Official Statement from HBCU President Dr. Kevin Cosby Regarding His Controversial Tweet Commenting on Deion Sanders’ Exit from Jackson State University (HBCU)
Recently, on Twitter, I made the comment that I hope Deion Sanders “fails” in his move from HBCU Jackson State University to the University of Colorado, Boulder. My statement was not intended to disparage or to wish ill will upon Deion on a personal level. When I said, “I hope he fails,” I was using “he” in the plural sense and not in the singular. The “he” I was referring to is the entire system of inequity that prevents black institutions such as HBCUs from competing with predominantly white institutions. I know from personal experience the impact that the “Deion effect” has upon HBCUs. I am blessed to be the only president in American history to restore an HBCU from the ground up. During Simmons resurgence, I was constantly told by many among our city’s leadership that HBCUs are not needed, or that they are inferior, “second chance” schools for black kids who cannot make it at predominantly white institutions.
When Deion told his players in his farewell address that coaches are either “terminated or elevated,” such language buys into the notion that leaving predominantly black space to work in predominantly white space is an elevation. Such language reinforces the myth of white supremacy and black inferiority. Even if Deion meant that the elevation to Colorado is a financial and visibility elevation for him, that begs the question, “Why can’t black institutions experience the same type of elevation?” The answer lies in the resource and wealth disparity that exists between the black and white communities.
Black people are 13% of the population but possess less than 3% of wealth in the United States. White Americans are 60% of the population and control 90% of the wealth. This wealth disparity is reflected in every area of life, including HBCUs. The top ten predominantly white U.S. colleges and universities have a combined endowment of around $333 billion. The top ten HBCUs have a combined endowment of around $2.2 billion. When it comes to a bidding war for the best students, coaches, and scholars, $2.2 billion cannot compete with $333 billion.
The reason the black community does not have wealth to compete is not because of what the black community has failed to do. Rather, we are the victims of centuries of economic oppression and exclusion through enslavement, Jim Crow, redlining, benign neglect, and present-day political indifference. HBCUs suffer, not because we don’t have competency, character, and capacity, as is often alleged; but rather, it is because HBCUs don’t have cash, connections, and considerations. With limited resources HBCUs are achieving amazing results. HBCUS are just 3% of the colleges and universities in the United States, yet they graduate approximately 25% of blacks with a baccalaureate degree. Fifty percent of all black school teachers are trained at an HBCU.
As a black man who has lived my entire adult life in some of the poorest areas of the black community, I believe the number one problem with the black community is that we don’t know what the number one problem is with the black community. Some conservatives vet the problem as one of morality and values, while liberals often reduce it to the lack of social integration. I submit that the problem of the black community is the breakdown of our community’s social infrastructure through the collapse of black institutions. Just as a strong physical infrastructure, such as railways, roads, bridges, and airports, bring goods and services to communities, social infrastructure brings in hope, opportunities, and bridges out of poverty and despair.
The dilemma in any attempt to rebuild black institutional space is the minute black institutions successfully recruit a gifted person like Deion, white wealth and dollars often lure them away to predominantly white institutions in the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Black institutions are then blamed for being underdeveloped. Black communities are stigmatized for not developing black excellence when the institutions that are needed to attain black excellence are under resourced.
Recently, our women’s basketball team played against Bellarmine University. Despite this being the program’s first year at Simmons, our players competed against a Division I program that was four levels above them. The game was played at Freedom Hall. When Simmons College plays its games, the only venue we have available is the St. Stephen Baptist Church gym. Simmons has no student center, food services, or student housing. Only because of the graciousness of Spaulding University, the students that come from 28 states to matriculate at Simmons are allowed to use their student housing.
So, when I say I want “Deion to fail” what I want to fail is not Deion personally, but rather the hemorrhaging of black institutional space. What I want to fail is the myth of black inferiority and white superiority. What I want to fail is the one-way, unilateral integration that says, “to be legitimate or elevated, blacks must enter white space, but if whites enter black space, it is a downgrade.” What I want to fail is the continued economic deprivation of black institutions that are resource-deprived because of the continued legacy of past and present discrimination.
In summary, the future of the black community can be no stronger than its institutions and services. The contemporary catch phrase of integration is “diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I submit that a more effective method to achieving black excellence is to DE-ICE—by adding capitalization and economics into the equation. Only by DE-ICEing the resources and pouring them into black institutional space can the masses who are trapped in communities that Martin Luther King, Jr. described—in a speech he gave in Louisville, Kentucky on August 2, 1967—as, “pinned in, hemmed in, and we can’t get out” (make progress).
Strong black institutions located in the black community is the black community’s way out because black institutions are a beachhead to a community in need of resources. Black excellence depends on investment into black institutions rather than the extracting black talent to serve in predominantly white institutions.