Urgent call to action: Save and support Black colleges

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(NNPA)—The survival of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is at stake. Today, more than ever before, there is an urgent necessity to stand up, speak out, and let the voice and fundamental interests of 45 million Black Americans be heard. Education has always been at the heart of our long struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. Proposed budget cuts by the U.S. Congress will put Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Predominantly Black Institutions in a severe fiscal crisis.

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On April 6 and 7, in Washington, D.C. there will be a much needed show of force in support of HBCUs and PBLs on Capitol Hill. This is an urgent call to action for students, parents, teachers, administrators, ministers, leaders, activists and the masses of African-Americans to turn out in opposition to the proposed budget cuts to our colleges and universities. We have come too far, struggled and worked too hard, and sacrificed and bled too much in the establishment of these vital academic and career fulfillment institutions to now let the cold, damp hands of political dereliction snatch the fiscal life from our colleges and universities.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. There are too many in the U.S. Congress today who simply do not care about the future sustainability of African-American institutions of higher learning. This is not a case of political or social ignorance. But, this is another clear case of racial discriminatory triage cloaked under the questionable guise of fiscal restraint and deficit reduction. We demand that the U.S. Congress refrain from cutting and gutting financial support for HBCUs and PBIs.

We join with the National Association For Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, United Negro College Fund, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hip Hop Caucus, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and the NAACP to mobilize national support to let the U.S. Congress know that funding for our colleges and universities should not be cut.

Dr. Lezli Baskerville, the president and CEO of NAFEO, urged, “We need you to join us in D.C. and help us educate Congress about why HBCU and PBI funding cannot be traded away for sustained defense funding or partisan posturing. We need HBCUs and PBIs to continue preparing diverse students in the arts and sciences, technology and engineering, and mathematics, as well as teaching health, globalization, greening, and sustainability professionals.” April 6 and 7, has been titled, “Lift Every Voice & Be Heard” days of support for HBCUs and PBIs in Washington, D.C. If you are in D.C. or near D.C. on these days, you should come out and join this most important gathering. We have to send the right message to Congress and the time is now.

We have to make sure that Fiscal Year 2011 Budget funding for HBCUs and PBIs is not rescinded by Congress and that Fiscal Year 2012 Budget funding for our colleges and universities is at least level-funded and adjusted for inflation. What gets cut and who gets cut should be a matter of public policy impacted by the express will of the people and not left solely to the political whims of an extremely narrow view of the nation and world.

While HBCUs represent just 4 percent of U.S. universities, HBCUs confer 22 percent of all bachelor degrees earned by African-Americans, 24 percent of all bachelor degrees awarded to African-Americans in engineering and 35 percent of all bachelor degrees in astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. Fifty percent of all African-American teachers attended and graduated from HBCUs. HBCUs and PBIs collectively employ more than 200,000 people and contribute more than $10 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The historical legacy and the contemporary relevancy of these critical important educational institutions cannot be overstated.

Black Americans and all Americans should be proud of the academic and leadership track record of HBCUs and PBIs. We live at a time when hard and tough decisions are going to be made about the fiscal budgets at both the federal and state levels. If Black Americans do not assert the value of our educational institutions, who will? If we do not speak up now, who will? I will be in Washington, D.C. on April 6th and 7th. You should make every effort to join us. Our children and our grandchildren deserve the best and most equitable quality education from pre-K to post-graduate school. Now is the time, once again, for us to speak clearly and forcibly. The budget scrapple is swinging in our direction disproportionately. What are we going to do about it? Let’s make sure our voices are “heard and felt” on this issue. Save, fund and protect our HBCUs and PBIs.

(Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is senior advisor to the Black Alliance for Educational Options and president of Education Online Services Corporation.)

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