Former NFL Player Named to Head the White House HBCU Initiative

Johnathan Holifield speaks during the White House Summit on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Johnathan Holifield speaks during the White House Summit on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Johnathan Holifield speaks during the White House Summit on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

WASHINGTON — The White House has named consultant and former NFL player Johnathan M. Holifield to head its initiative on black colleges and universities.

The decision came as the White House kicked off its summit with presidents of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Holifield, an economic development consultant and former Cincinnati Bengals player, is a graduate of West Virginia University, which is not an HBCU.
The Thurgood Marshall College Fund praised the pick, citing Holifield’s 20 years of experience in business and government experience.

Holifield’s experience “will help lead the critical work of developing a robust policy and budgetary agenda to positively impact HBCUs,” the group said in a statement to USA Today.

Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, said he planned to meet with Holifield at the summit.

“We look forward to learning how he will champion meaningful actions to advance HBCUs and ensure that more African American students have the opportunity to go to and through college,” Lomax said in a statement.

Rep. Alma Adams, who co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus, invited Holifield to meet with the group.

“This is really the first step for the White House,” Adams, D-N.C., told reporters. “I think we need to repair the relationship with HBCU leaders and members of Congress so maybe we can move forward and do that.’’

Adams, who taught for 40 years at Bennett College, says she and several HBCU presidents she talked to don’t know much about Holifield.

“I really look forward to working with him because we have a lot of work to do to effectuate some meaningful change for our schools,’’ she said.
More than 80 HBCU presidents met with Trump at the White House in February, where he signed an executive order elevating the federal HBCU initiative to a White House project and vowed to make the schools a priority.

This week, the White House hosted the initiative’s annual summit billed as an opportunity for college officials to meet with federal agencies, businesses, philanthropic groups and others. The initiative’s All-Stars, which includes student ambassadors from some of the colleges, were also named.
Omarosa Manigault Newman, assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, said Trump is also expected to sign a proclamation declaring this HBCU Week.

“This proclamation calls upon American people to recognize the extraordinary contributions that HBCUs have made and continue to make to the general welfare and prosperity of our country,’’ she told reporters in a call last week.

Some black lawmakers, including Adams, had called for the summit to be postponed or canceled after Trump’s remarks after the August violence in Charlottesville, Va. Trump was criticized for blaming “many sides” for their role in the violence surrounding demonstrations by white nationalists and members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The lawmakers had also complained that not much has happened since the HBCU presidents had met with Trump earlier this year.

“This White House is not serious about improving our HBCUs,’’ said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Several HBCU presidents said they planned to attend the summit, which will include officials from federal agencies. They said it’s important to network and express their concerns.

“We know that dealing with our partners in Washington, regardless of whether it be our congressional delegation or whether it be interacting with the different federal agencies, I think it’s necessary to get the information on how to access the various types of funding, but then to also articulate our needs and our positions on various issues,” said Quinton Ross, president-elect of Alabama State University.

Several black college presidents said they also plan to attend panels later this week hosted by Adams. Adams has invited the presidents to HBCU-related events, including a breakfast with Senate Democrats, at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Inc.’s annual legislative conference.

 D.Berrry – USA TODAY

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