In a recent conversation with my god-daughter, who is a very fine student at Fisk University, she mentioned rather indignantly that former POTUS, Barack Obama, had not been very helpful in supporting the HBCUs. She had been told, she related, that Mr. Obama had decreased, rather than increased, federal funding to the 105 historically Black colleges and universities.
I had to correct her, and as I did, I remembered that a number of young and not-so-young Black folk had lately been spewing misinformation about what Barack Obama as president had and had not done for African Americans. For example, in the aftermath of the recent “Breakfast Club” interview with Sen. Kamala Harris as a new presidential contender, a few callers commented that as POTUS, Sen. Harris would just be Obama 2.0. It was not meant as a compliment.
While being hypercritical of each other is a usual pastime in the Black community, as a symptom of our long U.S. education in self-contempt, this was getting beyond the pale. We should at least read/research and investigate before we speak ill or well of each other. Aren’t we at least at that level post-Wakanda?
Anyway, back to Mr. Obama. While it took his administration a little while to find its footing and he missed a few opportunities to get some good done, there had been an $85 million temporary grant of funding for HBCUs operating when Mr. Obama started as president, courtesy of former President Bush. Well, that funding expired on Mr. Obama’s early watch, and he was severely criticized for it. The grant was restored the following year, and throughout his eight years in office, he made sure HBCUs got increased funding, more Pell grants for Black students became available, and better overall funding with less student indebtedness became available for Black students in particular and overall college students in general.
No, he and wife Michele did not send daughter Malia on a college tour which included HBCUs before they chose Harvard. Yes, such publicity at any of the HBCUs would have generated tremendous p.r., and no, Mr. Obama may not have done all that he could have done to save the several HBCUs which had to file for bankruptcy on his watch. But to lambaste him for doing little to nothing to help HBCUs is patent nonsense.
What is needed in this regard is for the Black community to have a thorough-going set of community/academic forums to fully investigate and articulate how good of a president Mr. Obama was for the Black community. The rumor mill has become way too vicious and vacuous and we are not likely to get another Black POTUS any time soon. We must know precisely what we had when we had him, so we will know better how to act when we finally do get Obama 2.0
We shouldn’t have to wait for white folks to tell us how great Mr. Obama was or wasn’t (and the first “certified” assessment by 238 professional historians places him at number 12 out of 44, ahead of previous presidents like Truman, Nixon, Carter, both Bushs, Ford, and LBJ, for example).
Mr. Obama was not a failed POTUS, and he did not fail HBCUs. No, he was not perfect– he did miss some opportunities to toss us up to the stars–but he surely prevailed against an unrelenting hurricane of racism that even now, out of office, bedevils him. And he spoke for us, and he spoke for this country, grandly.
We must assess our own and be proud when it is justified.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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