President of Philander Smith College, Roderick Smothers, Recaps His Visit to the White House

As promised, I am providing my PSC Constituents and Supporters ( and Friends) with a Recap of my Visit to Nation’s Capitol and my perspective on what we must do next.

It’s Amazing What Can Happen in 24 Hours!

Day 1 – At approximately 3:30 p.m. (est.) on 2/27/17, over 70 Presidents, Chancellors and CEOs of the Nation’s HBCUs gathered in ONE place, with ONE common agenda – to promote the HBCU Value Proposition. Upon arrival they were met with an unexpected visit to the Oval Office to Meet President Donald Trump; subsequent planned meetings and sessions with Vice President Michael Pence, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Senior White House Officials and other Federal Agency Representatives.

Day 2 – At 8:30 a.m. on 2/28/17 (approximately 12 hours later) those same leaders met at the Library of Congress where they were received for a Bipartisan HBCU Fly-In hosted by Senator Tom Scott and Representative Mark Walker. By 3:30 p.m. these HBCU Leaders had met with Corporate Executives who offered advice on how to move their students from the Classroom to the Corporate World — to a Facebook Live Town Hall meeting with the Speaker of the House Representative Paul Ryan. Nestled within those hours were speeches and conversations with numerous elected officials and the signing of a new Executive Order on HBCUs. The gathering was historic, instructive and eye opening — and, at times it was encouraging, offering hope for a new era of support, and discouraging with varying moments of reality checks. All in all, however, I firmly believe that we accomplished our goal of advocating for the following:

1) A Strong White House Executive Order on HBCUs
2) Full Funding for Title III HBCU Programs
3) An Increase in Pell and Work-Study Grants
4) Investments in HBCU Facilities and Infrastructure
5) Funding for New Centers of Innovation for National Needs
6) Repealing and Reforming Burdensome Higher Education Regulations

With Pride, Passion and Purpose our HBCU Leaders attempted to convince all who would listen that not only do HBCUsMatter, but they are also RELEVANT, COMPETITIVE, RESILIANT, AND HERE TO STAY. As a result of our collaborative Advocacy work, within those same 24 hours, every major news carrier for at least 1-2 hours focused on HBCUs and the aforementioned agenda items (More national press/media coverage than any of us could afford with all of our PR budgets combined). This spotlight has created a national buzz that we must now take back to our local and regional communities and continue to promote and capitalize on the work that we started during this 24-hour period. The Executive Order has been signed with a lot to be desired. Now is the time for us to give more than just rhetoric to the continuation of the HBCU Agenda – we must make strategic investments of our time, resources, talents and most importantly our actions to the continued advancement and strengthening of our Colleges and Universities. We must shift the direction of our internal criticisms and disparagements and refocus that energy outwardly by responding to challenges like the one issued to Presidents and Chancellors by Congressman Bradley Byrne (co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus) – who called on the HBCU Communities to reach out to him and his colleagues about the HBCU Agenda as it relates to the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The HEA will have far-reaching impact on the fate of our Institutions – even more than the President’s Executive Order.

As they were before we arrived in DC, the Challenges facing our HBCUs are more daunting than ever before. I am proud, however, to have been a part of this historic moment, being able to listen, learn, serve and most importantly advocate for students with some of the most dynamic Leaders in America–our HBCU Presidents and Chancellors. #HBCUsMatter #PhilanderForward

*Statement originally posted on Roderick Smothers’ Facebook page (President of Philander Smith College)

Cherie S. White
Cherie S. White
Cherie S. White is Director of Digital Strategy for the Tom Joyner Foundation, a writer and editor.