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U.S. Education Sec. Miguel Cardona, HBCU Leaders Meet in Birmingham

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U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin met with leaders from most of Alabama’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on Thursday. (Ryan Michaels, The Birmingham Times)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona met with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and leaders from most of Alabama’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on Thursday.

“We had a wonderful conversation … to see how we can support [HBCUs] better as they punch above their weight and prepare today and tomorrow’s leaders. It’s special to do it in this amazing [BCRI] that we can learn a lot from,” Cardona said.

At the meeting were representatives of nine Alabama HBCUs, including: Miles College, Fairfield; Lawson State Community College, Birmingham; Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, Huntsville; Alabama State University, Montgomery and Stillman College, Tuscaloosa.

Cardona said he heard from HBCU representatives that while they have appreciated increased federal funding, their institutions still have needs and less funding than primarily white institutions.

“The message [from HBCU leaders] is, ‘Thank you, but also, we are still working twice as hard to get our students prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow,'” Cardona said.

“We want [HBCUs] to have the same access to some of the grants that are available, some of the contracts that are available, and that’s what I needed to hear from them directly,” said the Education Secretary.

Miles College President Bobbie Knight, J.D. said Cardona’s visit shows that the Biden administration stands with Alabama HBCUs.

“I firmly believe that having an Education Secretary who is intentional in his efforts is crucial to our mission of providing equal opportunities for all,” said Knight. “His commitment is evident as he sat today with Alabama HBCUs and HBCCs Presidents and Representatives. Thus, we have a genuine partner in Washington, D.C., who is dedicated to assisting us as we empower and equip tomorrow’s leaders. Together, we will create a brighter future for our children and our country.”

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision to end race-conscious admissions at institutions of higher learning more Black students are seeking out HBCUs, meaning the institutions will need even more support, Cardona said.

“What we’re noticing is many of our Black students are looking at HBCUs as a place where they can go and be themselves and not have to deal with some of the not-so-covert attacks on Black curriculum, or equity in general,” he said.

In general, HBCUs are places of refuge for many young people across the nation, he added.

“HBCUs are that light of hope for many students who look around our country and say, ‘Wow, it doesn’t look like I’m welcome there. It doesn’t look like they see my values and see what I bring to the table.'” Cardona said.

On top of listening to the needs of HBCU leaders, Cardona said he heard much about the successes of HBCUs in Alabama.

“We heard about dual enrollment programs. We heard about how they’re bringing students from different areas and providing counseling and giving them opportunities for success, so it was an opportunity, also, to hear the great work that they’re doing,” Cardona said.

Cardona, who will also visit the National Association of Black Journalists conference in Birmingham on Friday, said “it’s beautiful to see the history and the Black excellence that I’ve seen so far, and it’s really important that as an administration, we continue to support the great work of HBCUs and share what we’re doing to make sure we continue to lift education as a pathway to prosperity for our country.”