While Flawed, White House Order on African-American Education Positions HBCUs for Excellence

President Barack Obama last week revealed an executive order mandating improved educational access and opportunity for African-Americans.
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President Barack Obama last week revealed an executive order mandating improved educational access and opportunity for African-Americans. The White House spells out critical need areas in closing the achievement gap for African-American students at the secondary level, and promoting college readiness through community improvement, better partnerships between non-profits and federal agencies towards student engagement, and increased resources to schools largely serving African-Americans.

Throughout the order, President Obama name checks his White House Initiative on HBCUs and increased partnership with HBCUs as the way to strengthening opportunities for Black folks. The order does have flaws, such as questionable timing and the thinking behind its leadership, but overall, it's the first major step to sufficiently reversing historic negligence of Black folks through empowering the institutions best equipped to serve the community.

This order will demand more of the research, teacher training, black male mentoring and community development that HBCUs are leading in rural and metropolitan Black communities nationwide. These elements, historically underfunded and unheralded, will now have the support of the most media-savvy, youth-oriented administration in American history, and that means viral media potential for the projects and people charged with changing educational culture for Black youth.

The White House Initiative on HBCUs will now have a more focused vision of execution, with more of a community-based model to justify capacity building for black colleges. The contemporary purpose of the HBCU should now be much clearer to the Initiative's leadership - they are not just the training ground for the Black scientists and diplomats of the future, and don't struggle because of incompetence or lack of vision.

HBCUs are the key to fixing community-level social and economic issues that, if appropriately funded, can bring about real improvements to working and middle class Black families.

This order and the commission that will carry out its goals aren't without flaws, starting with the announcement of its chairperson, University of Maryland-Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski. Dr. Hrabowski is a Hampton University alumnus, and has served in leadership capacities at HBCUs.

But neither the attention he's received over the last two years in national media, or the diversity efforts of the university under his watch, have demonstrated an overwhelming concern with Black students or communities living beyond the culture of high academic achievement. On a commission that must be compassionate and engaged on issues and effects of poverty and pop culture, the appointment doesn't add up for the man of math and science.

Additionally, while the order calls for enhanced engagement from federal agencies towards African-American communities, there is no specific goal for how much support or how quickly support should come to needed communities. Maybe that's for the commission to figure out, but as some agencies have demonstrated, a lack of pointed oversight will equate to the same old racialized politics that leave Black folks on the outside of opportunity.

And finally, anybody else notice that this order comes out just months ahead of when the president will need Black folks the most? We know how the game goes - you can't do anything expressly for Black people and not face a political brush fire. But it's not as if we didn't need this initiative four years ago, and could've carried an earlier implementation as a rallying cry into the re-election efforts for the president.

In all, this order has reason for Black folks to be optimistic about the next four years, and if done correctly, could be the moment that changes Black American culture for generations to come. No plan is perfect, but with fine tuning, we'll surely see its greatest potential in bringing about improvements for HBCUs and the communities that rely upon them.

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