President-elect Donald Trump is struggling to find performers for his inauguration ceremony next week. The list of groups and artists who have declined invitations to perform seems to have outnumbered those who have accepted.
But an HBCU marching band from Alabama will be there. And its attendance has led to intense debate within black college circles and beyond on whether they should have accepted the president-elect’s invite in the first place.
Last week, the Talladega College Marching Tornadoes officially confirmed they would journey to DC to participate in the inauguration ceremony. After days of declining to comment on rumors of their involvement, Talladega’s president Dr. Billy C. Hawkins finally issued a statement:
We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade As many of those who chose to participate in the parade have said, we feel the inauguration of a new president is not a political event but a civil ceremony celebrating the transfer of power.
Mario Scorggins, a former band member at Grambling State University, says there’s nothing to celebrate about this particular transfer of power. Scroggins was once in Grambling’s marching band preparing to perform at George W. Bush’s inauguration.
“When HBCU bands perform in the mainstream, they always, in a sense, represent the community,” Scroggins told theGrio.com in an interview. “We represent all HBCUs and all HBCU values. I think them performing, while it’s a good experience for the kids, it would be contrary to the views of the person that they are performing for.”
Trump made no mention of black colleges during his campaign for president. Following his election, he vaguely mentioned that his administration “would ensure funding” for black colleges and universities in a bizarre ’10 point plan’ released to Mediatakeout.com.
The Talladega College Marching Tornados formed in 2012. Following the announcement of the inaugural performance, critics have lashed out, saying it is failed attempt to gain recognition for the new program.
One Talladega alum, Shirley Ferrill, launched a petition online to prevent the band from performing.
“I think that when you contrast a band that’s barely four years old with a college that has a legacy extended almost 150 years, I don’t want to sacrifice that legacy for a band to have an opportunity to perform,” Ferrill told theGrio.com. “There’ll be other places they can perform.”
As of Friday midday, more than 2,800 people have signed the petition.
“Tallagadega College has existed and operated continuously since 1867,” Ferrill continued. “It has always held a high reputation for academic excellence. I don’t think we need a band performing for Donald Trump to put us on the map.”
Talladega student Dollan Young set up a Change.org petition in favor of his school’s marching band attending the inauguration.
For Young, attendance wasn’t about politics but “seeing first hand the process of a transition.”
Former Howard University band member Miles Brown says this transition is different because of Trump and how he campaigned.
“I don’t know how regular it is to deny an invitation from the President for any event, but at the same time I definitely understand where people are coming from.”
According to Hawkins, Talladega needed to raise roughly $60,000 to attend the inauguration. A GoFundMe account set up earlier this month has raised more than $300,000 as of Noon on Friday.
Fundraising efforts got a significant boost after former presidential candidate Herman Cain shared the link on his official Facebook page.
“These people have rare courage, and they need some help,” Cain wrote Wednesday morning. “Let’s give it to them.”
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly mentioned the GoFundMe account on his prime time show Thursday night. Earlier that afternoon, the fundraising totals were roughly $60,000.
“I don’t even think it’s about the political views,” Scroggins said. “I think morally some of the things President-elect Trump has stood for, has advocated, directly and indirectly, his lack of denouncing certain things or certain actions that have been detrimental to the African-American community, or anybody that stands for our cause, his lack of doing that is something I would hope any HBCU group would not support.”
Ashantai Hathaway is a reporter at theGrio. Keep up with her on Twitter @ashantaih83.