It is an exciting day at the White House, and across the country, as President Obama names two dynamic new leaders to head the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Dr. George Cooper will begin this week as the Initiative’s Executive Director, and Dr. Ivory Toldson will serve as Deputy Director.
The task at hand for Dr. Cooper and Dr. Toldson is to lead a team, stretched across 32 federal agencies, corporate entities, and philanthropic organizations, to work together in strengthening the capacity of over 100 HBCUs, as they strive to shape this country’s next generation of leaders.
Before the Civil War, and the formation of the nation’s first HBCUs, attaining an education of any kind was nearly impossible for most African Americans. Reading and writing was taught in secret to avoid often dire consequences. As the Civil War came to a close, and the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments became law, African Americans were still a long way from attaining equal treatment and access to opportunity in this country, but they did begin to embrace rousing new freedoms – including freedom of the mind.
It was this spirit in which the tradition of HBCUs was born. And since those early years, the impact of these institutions, and their graduates, on our country has been phenomenal.
When a freed slave made his way 500 miles on foot, from a West Virginian mine, to the steps of Hampton University, little did he know that we would all learn the name, Booker T. Washington. When W.E.B. Dubois headed north from Fisk University in Nashville, to become the first black man to earn a doctorate from Harvard – a powerful new voice entered the historic ledgers of social and political American thought.
And when Martin Luther King Jr. stepped onto Morehouse’s campus in Atlanta, he was only 15 years old – but already, the seeds of change in this country were being cultivated.
The President has called on Dr. Cooper and Dr. Toldson to fortify his Administration’s commitment to HBCUs, and to lead our national effort to champion both the rich traditions of these esteemed institutions, and their promise for the future. I am excited to see what we can all accomplish together, to strengthen these schools, and lift up the precious young people they so faithfully serve.
Click here to learn more about the President’s plan to keep college affordable and within reach for all Americans.
Read more about Dr. George Cooper and Dr. Ivory Toldson, the new leadership team at the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Valerie B. Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama. She oversees the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls.