Today I had the chance to participate in the HBCU Sustainability Summit sponsored by the 100 Black Men of America. Our panel dealt with the HBCU narrative and how we can do a better job. I just want to share some key takeaways from each of the participants:
Dr. Makola Abdullah, president, Virginia State University: We have to empower everyone on campus to tell their stories, and not have to go through a bureaucracy funneling everything through a thinly staffed communications office. He said essentially “If I can’t read the stories on social media, I don’t want to read it.” Social media we all agreed is the great equalizer.
Dr. Wayne Frederick, president, Howard University: We should make sure we use Black outlets to tell our stories. There are black publications and radio stations, and he reminded folks that there is an HBCU channel on Sirius XM. In addition, our successes will show that if you don’t have HBCUs the country will suffer, so we can stop talking about being relevant.
Dr. Jamal Watson, editor at large, Diverse Issues, and professor at Trinity Washington University: Respond to media requests timely! We can’t wait days before replying to media requests. He also said do not discount the value and impact of the good, old fashioned op-ed (Amen on that!)
Shon Gables, anchor, CBS Atlanta, and moderator: When I shared that Dr. Michael Sorrell of Paul Quinn College talks about how we should “date the media,” she went into detail. We need to know the general managers, news editors, and assignment editors. We should connect with them, have lunch, develop relationships. She also said you must respond to inquiries because a lack of response does not make the story go away, and then it is only told from one side.
My comments weaved through all of these, with my overall position is that HBCUs need to stop talking about telling our stories and simply tell them. The issue is that too many people who talk about HBCUs don’t know what they’re talking about (not for real), and those who know aren’t talking. My analogy for this is Da Mayor in Do the Right Thing. Benjamin mays wrote an editorial a week for 30 years; we can do a couple a year.
So it was a good time with practical suggestions.