Condemning HBCU Bomb Threats Shows Congress at Its Best

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the U.S. Congress came together this week to condemn the recent rash of bomb threats at the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU).

Since I’m always campaigning for them to put politics aside and work together, I admit I was surprised to see them coalesce on this matter. My senior senator, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, pointed out that we have seven HBCU in Tennessee. Throughout the South there are many states with an equal number or more of these prolific knowledge centers, so it is important that those who are elected to serve take notice and speak out.

Nobody seems clear about the motive for these almost daily scare tactics that surfaced as 2022 unfolded. Growing up in rural West Tennessee, I saw the bombed-out homes of civil rights leaders and the intimidation of those who dared to register to vote. I watched as the Defiant Ones, my parents and their neighbors, stood tall and refused to give up or be scared into submission, so I have some inkling what these presidents and campuses are going through as they try to keep their campuses safe and open.

As an HBCU alum, former faculty member, cheerleader, and advocate for these bastions of knowledge, empowerment, and pride, it is critical that law enforcement officials pay closer attention and move heaven and earth to put a stop to these disruptive and disturbing occurrences. So far, they’ve only been threats but with the sophisticated technology every agency seems to have, it seems impossible that arrests and prosecution of those responsible is still a way off.

HBCU are a precious entity in our society—more than 107 public and private institutions bear this label–an indisputable example of what happens when sheer will, dogged determination, extreme sacrifice, and opportunity come together. For almost 200 years—the oldest, Cheyney State in Pennsylvania, was founded in 1837—these schools have educated, empowered, uplifted, and opened doors for generations of African Americans and anybody else who showed up serious about getting an education.

As one observer put it, “they’ve been punching above their weight” from the beginning and they continue to do amazing things with limited resources. An article this week compared endowments and the Yales and Harvards of the world had amassed billions—with a “b” while some HBCU are blessed to have a few million.

Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, retired president of the only two African American women’s colleges, reminded me on our first meeting that if you added together the endowments of all 107 schools, they still wouldn’t have as much as one of these Ivy Leaguers. Endowment size is one of the many inequities these folks face every day but they get up early and stay late to help make dreams come true.

When a bipartisan group of elected officials comes together to be supportive, to speak out and say these schools are valuable and worthy of protection, to call these acts “hate and terrorism,” please pay attention. When North Carolina Representative Alma Adams called the threats “despicable and cowardly” and said “our HBCUs, their faculty, their staff, and especially their students are strong…resilient and brilliant,” no truer words could have been spoken.

The fact that our representatives know, care, and understand the weight of their united voices, that they put their partisan posturing aside to come together on this critical issue speaks volumes. I lift my hand and say count me in the chorus of those calling for solutions and a quick and robust response for those responsible.

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