Harry C. Alford

By Harry C. Alford

NNPA Columnist 

History is full of great dreamers.  The United States has certainly prospered from some of the greatest.  Blacks can certainly be especially proud of one of the greatest dreamers ever.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that mankind can live together without prejudice and inequality.  He made this nation deliver its promise of democracy for all.  Some of us came willingly and with great joy while others resisted and came kicking and screaming.  But we all came and the world is better for that.

Booker T. Washington was another great dreamer.  He believed that in order to be free one must first become educated.  When he got his chance to enroll in what is now Hampton University, about 180 miles from his home, he went.  He had no funding for travel so he walked – all the way.  That is a good example of this champion’s determination.

After evolving from slavery to a free, educated person, he sought to promote education even further.  He went to rural Tuskegee, Ala. and built Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University.  Students had little or no money for tuition so he bartered their manual labor for tuition and book fees.  The students built the campus from dirt to a distinguished college.  Even the furniture was built by the students.  From there he went on to promote entrepreneurship with the founding of the National Negro Business League.  A great dreamer indeed.

When I was growing up in Oxnard, Calif., there was a wicked program in place.  It was called the Bracero program.  Bracero is Spanish for laborer.  Major farmers would transport workers from Mexico.  They would house them in shabby wooden barracks and work them every day for a pittance.  It was near slavery.  Then came a man who had a dream about workers being paid fairly for their toil.  He was Cesar Chavez, who decided to do something about it.  He organized people of like minds and marched into Oxnard with the mission to take down the Bracero program.  He did and started the union movement in agriculture.  Many families are indebted to this champion for humanity.

There was a dreamer that most of you know little about.  B. Roberto Cruz realized, like Booker T. Washington, that in order for his people (Hispanics) to realize their full potential in America, they must cherish education.  He was shocked that so few Hispanics were attending American colleges and universities.  During this period he realized that Blacks were not waiting for typical American colleges and universities to diversify.  They populated the nation with historically Black colleges and universities – HBCUs.  These schools were producing most of the prominent and successful Blacks in our country.  So, he decided to establish a model Hispanic university.

He established the National Hispanic University in 1981 and originally based it in Oakland, Calif. to increase the amount of educated Hispanics and to inspire other entities to do the same.  He really liked the models of Spelman College and Howard University.  In 1990, his university started another campus in nearby San Jose.  Shortly after that he expanded his facility in Oakland.  In 1994, he merged both campuses into a new campus in San Jose. This former Stanford University professor was on a roll.

In 2002, the National Hispanic University received full accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).  This is the first and only Hispanic school to achieve this distinction.  Three months later,  Cruz died after a battle with cancer.  According to California Assemblyman Manny Diaz, “His dedication to providing a high level of educational opportunities for all, especially ethnic minorities and disadvantaged students, is evident in the legacy he left behind.”

With the loss of Cruz fundraising for the university started to decline.  Eventually in 2010, the school became a member of the Laureate International Universities network – a power house with 100 campuses in 21 nations.  Laureate is a for-profit network.  In normal times, this would appear to be a great thing.  But “oh the wolves are of another mind.”  The “wolf” in this case is the U.S. Department of Education, which has demonstrated a hatred against for-profit schools.  Why?  Basically most are union free and the current administration has a mission to unionize every segment of the U.S. economy, including schools.

Their weapon is to implement the “Gainful Employment Rule” which would eliminate over half of all for-profit schools.  We stopped them from doing this in 2010 but now they are coming back for another try.  In the interim they attacked this historical and successful Hispanic University.  Last spring, they declared the Liberal Arts division of the school inferior (despite their top accreditation) and cancelled all financial aid to those students.  With 25 percent of their enrollees unable to finance their education the school is financially damaged and has announced closing after the spring semester in 2015.  Where is the outrage?

Harry C.  Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®.  Website: www.nationalbcc.org.  Email: halford@nationalbcc.org


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