According to Republicans, President Trump is concerned about the state of historically black colleges and universities.
TheGrio.com has learned a group of Republican leaders plan to meet with heads of historically black colleges and universities this month to discuss ways to advance HBCUs. These Republicans say they will listen to the needs of universities and their students, while also learning how Congress can help black colleges.
The meeting will include Congressional members and Omarosa Manigault, who is part of Trump’s office of public engagement.
The discussion, which is being called a “fly-in,” is co-hosted by Representative Mark Walker (R-NC) and Senator Tim Scott (R-SC). It comes after Walker’s recently published video stating his wife is a graduate of Winston-Salem State University, an HBCU, and that he is personally invested in helping black colleges.
“We’re trying to bring people together and make connections and by doing that we hope that everyone succeeds and opportunities are granted and I think that’s the goal. It’s not to win anyone over it’s to show that we care,” Walker’s spokesperson said.
Discussions will take place at the Library of Congress on February 28, the same day President Trump is set to give his State of the Union address.
According to Walker’s spokesperson, “There have been reports about Mr. Trumps interest in HBCUs, with the new administration coming in, we want to make sure that we start off on the right foot.”
The Republican Party has faced criticism for their lack of diversity within the party and ignoring issues that face African-Americans; supporting historically black colleges is just one of them. President Trump only received eight percent of the African-American vote and has just one African-American in his cabinet. The party’s membership is only two percent African-American, according to Gallup.
Trump mentioned historically black colleges in his “New Deal for Black America,” in which he announced last October that he would support funding for HBCUs. However, he made no mention of it when he joined a small number of black surrogates Wednesday for a Black History Month listening group, in which he instead focused his criticism on media outlets and praised deceased abolitionist Frederick Douglas as “an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.”
Rep. Walker’s office insists the Republican party is focused on helping the black community and black colleges, something some Republicans believe former President Obama did not do.
“We’ve done a bad job of not only representing all communities but to just listen- it doesn’t take much energy and effort just to listen.” Walker’s spokesperson added, “I think there’s opportunity because the relationship with the previous administration wasn’t very strong, so we see an opportunity to reach out to listen, to help.”
It is true some leaders of historically black colleges did criticize President Obama for not addressing the challenges that black colleges face. While a great deal of black colleges are in a financial crisis, according to the Department of Education, under the Obama administration, federal funding to HBCUs grew each year since 2009.
In his time in office, the Obama Administration invested more than $4 billion in HBCUs. In 2016, Obama proposed a $30 million dollar Innovation for Completion Fund for HBCUs that would help students from low-income backgrounds overcome challenges and make it to graduation day.
The Department of Education says 1 million more African-American and Latino students enrolled in college under the Obama administration.
As for Republicans, official invitations for the discussion have not been sent out, but a save the date was released to all HBCUs. So far, theGrio.com can confirm at least 10 schools plan to attend, including FAMU and Winston-Salem State University.
FAMU’s Interim President Larry Robinson tells theGrio.com:
“Institutions of higher education, Historically Black Colleges and Universities specifically, play a major role in the advancement and success of our great nation. Constructive dialogue is essential to discovering new and innovative ways that we can all work together to positively impact our most valuable assets — the bright, young minds that represent our future.”
Formal invitations will be sent this week.
Ashantai Hathaway is a reporter at theGrio. Keep up with her on Twitter @ashantaih83.