NAFEO Opinion Editorial RE: Trump-Cummings Debate

During the 2016 presidential campaign, President Elect Donald J. Trump pledged to do something to strengthen urban areas. So far, he has done little to leverage the power of his voice and the resources of the United States to invest in revitalizing urban areas of high distress and low attainment. He also is a self-described champion of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). This is a direct appeal to President Trump: Now is a perfect time to tone it down, to cease verbal attacks against Baltimore and urban America in general, and in the interest of national peace and progress, make good on your expressed commitment to revitalize urban areas of high distress, such as Baltimore, and to assume your-self-described role as a champion of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  Most HBCUs, including Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and the Predominantly Black Institutions, like Baltimore City Community College, and Columbia Union, in Maryland, abut some of the most difficult and troubling communities in their states. They are the economic engines of their communities and transformative centers of education, economic liberation, innovation, health and wealth.

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Most of the HBCUs and PBIs in Maryland, like those in other states, are located in areas of least advantage and greatest neglect. They are graduating students of diverse ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds, in growth and high need disciplines. They are graduating students who have been failed by many systems prior to their arrival at college, and others who are well prepared and can compete and thrive at the most selective universities worldwide, but whose first choice is an HBCU or a PBI because of the unique and enriching educational experience they get there, and the success rates of HBCUs in graduating diverse students, and especially Black students, in the sciences, technology, engineering,  agriculture, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM); in Homeland Security, community security, food and water security, entrepreneurship, and in spawning small businesses.

HBCUs and PBIs in Maryland are the conduits of change in their services areas and across the State. In laboratories and research centers of excellence, they are developing and patenting new, innovative products, perhaps a product for addressing one of the most vexing challenges in urban and rural areas, rodent elimination. They are educating and innovating the residents of their service areas and students from around the globe who attend these institutions because of their specialized centers of excellence in urban research and service, urban transportation, urban security, centers of excellence in advanced teaching and research, driven by state of the art technology; leading in the Nation’s national aeronautics and space research; assisting students in attaining preparation to realize their aspirations in  allied health, criminal justice, hospitality/tourism, academic buildings, laboratories, and community engagement centers.  allied health, construction management technology, criminal justice, hospitality/tourism, agriculture, business, computer science, and health care.

Now is the time to take affirmative actions to improve the quality of life for all Baltimoreans, Mr. President, by leveraging the resources of HBCUs. They and their PBI colleagues have professors, researchers, centers of excellence, health services, and other human needs centers, and the wide range of experts in disciplines necessary for Baltimore and other American urban and rural communities to thrive. These universities that you held up as exemplars when you signed your Executive Order on HBCUs early in your presidential tenure, have been dubbed “CommUniversities” in acknowledgement of their centrality to helping Baltimore and other communities in Maryland to thrive.

They are building housing, incubating small businesses, offering health, human needs, academic enrichment, cultural, athletic and religious services to those in surrounding areas. In rural areas, around the State, and at different times through the years, the State’s 1890 land-grant institution, University of Maryland Eastern Shore. has provided water, sewer, electrical, public safety and first responder services to neighboring rural communities.

The HBCUs and PBIs in Maryland have in place courses, programs and services to abate crime, blight, and vandalism, and to assuage the loss of neighbors, friends, and hope in their service areas. They are preparing the foremost engineers, architects, community and economic development professionals, health professionals and sustainability professionals in the State of Maryland and the Nation. They are providing training, goods and services, opportunities and optimism to the most distressed communities in Maryland. They are moving Maryland families from the margins to the mainstream.

To be clear and for the record,  while you, Mr. President, and the Distinguished Gentleman from Baltimore’s 7th Congressional District disagree on many things, Congressman Elijah Cummings invests a great deal of his political capital, personal time and treasure, strengthening and positioning the HBCUs in the State to be better leveraged for getting Maryland on track and keeping Maryland on track to realize its full potential so that fewer Marylanders will be locked in the margins and left behind. And you professed a commitment to better leveraging HBCUs to improve the quality of life in urban centers and areas of high distress, and to support building the infrastructures in the areas in which they are located.  In the interest of American peace and progress, I urge you to work on this common goal with Chairman Cummings.

I propose two immediate actions:

(1)  First, appoint Dr. Aminta Breaux, the President of Bowie State University, and your appointee to your President’s Board of Advisers on HBCUs as Chair of a Maryland stakeholder work group,  anchored by the State’s four HBCUs: Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and the two Predominately Black Institutions  (PBIs) in the State: Baltimore City Community College, and Columbia Union College.  The stakeholder work group would be tasked to devise and implement a plan to make Baltimore America’s Model City. With you as President and Governor Hogan chairing the National Republican Governor’s Association, now is the time to marshal and invest in Baltimore the resources needed to ensure its thrival, and to move those who you identified as living in the margins into the mainstream. The stakeholder work group should include select federal, state, county, city, philanthropic, corporate and community resource persons and anchor institutions.

You should jump-start the work of the Better Baltimore work-group with a $1 billion investment to move Baltimore from where it is today to where you would like to see it, as one of America’s rich and diverse urban areas, and a gateway to the Nation’s Capital.

Dr. Aminta Breaux, your Maryland appointee to the President’s Board of Advisers on HBCUs, is well suited to lead the Better Baltimore Initiative. In her two years as CEO of Bowie State University, she has moved to ensure that in every aspect of Bowie State an entrepreneurial mindset drives the institutional success. Dr. Breaux has led the effort to build an Entrepreneurship Living-Learning Community. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2020.  Dr. Breaux should be provided funds to appropriately staff the initiative, and to report to you, the Maryland State Legislature and Congress on progress.

(2) In less than 70 days– on September 30, 2019—Title III, Part F of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, will expire unless both Houses of Congress act before then to extend and fund the provision. The Mandatory funding in Title III, Part F was initially included in the 2008 College Cost Reduction and Access Act for two years and was extended until 2019 in the Health Care Education and Reconciliation Act of 2010. Title III, Part F of the legislation has always had bipartisan and bicameral support because of the important role of HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) in increasing student persistence and graduation rates, strengthening the STEAM pipeline, and supporting HBCUs, Predominantly Black Institutions, Hispanic-serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-serving Institutions.

If this critical funding stream is allowed to expire on September 30, 2019, millions of students–disproportionately low-income, first generation, and students of color—will be left behind in Baltimore and across the Nation, without the opportunity to earn a college degree or credential. Please do not let this happen. Please utilize the weight of your office to get Congress to extend this legislation that is so critical to strengthening Baltimore and urban and rural areas of high distress across America. Pass the legislation to extend this measure and HBCUs and their service communities will be much better positioned to accelerate efforts to make America even greater. The HBCUs and PBIs in Maryland will be equipped with additional resources to accelerate their CommUniversity efforts resulting in a Better Baltimore, a better Maryland, and a better America.