Remarks by the Vice President at a Listening Session with Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Room 350
5:36 P.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. Thank you to Secretary DeVos, the Secretary of Education. Secretary Betsy DeVos. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to be able to say that. You can give her another round of applause. She’s going to be working closely with all of you.
To the presidents of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, representatives of the United Negro College Fund, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, distinguished guests, welcome to the White House.
It is my great privilege to serve as Vice President of the United States with the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump. And I know -- I know that you all just came from a brief meeting in the Oval Office. (Laughter.) So I know you've already experienced the President’s warm hospitality and heard his expressions of appreciation for your leadership and for your willingness to come together to discuss the important work that each of you, and the desire of this administration to continue to partner -- partner with you on behalf of education all across this country.
My note said that the President wanted me to send greetings to you, but he already did. (Laughter.) Which happens to me a lot. The President is a very hospitable person. And when he hears that there are wonderful people like yourselves in the White House, you see what happens. And I’m so pleased that you had a chance to share a few minutes with him today.
Earlier this month, President Trump signed a proclamation marking Black History Month. In that proclamation, it read that, “the history of African Americans exemplifies the resilience and the spirit that continue to make our Nation great.”
And those words are true and we celebrate them with you today.
Over the past month he visited the African American History Museum, and just last week he dedicated his weekly radio address to Black History Month. The President understands, as you saw firsthand today, the importance of recognizing the African American community’s amazing contributions to the life of this nation.
And that's why I wanted to come over here today on the President’s behalf. And the schools represented here really have made an indelible mark for generations on the life of this nation.
It’s amazing to think about it, for more than 150 years, historically black colleges and universities have educated African American leaders, often when no other opportunity was available to them.
The first school -- Cheyney University, in Pennsylvania, founded in 1837, more than 20 years before the Civil War. It and the schools that followed have furnished the type of learning that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would describe over a century later as “Intelligence plus character -- the goal of true education.”
The path has not been an easy one throughout the long 150-year history for your institutions. And your students, your faculty, your professors have stood firm through a transformational time in the life of the nation and been a part of that transformation in countless ways.
You've transformed lives through education. You've helped lead our country toward a more perfect union. And just know the President and I and all the members of our administration appreciate and admire the contribution of our historically black colleges and universities. Would you just give yourselves a round of applause? It is a history to be proud of. (Applause.)
Today, with over 100 historically black colleges and universities in 19 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, hundreds of thousands of African American students have turned to you for quality education, including, I’m told, more than 300,000 students as we speak today. (Applause.)
Even more inspiring than that, I am told that many of those students were the first in their family to go to college. My dad was in that category and went off to college and raised each one of us kids with that finger pointed in the middle of our chest. (Laughter.) You know what I’m talking about? I just don't ever remember a day that Dad didn't look at me and say, I don't care what you else you do with your life, but you're going to college. (Laughter.)
And those first generation college students transform families and they transform a nation. And we celebrate them and their role on your campuses even through this day. And throughout the history of your institutions when those first-time students graduated, they departed, degree in hand, prepared and determined to add their own unique brush stroke to the beautiful American tapestry and the legacy of African Americans.
And so many have in some many countless ways. They've done just that. If you think about it, nearly one in four African Americans with a bachelor’s degree graduated from your schools. (Applause.) This includes leaders in every industry in this country and in every walk of life. Forty percent of African American members of Congress -- as a former member of Congress, I’m happy to report 40 percent of African American members of Congress graduated from a historically black college and university. (Applause.)
The indisputable conclusion is that your schools have played a major role, not only in the African American community, but in the life of nation, and the life of the nation’s economy. And we really gather today to reflect on that and to celebrate that. And those gathered here from across our administration look forward to a dialogue with each one of you about how we can continue to strengthen the role that historically black colleges and universities play in the lives of families across this country and in the life of this nation.
America is unquestionably stronger because of the institutions that are represented here. And this evening, President Trump and I just wanted to express our thanks. As the President said in his recent radio address, your schools “do a fantastic job.” His words. (Laughter.) And you deserve far more credit than you get, and know that beginning today, this administration is committed to making sure that our historically black colleges and universities get the credit and the attention they deserve. (Applause.)
Our administration at the President’s direction is working to find new ways to expand your impact so that more students, especially in the underserved communities in this country, have the chance at a quality education. We want to partner with you. We want to partner with you to help train the students of today to face the challenges and to lead in America tomorrow.
This also requires us to help students at an even earlier age -- make no mistake about it. Secretary DeVos is dedicated to expanding opportunities through educational choice all across this country, ensuring that whether it’s a public school, a public charter school, or even a private school -- that parents on an increasing basis will have the ability to choose where their young children go to school regardless of their income and area code. And we're going to work with each one of you to make that a reality.
We're also going to be working on economic development, not only increasing educational opportunities but doing all we can to revitalize communities across this country -- large and small -- and create opportunities for students that will be joining you on your campuses.
We’re committed to this mission. As you've heard the President over the course of his campaign, and now you've seen him firsthand today, this President has a passion for equality of opportunity. He has a passion for expanding opportunities and the hopes and dreams of every American, including those in the African American community who are not yet experiencing the full range of benefits of the American Dream.
So get ready for a great and energetic partnership in the days ahead. As Frederick Douglass reminds us, education is the means -- or education means the lifting up of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth. Powerful words -- “uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth.” That's what your institutions have been about for now a century and a half in America.
And so I came to say thank you on behalf of the President of the United States. Thank you for all you do. Beyond the profound words that I quoted before, when I look at the role of historically black colleges and universities, I can't help but think of even more ancient words that: If you train up a child in the way they should go, then after they’re old, they’ll not depart from it.
The contributions of historically black colleges and universities for a century and a half in our nation’s history have trained up young men and women who have gone on to lead this nation and to lead us to a more prosperous and more perfect union. And our commitment to all of you and our hope and our prayer is that we're going to partner with you that that will be even more true; and your contribution and your influence in America will only grow in the years ahead.
Thank you very much. God bless you for your work. And thank you for coming today. (Applause.)
5:47 P.M. EST