Even as he extolled the legacy of historically Black colleges and universities, President Donald Trump (R) evoked nationalist sentiments at the National HBCU Week Conference that initially garnered him overwhelming support among white conservatives.
In his Tuesday afternoon address, Sept. 10, before HBCU students, faculty and community members, Trump framed his administration’s recent overtures to African Americans as part of an endeavor to reverse economic policies that favored other countries and disenfranchised U.S. citizens.
“We want to help each student have the experience needed to get a tremendous job, enjoy a rewarding career and join our great, big national effort to rebuild America,” Trump said at the Renaissance Hotel in Northwest, where the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities hosted the conference between Sept. 8 and 11.
In his speech, Trump acknowledged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Jonathan Holifield, executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Bowie State University President Dr. Aminta Breaux and a slew of other HBCU officials and leaders of nonprofits.
In moments that brought some applause, Trump highlighted an executive order that moved the federal HBCU initiative back to the White House and a recent Supreme Court ruling that deemed restrictions on financial assistance for religious institutions unconstitutional.
“Fierce dedication to strengthening historically Black colleges and universities is a core part of my administration’s unwavering focus on the project of national renewal,” Trump told audience members in his 30-minute address. “We’re working every day to make decisive decisions to avoid the failures of our past […] made by politicians in both parties who put the needs of other countries and special interest before Americans.”
President Trump’s remarks came amid concerns about a trade war with China, a slip in his approval ratings and the fallout from his clashes with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and the four nonwhite, female members of “The Squad.”
In April, the Trump administration unveiled the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council as a means of tackling issues affecting Americans of the least means. The council brought forth the tenets of what’s touted as the Opportunity and Revitalization Plan. On Tuesday, a Black Trump administration official said one of these initiatives, named opportunity zones, will attract private investment and boost economic prosperity, not just African Americans, but all people living in underserved American communities.
“It’s not just economic development, it’s community development,” said Scott Turner, executive director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council.
“Poverty is in the Black community and white community,” he said. “It’s urban, rural and suburban. We’ve been to 38 cities and I’ve seen the worst. Poverty doesn’t care what you look like or where you come from. Revitalization has no color or party. It starts in the heart of every man and woman.”