An Open Letter to the Candidates for the Presidency of the United States of America

Dear Candidates,

First, let me commend you on your pursuit of the presidency of the USA. As the leader of the free world, America, under your leadership, has one of its most important roles ever to play. To address the challenges we face as a nation demands the type of leadership that only a person with passion, focus, and unparalleled commitment can provide. I implore you to move beyond sound bite campaigning embraced by traditional media and sound bite "infotainment" to a more serious debate of the myriad social, economic, and social justice issues that demand great attention and engagement by the president of the United States of America.

There are at least five domestic policy agenda issues that I would urge you to include as a part of your presidential pursuits. First and foremost, stem the tide of growing economic inequality. Poverty is real; don't ignore the interest of poor people by focusing on a mythic Middle Class that is in reality shrinking and whose purchasing power is diminishing. The American dream of providing a better future for our children is becoming more and more difficult to achieve, with many Americans falling farther behind, though they work harder than ever.

Second, remember that black lives, as indeed all lives, do matter. The US can't be a global competitor by neglecting the talents of its black and brown peoples, but it can fulfill its destiny by empowering everyone through education. Minority students will be the majority of America's student population in the not-too-distant future. America cannot compete in the global work and economic community without enhancing the capabilities of all of its citizens. No person, school, neighborhood, city, state, or region can indeed be left behind.

Third, recognize that school and neighborhood re-segregation is unacceptable. Those who put their bodies on the line during the civil rights movement did not do so in order to witness a growing gap of racism, voting rights rollbacks, and biased redistricting. These are another version of the wounds they fought so hard to heal. Discrimination by any means is still a problem in American society.

Fourth, HBCUs and MSIs have a unique role to play in ensuring access to the historically disenfranchised. They have a capacity to respond to the students least predicted to succeed. I was in fact one of those students. I received a low score on my first-ever standardized test, for which our segregated school did not prepare us. Yet I went on to succeed thanks to the unstinting belief that I could achieve anything I sent my mind to, a belief instilled in me by my parents, teachers, counselors, and community. I graduated from an HBCU with a double major in chemistry and agronomy, with graduate fellowships to several leading universities. I even fulfilled my dream of serving as an HBCU chancellor and paying it forward. I've seen first-hand what HBCUs and MSIs can offer, and why they must remain viable in returning the US to its prominence in higher education. You can learn more in my position paper,"A Call to Action."

Fifth, find a way to stem the tide of the rising cost of higher education. The ballooning and gargantuan student loan debtcrisis is crippling our graduates before they can even get out of the starting blocks. Other industrial nations do not burden their students with enormous debt and leave them without any hope of paying it off. They invest in their students, their future.

Finally, I encourage all of you to seek advice from Americans who represent a broad range of backgrounds. The advice you receive is only as relevant and responsive as the lived experience and knowledge of those who provide it. Many policy wonks are brighter than they are wise. Wisdom is a precious commodity, especially in the world of sound bites and gotcha politics.

Remember that you're running for one of the world's most powerful positions, and this brings with it responsibility to all of us. It's critical that you represent all of us, not just those who can afford to make large financial contributions. Without genuine representation of the people by the people, the American Dream may soon find itself on life support.

Sincerely yours,

Charlie Nelms