Despite Calls to Postpone, 2017 National HBCU Week Conference Goes On as Scheduled

Earlier this week—in spite of calls from Rep. Alma Adams, the Congressional Black Caucus, UNCF, and others to postpone the 2017 National HBCU Week Conference—the conference was held Sept. 17–19, as originally scheduled.

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Trump did not attend, nor did several HBCU college presidents, news outlets have reported. KCCU reports that only 29 college presidents showed up, according to Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund. There are roughly 107 historically black colleges altogether.

Johnathan Holifield


Some business did get done, however. This week Trump appointed Johnathan M. Holifield, a business consultant who played for one season with the NFL, to lead the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Holifield is a graduate of West Virginia University, which is not an HBCU, according to USA Today.

Rep. Alma Adams, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus, released the following statement after the Holifield announcement.

“This appointment is a first step for the White House as they strive to repair their relationships with HBCU leaders and members of Congress,” said Rep. Adams. “As co-chair of the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, I extended an invitation to Mr. Holifield to come to Capitol Hill to learn more about the Caucus and our legislative priorities. I look forward to working with him to advance meaningful change for our HBCUs.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that Trump hasn’t made any appointments to the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs.

Trump’s Promises


After his inauguration, Trump had promised to make HBCUs an “absolute priority.” Although many had ridiculed his meeting with HBCU leaders in February as a photo op, some leaders had hoped Trump would keep his promises.

But there is frustration that little headway has been made, especially in light of steep cuts in state financing—which are hurting colleges across the board.

According to Rick Gallot, president of Grambling State College in Louisiana, the state legislature has slashed higher education funding from 55% to 27%, he is indirectly quoted as saying in

(The state must have a hefty prison budget, though, since it is known as the prison capital of the world.)

HBCU leaders and others continue to take Trump at his word. But as John King, president and CEO of the Education Trust said at the Black Enterprise BE Smart HBCU Summit in February, words aren’t enough. Watch what this administration does.

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Failing to Succeed

(Image: Mike Cohen)


During a panel he moderated at the New York Times Higher Ed Leaders Forum last week, columnist Frank Bruni tried to lure speakers Adam Grant and Julie Lythcott-Haims down a gotcha path—but Lythcott-Haims was having none of it.

The panel addressed the “stunning fragility” of high-achieving students (the phrase is attributed to Bruce Poch, senior advisor to the Global Leadership Incubator and a former dean of admissions).

Although these aren’t the kids I typically write about, it’s a serious problem. Affluent kids who have had every advantage—financial, social, academic, you name it—are literally killing themselves, or are so detached from their own personhood and interests that they lack direction and have difficulty coping.

Both Grant and Lythcott-Haims spoke passionately about the need for today’s young people to experience struggle and inhabit their own agency. Lythcott-Haims referred to their “existential impotence”; Grant said they were more like “ambitious robots” than “excellent sheep” (the title of a best-selling book by William Deresiewicz describing the same phenomenon).

Both speakers were clear: Struggle needs to be normalized; students shouldn’t be coddled or infantilized; children need to be treated like children, not like investments parents want a return on.

But just before taking questions from the audience, Bruni threw out his gotcha question: “In the context of resilience, in the context of learning to fail, do we need to examine trigger warnings, microaggressions, grade inflation?”

We Need Both


I’ll let Bruni’s gotcha just hang out there for a minute.

After spending nearly the entire panel saying that kids needed to develop their own volitional choice and independence—they were now being asked a question that, at least on the surface, could contradict all they’d already said.

Yes, students need to grow up, but do trigger warnings and calls for safe spaces coddle them and hinder their adult development? Or are trigger warnings OK? Is it OK to call out microaggressions or assume your dorm room is a safe space?

Lythcott-Haims answered with a resounding yes. She didn’t get backed into a corner—we need to give students the opportunity to experience struggle—but trigger warnings are OK too.

These don’t have to be binary choices, although it’s tempting to see them as part of a continuum: On one end you have trigger warnings and calls of microaggressions; on the other you have tough, resilient, capable students who know their own mind.

“I am a woman of color,” Lythcott-Haims declared, and then went on to say that dorm rooms should indeed feel like safe spaces.

For more about the NYT Higher Ed Leaders Forum, go here.

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Will Betsy DeVos #ProtectOurStudents?


Betsy DeVos answered questions from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee this morning after defending the Trump administration’s budget, which includes cuts that one senator called “draconian.”


(Image: Brian Kelly Photography)


Many senators expressed concern or dismay about the impact of the budget on their states. Several lamented the slashing of 21st Century Community Learning Centers; that work study is being cut in half; that Pell doesn’t keep pace with inflation; and the cuts to financial aid.

Perhaps most disturbing was the education secretary’s lack of response to Sen. Chris Murphy’s questioning. Murphy quoted a New York Times article, which said the K12 Inc. for-profit enterprise was a business the DeVos family had invested in (which also raises questions about her support of virtual learning). However, the company seemed to be squeezing profits out of school systems, not helping kids learn. He asked her pointedly about what specific protections would be in place to protect taxpayers, so that their money wouldn’t simply be transferred from public schools to for-profit enterprises that may or may not actually educate children. After trying to reframe his question, DeVos said nothing.

Murphy grasped the situation immediately, and called it a massive transfer of money from the public to the private sector. He said, “So, there will be no protections for taxpayer dollars.” She did not contradict him.


Putting Higher Ed Out of Reach


Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois raised topics of great concern to readers of BLACK ENTERPRISE; “crippling and debilitating student debt” as well as the “lack of policing of for-profit colleges.” Because the budget increases the interest burden, it seems that the administration’s intent is to make it more difficult to pay for college.

DeVos said that the budget’s goal was to help students to know their full menu of educational options, and stressed career and technical education (CTE)—a viable choice that isn’t publicized enough. But, even students pursuing CTE should not have to pay higher interest rates on their student loans and the budget cuts’ support for CTE as well.

DeVos stated that there is overlap within the Department of Labor, and that CTE needed to be looked at holistically. She described a CTE program that partners with community colleges to meet the needs of businesses in their area, apparently as an example of how CTE can work with fewer federal resources. Although, what those partnerships will actually look like after the cuts have been implemented is anyone’s guess.

Sen. Shaheen of New Hampshire asked the secretary what she could say to students like Raymond, a boy from her state that had benefited from a 21st Century Community Learning Center’s after-school program. Sadly, DeVos didn’t seem to appreciate the importance of before-school, after-school, and summer learning opportunities, especially for needy children. Later on, she said that such programs weren’t part of the core school day, implying that they were not as important.


No African Americans


It was disappointing to see that not one African American was present to ask the secretary a question—apparently, none serve on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee.

However, that does not mean that African Americans weren’t part of the conversation. Sen. James Lankford mentioned that an African American had told him that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was “out of control”; that OCR had been instructed to look for problems at schools and not leave until they found one—which seemed bizarre. Likewise, Senator Shelley Moore Capito noted that an HBCU in West Virginia, which had hosted an Upward Bound program for more than 50 years, had been rejected because of a minor error on its worksheetnot even on its application.

In defending the budget, DeVos repeatedly said that it seeks to shift focus toward states, local communities, and parents, and that it represented an opportunity for states to have greater flexibility and to be creative.

In response to this, a senator replied, “You are imagining revenue and flexibility that does not exist at the local level. You are cutting their flexibility by reducing their resources. Now they will be basking in greater flexibility.”

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High School Diploma? I’ll Take an Associate Degree with That!

Solutions to our broken education system in which many students fail to earn even a high school diploma often seem so very out of reach. Yet it may be that answers are not that complicated if only we had the political will to implement them.

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One solution? Early college high schools like IBM’s P-TECH and those developed by Bard College, the selective liberal arts school in upstate New York. Graduates from such schools earn a high school diploma and an associate degree in either four years or six, potentially cutting the cost of college in half.

The two models reflect their origins: P-TECH focuses on career readiness; graduates from the high school in Brooklyn, New York, have accepted full-time offers at IBM right after graduation (some have gone on to four-year colleges). The Bard model prepares students for a rigorous liberal arts education.

Both are giving low-income students a chance at life—by not requiring them to have certain middle school test scores, and by offering college-level work with lots of academic support.

The result? The students are thriving. According to The Baltimore Sun, “the American Institutes for Research reported in 2013 that students enrolled in early college high schools were more likely to graduate from high school and college.”

America’s Promise reports that the U.S. now has a national average high school graduation rate of 83.2%. But without targeted strategies to increase the rates of certain student groups like African Americans, English language learners, and others, the nation will not reach a high school graduation rate of 90% by the year 2020—a goal of the organization. But with more early college high schools, we might.

Rigor Is a Plus


I never understood why poor kids in the U.S., especially poor black kids, almost always get a poor education, whereas affluent communities offer their students the best, most rigorous, most demanding coursework.

Once they arrive at college—and according to the Atlantic, they are going to college: “60% of students from the top quarter of households … graduate with bachelor’s degrees within 10 years of finishing high school—four times as often as students from the lowest quarter of households”—they are academically and often socially and emotionally prepared.

Education is indisputably the pathway out of poverty, but under-resourced schools in low-income areas don’t typically prioritize academic rigor. At the Bard High School Early College in Baltimore, however, students read Plato and Nietzsche, and the first graduating class enjoyed a retention rate of 100%, The Baltimore Sun reports. No student left because the work was too hard. Indeed, the Sun says the students valued the “the depth of the teaching”; one boy called the school “a blessing.”

To learn more, visit The Baltimore Sun.

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Susan L. Taylor to Be Honored by Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps

Susan L. Taylor, founder and CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement, will be honored on Friday, June 9, by the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps with its Embracing the Legacy Award. The award recognizes Taylor’s philanthropic work and her 30 years of championing the black American woman as editor-in-chief of Essence magazine.

Susan L. Taylor (Image: File)


Black Enterprise honored Taylor by awarding her a 2015 Women of Power Legacy Award.

I recently spoke with Taylor to learn why her work is so critical.

“Children are languishing because of poverty,” she told me. These stats are on the National CARES website:

  • Of all black fourth-graders, 58% are functionally illiterate.
  • In some cities, 80% of our boys drop out before finishing high school.
  • Every day 1,000 black children are arrested.
  • 1 in every 8 African American males ages 25–29 is incarcerated.
  • The No. 1 cause of death among our boys is homicide.

“The house is on fire,” Taylor said.

In spite of these grim statistics, she is “never discouraged,” she said, and then proceeded to tell me about Teonte Miller, a young man who spoke at the National CARES gala in January. Because of the organization’s mentoring work, along with Miller’s own drive and determination, Miller has graduated from community college. He is also slated to speak at the commencement of his former high school—which he had dropped out of.

Organizations like National CARES can help to bring about this kind of transformational change in the lives of impoverished, underserved students. Taylor’s goal is to support marginalized young people until they “become confident, self-sufficient critical thinkers and lifelong learners who are dedicated to their families, community, and country,” according to a spokeswoman from the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps.

“To not participate as a mentor, vocal advocate, or financial contributor to the recovery of children struggling in financially insecure families and unstable communities is to betray our ancestors,” Taylor said in a statement. “No matter where [our ancestors] came from or how they arrived on these shores, their sacrifices and ideals brought so many of us to this place of privilege.”

Taylor told me that “We are among the most fortunate [people of African descent] in the world. It is our moral responsibility to intentionally help in the recovery of those who are struggling. Able, stable black people have a responsibility to heal the trauma” that those in unstable black communities are experiencing.

“Susan’s devotion to her own community has had a nationwide impact,” Ed Kelley, CEO of the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, is quoted in a statement. “Her efforts have created a domino effect—National CARES is a force to better social and juvenile justice efforts across the country,”

Taylor told me that organizations like the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps need to be celebrated. “They are standing really strong for our community, dedicated to social service and juvenile justice programs—and we know that it’s our people, black and brown people, who need them more than anyone.”

The organization was founded to carry out Robert F. Kennedy’s principles of social justice on behalf of the disadvantaged in Massachusetts, supporting the state’s most vulnerable young people and giving them a chance at a better life.

“I love the work that the organization is dedicated to—helping the poor and marginalized,” Taylor told me. “We need more organizations to stand in the huge gap between the haves and the have-nots. I love that they are partners and allies in this work.”

To learn more about the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps’ Embracing the Legacy Award, visit its website.

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Black and Latino Parents See Disparities in Education

The Leadership Conference Education Fund and Anzalone Liszt Grove Research recently released their second annual New Education Majority poll, which asks black and Latino families about how American public schools are educating their children. (The term “new majority’ refers to the fact that children of color now constitute the majority in school.)

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The poll reveals that, not surprisingly, both black families and Latino families continue to see their children as underserved.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a statement, “Black and Latino parents know that their children aren’t getting the best education we can provide them. These results should be a clarion call for policymakers who must come to terms with the fact that for any education policy to be successful, it must be responsive to the needs of the children who make up a majority of public school students in America.”

Key Findings


Key findings from the poll include the following (from the Leadership Conference Education Fund’s press release):

  • Perceptions of racial disparities remain strong among new education majority parents and families, and in some cases, are even more pronounced than last year.

  • The lack of funding for students of color is seen as the biggest cause of racial disparities in education, and racism has risen to become the second biggest driver among both African American and Latino parents and families.
  • Parents and family members of color whose child’s teachers are mostly white are more likely to believe schools are “not really trying” to educate students of color than those with mostly black or mostly Latino teachers.
  • New education majority parents and families continue to place a premium on high expectations and academic rigor for their children.


  • Remedying longstanding disparities in resources between schools and districts with more black and Latino children and those with more white children.
  • Opening decision-making processes to black and Latino families in ways that allow them to meaningfully participate so that their voices are heard, especially decisions regarding priorities and funding.
  • Removing barriers to participation and success in advanced courses for black and Latino children.
  • Inventorying resource distribution in schools and districts, including good teachers and rigorous courses, to ensure that black and Latino children have their fair share.
  • Implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, in a way that breaks down systemic barriers that have impeded black and Latino children’s success and increases educational opportunity for all underserved children in the state.

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Morehouse College Interim President Has Died

Interim President for Morehouse College, William Taggart, has died of an aneurysm, has reported. According to media reports, he was 55.

(Image: Morehouse)


In a statement released to media outlets, including Essence and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Morehouse’s College Board of Trustees confirmed Taggart’s death:

“We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Interim President William J. ‘Bill’ Taggart, a beloved colleague, father and friend. For the past two years, Bill devoted himself wholeheartedly to Morehouse College. We are eternally grateful for his loyal support, counsel, and the leadership he provided to students, faculty, and alumni. Throughout his tenure, Bill had a positive impact on Morehouse College and the Greater Atlanta business community. He leaves behind a long legacy of compassion, integrity, and devotion. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time,” the statement read.

Morehouse, an all-male historically black college in Atlanta, had ousted Taggart’s predecessor, John Silvanus Wilson, in March. Taggart joined the school in 2015 as chief operating officer, according to CBS46, and had served previously as Morehouse’s executive in residence. He was named interim president in April.


Taggart had more than 30 years of experience working in higher education and the federal government, according to his LinkedIn page, reports. He was a Howard University alum and earned an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Taggart was also a former president and CEO of Atlanta Life Financial Co., the only African American-owned, privately held stock company in the U.S.

Prior to joining Atlanta Life, According to the Saporta Report, Taggart had “served as chief operating officer for the Office of Federal Student Aid, where he increased federal aid from $96 billion to $150 billion annually – affecting 15 million college students. Taggart also led the agency through a transformation that resulted in a cost savings of $68 billion over 10 years.”


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When Troubled Students Are Seen as #SadNotBad


I was heartened the other day when I read about a collaboration of five schools in New Orleans, almost all of whose schools are charter schools, that’s replacing “no excuses” discipline of troubled students with a trauma-informed approach.

If students anywhere in the country could use a less punitive school climate, it’s students in New Orleans. According to the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, children in the Big Easy have post-traumatic stress disorder at three times the national rate. As NPR has noted, the city’s high incarceration rate also means that many students are without at least one parent—which causes its own serious problems.

IWES has started a social media campaign, #SadNotBad, which has elicited tweets like this:




It’s easy to misinterpret sad, troubled behavior for just bad. According to, kids in dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful homes can develop a hyperarousal response that could have them flipping desks in the classroom.

Others shut down completely—almost ensuring that they won’t get the attention and services they need. Still, others can develop dissociation, a kind of emotional and social checking out. Trauma affects two out of three kids, making it an epidemic, according to some experts.

Yet the story of Ryan Speedo Green, the bass-baritone in demand at international opera houses, offers some hope. The acclaimed opera star and winner of numerous awards used to throw desks at teachers. He told his white, female teacher he wouldn’t be taught by a white woman. He spent time in a juvenile facility.

I heard him recount his story at this year’s Oliver Scholars Gala and immediately wondered, ‘How many more budding opera singers are languishing in juvenile facilities today? How many students would benefit from a more trauma-informed and less punitive approach at school?’

Another tweet under the hashtag #SadNotBad reads: “Strike ‘at risk’ from your vocab, switch to ‘at promise.’ Don’t operate from a deficit base.”

For more about the collaboration in New Orleans, visit the Hechinger Report.

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Is Your Campus Racially Literate?

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For a startling 15 minutes at the New York Times Higher Ed Leaders Forum, Shaun R. Harper, founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, held many in the audience spellbound—and more than a bit uncomfortable.

Harper walked on stage and like a cannonball went through a litany of racial threats that black people and Muslims were subjected to the day after Trump was elected. One black female professor was called the “n-word” as she walked across campus.

Hearing him describe the events, one after the other, felt like an assault. He mentioned blackface parties held on college campuses, how black students who write well are accused of plagiarism, and how “durable and troubling” the reality of racial bias on college campuses is.

“Race matters in college,” Harper told us.

The Race Issue


“Are college leaders aware of the race issue?” Harper asked the audience—made up of college provosts, presidents, and similar higher education leaders.

It seems not, according to Harper: 23% of college presidents said race issues were not a major issue on their campus. But the goal of his organization is to be helpful to campus leaders, not to criticize them. He is calling on such leaders to do racial equity, not just recognize that racial inequities exist. Just the way campuses engage in strategic planning, they can engage in strategic equity planning, Harper said.

The vexing racial problems present an opportunity to improve. Harper prescribes four strategies to effect change:

  • Listening sessions, in which observable patterns of racial segregation can be identified
  • Working groups, in which students, including whites, work in strategic and collaborative ways
  • Campus climate survey, involving a systematic collection of data
  • Commitment to diversity, in which diversity is also represented in the employees at the institution

Solutions to Vexing Problems


To address the lack of diversity in the workforce, Harper is also organizing a National Registry of Employable Professionals of Color—to answer the oft-heard statement, “We can’t find them.”

In addition, he’s developing a Racial Literacy and Leadership organization to help leaders who are committed to racial equity but lack the requisite skills. When I asked him about it later, he emphasized literacy.

“It demands actual literacy,” Harper told me backstage. “It starts with giving them things to read that they wouldn’t ordinarily read.” Harper said that 87% of college leadership is white, so this kind of consciousness raising is critical.

To learn more about the Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education, which will be moving from the University of Pennsylvania to the University of Southern California this fall, visit its website.

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New York State Votes to Shorten Common Core Testing Days

It’s been announced that the Common Core exams in New York state will be shortened by two days, making the exams comprise four days of testing instead of six.

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That’s according to News12 Westchester, which says the move will take effect next spring after education officials in the state voted to reduce the number of days set aside for testing.

Beginning of the End?


The tests, which have been euphemistically described as “unpopular,”—despised and detested might be more accurate—were also modified last year in New York in response to angry opposition from parents on the left and the right.

It’s been reported that about 20% of families boycotted the tests in recent years.

It really makes you wonder if Common Core is slowly being phased out. Or maybe just the name will change and people will feel much better about it—the way some states avoided using the words “Affordable Care Act” and named President Obama’s signature healthcare law something else, thereby making it more palatable for their constituents (and beneficiaries of the law).

“Next month Common Core will be re-dubbed the Next Generation Learning Standards,” News12 Westchester reports. Clearly the words “Common Core” have become too radioactive to retain.

What’s Wrong with the Common Core?


A lot of the reaction to the Common Core is irrational. All states already had standards—all of which were too low (except maybe those of Massachusetts, which has the best schools in the nation).

Just about all K-12 international students who come to study in the U.S. find the work much easier than in their home country. A sixth-grade Japanese boy who had studied in the U.S. and then returned to Japan is quoted in the front matter of the new book by Cornelius N. Grove, The Drive to Learn, as saying: “[In America], you really didn’t have to really, really do it.”

I’m for high expectations of all kids, coupled with abundant academic support within a context of social-emotional learning. I’m for seeing troubled kids as #SadNotBad, but also for holding those kids to high academic standards—since education is the one nearly guaranteed route out of poverty with all its attendant problems. And I’m for providing more funding and resources, not less, to high-poverty schools, which tend to have more troubled kids—often because of the stresses the kids are exposed to at home.

Of course, kids need lots of reading, lots of math, lots of project-based learning, and inquiry-based science. They need to get out into nature and listen to and learn good music and do great art. They also need to be exposed to kids who are very different from them so they don’t grow up thinking everybody is like them.

Disagree? Say why in the comments below.

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