUp movement have launched a long overdue national conversation about the marginalization of women generally and their bodies in particular.  It is theorized that the panacea is for more women to be placed in positions of power.  While we certainly need more women in positions of power, much more is required. Far too often when women are in positions of leadership, they are dismissed or ignored.  They are not afforded the same respect as men in similar positions.  Case in point:  The new documentary, “Tell Them They are Rising—The Story of Black Colleges & Universities” purports to tell the story of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It falls woefully short by excluding NAFEO, which is coincidentally headed by a female.

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The reality is HBCUs are represented by a troika:  UNCF, NAFEO, and TMCF (order of their founding).  NAFEO is unique among the troika because it is the nation’s only membership and advocacy association founded and governed by HBCU presidents and chancellors.  For nearly half a century, it has been litigating, advocating and educating in diverse national and state public forums, thereby shaping the higher education landscape.  Were it not for NAFEO’s ongoing work in prodding the states that have both public HBCUs and public Historically White Colleges and Universities to invest in HBCUs to make them comparable to and competitive with their white counterparts, it is very likely public HBCUs would be relics of the past.  Were it not for NAFEO’s leading role in shaping congressional and state legislation, Executive Orders, regulations and administrative fiats  related to higher education over the last 49 years, there is a strong likelihood that the doors of the public and many private HBCUs would not be open today.  NAFEO is central to HBCUs  rising and thriving.

How is it even possible to tell the story of America’s HBCUs without the voice of the frontline offense and defense for HBCUs?  NAFEO was never consulted in the making of the documentary. Calls from at least two HBCU presidents/chancellors about including NAFEO, and from NAFEO were never returned. How can the story of America’s HBCUs be told without including input from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) the  only association founded and governed by HBCU presidents and chancellors, the only association of its kind? The documentary acknowledges UNCF and TMCF but totally ignores NAFEO.  I wonder whether the exclusion has anything to do with the fact that since its founding, it has had women in its executive leadership.  NAFEO had a female pro bono attorney for 20 years.  It has had two female Interim Presidents and CEOs; two female board chairs, and for the last 14 years a female has been at its helm, the second longest-serving CEO.  There has never been an “ole boys network” at NAFEO.

I am dismayed by the documentary’s total silence about NAFEO’s contribution to the story that is being told.  What we get in this documentary is not the whole story, or even an accurate representation of how and why HBCUs are today rising. Those viewing it are the poorer for it.

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