After 33 days of protest, 20 days of behind-the-scenes negotiations and seemingly endless visits from alumni, public figures and politicians, the Blackburn Takeover has reached its end with students’ demands met by the Howard University (HU) administration.
Blackburn Takeover leaders, donning HU apparel and cool demeanors, joined attorney and HU alumnus Donald Temple on Monday, Nov. 15, to reveal that they, in conjunction with HU President Wayne A.I. Frederick and others, completed a memorandum of understanding which realizes the goals of the protest.
“While the terms of the specific agreement are confidential, it can be said without any hesitation and reservation that the students courageously journeyed on a path toward greater university accountability, transparency and public safety,” Temple said. “This agreement marks a meeting of the minds between them regarding the issues of concern.”
Over the last few weeks, student protesters representing The Live Movement, HU’s Young Democratic Socialists of America, HU NAACP and others increasingly found support among their peers, faculty and staff, alumni and public figures.
D.C. Council members Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) made visits. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) acknowledged students in a tweet. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, The Rev. William Barber II and actress Debbie Allen, in appearances at the Blackburn University Center, also offered words of encouragement.
Toward the end of the protest, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, an HU alumnus and onetime student protester, also expressed support for the Blackburn Takeover. National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) President and CEO Dr. Benjamin Chavis, as expressed on a recent broadcast of NNPA’s “Let It Be Known,” had been scheduled to meet with Frederick last Friday.
The student-led protest, HU’s longest ever, started on the night of Oct. 12 at the culmination of a student-led town hall during which students spoke against the removal of student, faculty and alumni positions on HU’s board of trustees.
Other issues discussed involved what students described as HU’s sluggish response to a rat infestation and the growth of mold in campus dormitories.
Though Frederick initially called for an end to Blackburn protests, he later acknowledged HU’s housing issues in his State of the University address and explained the administration’s responses, including a hyper care program that students decried as ineffective.
In a statement Monday, Frederick lauded the agreement as a “welcome step forward.”
“The health and well-being of our students is the most important part of my job as president,” he said. “As I have said before, even one issue in one of our dormitories is too many, and we will continue to remain vigilant in our pledge to maintain safe and high-end housing.”
In the months leading up to the protest, HU made headlines for record post-quarantine enrollment, a large contribution from Mackenzie Scott, former wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and the administration’s move to wipe out balances for students meeting a certain level of need.
The university community also clinched award-winning authors Ta-Nehisi Coates and Nikole Hannah-Jones, along with actress Phylicia Rashad to serve as faculty members.
Coates and Hannah-Jones didn’t respond to The Informer’s request for comment about the protest. But in a video that has gone viral, Rashad criticized Blackburn Takeover leaders, saying that they had kept the protest going even as negotiations took place.
At its inception, the Blackburn Takeover centered on the reinstatement of auxiliary board of trustee positions, collaboration with students on a plan to address housing issues and Frederick’s agreement to meet in person with the student body. Amid battles with security guards and accusations that administrators threatened Divine Nine organizations, those demands expanded to include amnesty for students who participated in the protests.
With the protest behind them, students have revealed their intentions to consult with students at some of the more than 100 HBCU campuses across the U.S. facing similar problems.
In the interim, Channing Hill, an HU junior and head of the campus’s NAACP chapter, said the memorandum of understanding ushers in a new chapter for HU students and community members long concerned, and frustrated with, administration’s unwillingness to listen to students.
“We won for Howard students, historic and future Howard University and our community. We challenged the lack of accountability, the lack of safety and even [threats] to our ability to stay here,” Hill said.
“Hopefully after I graduate, I can matriculate to Howard Law and we won’t have the same issues because today is a new day for Bison everywhere,” she continued. “Tomorrow the struggle continues but we got what we came for. We got increased transparency and accountability and by virtue of this protest, we garnered everything we are entitled to.”