Stories & Commentaries

Oakwood President Shares His Experience at HBCU Meeting at White House, Explains Importance

The following has been edited from an email letter Leslie N. Pollard, Oakwood University president, sent to students, constituents, and friends of the university after a Feb. 27, 2017, White House meeting he attended with other HBCU representatives. Click here to read the full Oakwood University online version.

"But Dr. Pollard, why did you go?" asked some of our students. To make it so simple it could not be misunderstood, I answered that question in three words: “Because I'm fighting."

Here's what I mean. I plan to seize on every opportunity I get to advocate for resources to flow back in support of Oakwood University's unique mission. Whether it is during our "Oakwood on the Road" trips, or when I am visiting with individual donors, or planning the strategic direction for the campus, every single day God sends me and finds me — and hundreds of others — advocating and fighting for Oakwood University and its mission.

As I was making my decision about the pros and cons of attending the meetings in Washington, after President Trump's administration extended the invitation to HBCUs to spend the final day of Black History Month in dialogue with his senior representatives, I recalled one of my favorite leadership sayings:"If we are not at the table, our agenda is not on the table."I believe that my job is to make sure that Oakwood's agenda is always on the table — in Huntsville, Alabama, in Silver Spring, Maryland, and yes, in Washington, D.C.

Going to the White House also signified a chance for Oakwood University to represent all of Seventh-day Adventist higher education. As an HBCU (Historically Black College or University), Oakwood, along with 101 other treasured institutions, holds a place of esteem in national consciousness. Every year, we are invited to the White House Conference on HBCUs. Were it not for Oakwood, the 12 other Adventist higher education institutions in the United States in many ways might remain largely invisible to the gaze of our White House colleagues.

I am grateful that our church owns and operates an HBCU. I say this without pride of place, but as acknowledgement of God's wisdom in handing to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America in 1896 an HBCU, which is committedly Seventh-day Adventist. On many occasions I have the opportunity to chat with White House officials or Department of Education members about the educational work of Seventh-day Adventists in North America and around the world. While fighting for Oakwood, I am (we are) also fighting for Adventist higher education.

The suggestion to move the HBCU liaison into the White House to report to a senior advisor to the President was executed in the Executive Order on HBCUs on February 28. I would suggest that you read this order carefully, because it will provide the parameters for how the Trump administration will support historically Black colleges and universities. Click here to read the "Presidential Executive Order on the White House Initiative to Promote Excellence and Innovation at Historically Black Colleges and Universities."

As a president of an HBCU, I, along with other HBCUs and the UNCF (United Negro College Fund), will continue working with local and state elected officials and the President's administration to strengthen and fund the mission of HBCUs. Stay tuned; and click here to read the March update.

— Leslie N. Pollard, Oakwood University president