In September, Johnathan Holifield was selected as the new director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs. I had not met him before, but I have always tried to work with the director. I have had a great relationship with the past director, Dr. John Wilson, as well as Dr. Leonard Haynes, a past director and now special assistant in the Department of Education.
But by January I hadn’t heard much. So I sent him a letter basically saying, “What’s up?” I felt that there was a lot that could be done so I wanted to know what he was going to do. He suggested that he wanted to host convenings across the country to bring each state’s HBCUs together with business and industry and discuss a way to ensure HBCUs are part of each state’s economic development- to in fact, develop a strategy to make it happen.
You know, it is easy for folks to ask someone, “What are you going to do?” and then sit back and do nothing. Heck, I have done it too. But if I was going to push him, I felt like I had a duty to work on this project. So I reached out to the state HBCUs to find a date for us to meet. Johnathan and I started the conversation in January, and by February I was working with my colleagues on a date. Every HBCU was represented today (Chancellor Belton at Southern was in Baton Rouge to meet in the special session but chancellors of the law center, SUNO and SUS were present).
I then reached out to key partners- GNO Inc, all major chambers of commerce in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport, the New Orleans Business Alliance and the Business Council of New Orleans. We brought in UNCF and the Thurgood Marshall Fund. And on a planning call someone mentioned the work Andre Perry was doing at Brookings on HBCUs so I texted him while on the call and by the time the call ended he committed to being there as well. We even had Dr. Norman Francis come through to provide his wisdom and insight.
So today was a great first step, even if just to bring all the state HBCU leaders together with industry leaders to begin thinking about how do we strategically involve HBCUs in Louisiana’s economic development. South Carolina held a similar convening in March, and I hope other states will follow suit.