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Do HBCU Alumni Associations Need A Big Frying Pan?


This article is a speech given by the late President Emeritus Dr. A.I. Thomas (pictured below) in 2007 to the Prairie View A&M University National Alumni Association. Dr. Thomas was the longest serving president in Prairie View A&M University history and arguably its greatest. The speech has been altered to address all HBCU alumni associations, but at the time was given to the Prairie View A&M National Alumni Association. His vision for the scale and power HBCU alumni associations could wield remains unprecedented – and still unimplemented. Dr. Thomas understood both the power of institutionalism and the importance of Pan-Africanism as a means to empowerment and liberation for African America and the African Diaspora. His speech is the full embodiment of those ideals and values from which he presided, believed, and lived to the fullest during his life. Hopefully, shining light on his words will reignite the flame that needs to and must burn for not only our survival, but our success.

By Dr. A.I. Thomas, President Emeritus – Prairie View A&M University

Since I am speaking to you at a luncheon meeting, it seems appropriate that I ask, “Do HBCU National Alumni Associations Need a Big Frying Pan?”

Surely, you have heard the story of the HBCU Alumni who were fishing on the lake. One of the HBCU Alumni noticed that every time his classmate caught a little fish, he placed it in his take home basket. Whenever his classmate caught a big fish, he threw the big fish back into the lake. After watching his classmate put about twelve little fish in his take home basket and threw about twelve big fish back into the lake, he asked his classmate, “Why do you always throw the big fish back into the lake?” His friend announced with a knowing smile, “Ray, I don’t keep the big fish because I only have a small frying pan.”

Members of HBCU National Alumni Associations, I am sure that you would agree that it may be time for Ray to get a big frying pan or get a big skillet.

  • Yes, it is important to have a dance. It fits a little skillet.
  • Yes, it is important to have a party. It fits a little frying pan.
  • Yes, it is important to have a golf tournament. It fits a little frying pan.
  • Yes, it is important to have a bus tour. It fits a little frying pan.
  • Yes, it is important to have this luncheon. It fits a little frying pan.

Let me encourage you to consider at least five big fish for your HBCU National Alumni Association.

For these five big fish, HBCU National Alumni Associations will need a big frying pan or a big skillet. Let us quit throwing the big fish back into the lake of opportunity.

The first big fish HBCU National Alumni Associations should place in a big skillet, in the years ahead is the creation of a:

think tank

Within the membership of HBCU National Alumni Associations there are some of the brightest minds in the nation.

There is a need to bring together not more than 50 people and have them “think out” an agenda for the future of HBCU National Alumni Associations.

Tavis Smiley has laid out a: Covenant with Black America.

The Urban League has laid out the State of Black America 2019.

William D. Wright has laid out what he believes in: “Crisis of the Black Intellectual.”

“Think Tank” is a term that has gained popularity since the 1950s.

Each day you hear ideas from more than 25 “Think Tanks” which are mentioned in the mainstream news. These “Think Tanks” have programs which give direction to the ideas of each group.

Conservative “Think Tanks” lay out their programs and ideas

  • American Enterprise Institute
  • Heritage Foundation

Liberal “Think Tanks” lay out their programs and ideas

  • Brookings Institute
  • Economic Policy Institute

Non-Partisan “Think Tanks” lay out their programs and ideas

  • The Cato Institute
  • The Ayn Institute

There are governing “Think Tanks”, Chinese, European, Russian, and other international “Think Tanks.”

Each one of these “Think Tanks” lays out its philosophy, purpose, strategic plan, and road map for the future. A “Think Tank” then gets its supporters behind its programs.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia web site states, “A Think Tank is an organization, institute, corporation, or group that conducts research advocacy for a central purpose.”

HBCU National Alumni Associations must create a “Think Tank” to:

  1. Guide its future;
  2. Centralize its philosophy, mission, purpose, goals, and programs;
  3. Develop consensus in its membership;
  4. Influence the power structure to accept its programs; and
  5. Give orderly direction to the growth and development of the HBCU National Alumni Association.

The results of the “Think Tank” would establish a clear direction to foundations, politicians, financial power brokers, legislators, etc.

The Second “Big Fish” recommendation for HBCU National Alumni Associations is

CAPITALISM

We live in a capitalistic society. All of us must understand money. The value of money! The use of money!

Each of you know the value of a little money – over the years, all of you have acquired some money, many of you have acquired “Big Money.” The National Alumni Associations must begin to understand the value of owning, acquisition, and the ability to access “Big Money.”

Consideration should be given to the development of your HBCU National Alumni Association Financial Group.

Most of the alumni in this room have at least $10,000 or more conveniently resting in money market accounts at low interest rates. Some of you have $10,000 or more earning less than 1% in checking accounts. Using highly qualified financial counselors or advisors, 100 members of the Alumni Association could be issued $10,000 guaranteed membership certificates in the HBCU National Alumni Association Financial Group. Immediately, the HBCU National Alumni Association would have an equity position of $1,000,000. This million dollar equity position could be leveraged into a $20,000,000 position to: 1) underwrite real estate, 2) owning a pasta factory, 3) venture capital or other financial ventures. If there were not so many hardcore Baptists in the audience, I would recommend a $20,000,000 Wild Turkey Whiskey or Johnny Walker Scotch distributorship. In five  years this $20,000,000 could be leveraged into a $100,000,000 equity position. For this $100,000,000 fish HBCU National Alumni will need a big frying pan.

The second recommendation  for the use of a “big frying pan” is to develop an on-line fund-raising program. Most of you are familiar with what Governor Howard Dean did with on-line fund raising program in the 2004 Presidential Election Campaign. He went after $5 and $10 contributions from the small contributors. Barack Obama is a leader in the current political campaign using on-line fund raising. This on-line fund-raising is driving the current political campaigns into the largest bounty in the history of the United States political fund raising.

A $10,000 investment to construct a high quality alumni web site promoting the value of higher education for African-American youth would reach alumni, ex-students, and individuals interested in helping youth go to college.

Ten thousand alumni plus ten thousand hits from non-alumni would be 20,000 contributors. If these 20,000 contributed an average $100 per donor, HBCU National Alumni Associations would need a frying pan big enough to hold $2,000,000.

Get industry to match the $2,000,000 from individual donors and your HBCU National Alumni Association would need a big frying pan to fry this fish.

Alumni and others interested in the education of  youth and in HBCUs could be encouraged to give a $25 per month bank draft. Ten thousand bank drafts at $25 per person is $25,000 per month or $300,000 per year.

This is Capitalism. This is the American Way. The day of the nickel cup of coffee  is over, never to come again. Starbucks is selling coffee for $1.85 and is making a fortune from a global customer base.

These are only two ideas relating to “Capitalism.” HBCU National Alumni Associations will be able to develop many more and better ideas related to “Capitalism.”

The third “Big Fish” recommendation HBCU National Alumni Associations must consider is

RESPONSIBILITY FOR COMMUNITY

40 years ago, the Kerner Report identified “Two Americas, Separate but Unequal.” 

When Katrina moved the waters of Lake Pontchartrain into the below sea level bowl in New Orleans, we saw the two Americas. We saw individuals, families, and communities like the Ninth Ward, made up of blacks, Hispanics, and whites driven from hidden dens of poverty into the depths of despair. We saw city, state, and federal officials fail to respond to the needs of the “unequal” communities.

Dr. Ron Walters, an African American Social Scientist at the University of Maryland published a paper titled, “No. 1 Statistics on Blacks in the United States.” Among his No. 1 conditions are:

  • No. 1 in the poverty rate
  • No. 1 in the rate of incarceration
  • No. 1 in victims of homicide
  • No. 1 in victims of hate crimes
  • No. 1 in mortgage denial rates
  • No. 1 in obesity and diabetes rates
  • No. 1 in teachers in neighborhood classrooms with less than three years experience
  • No. 1 in receiving the death sentence
  • No. 1 in the unemployment line
  • No. 1 in suspensions and expulsions
  • No. 2 in percentage of Americans without health care
  • No. 1 in teenage pregnancy
  • No. 1 in HIV among black women
  • No. 1 in still born deaths

You ask…How can we get to be No. 1 in the positive aspects of community? The response maybe in how we got to be

  • No. 1 in collegiate basketball
  • No. 1 in pro basketball with 20 year old players making millions of dollars
  • No. 1 in pro football
  • No. 1 in Hip Hop music
  • No. 1 in the music industry

Tavis Smiley recently published a New York Times Best Seller, entitled, “The Covenant.” He listed ten key concerns:

  1. Securing the right to health care and well being
  2. Quality education for all children
  3. Correcting the System of Unequal Justice
  4. Fostering Community Policing
  5. Access to Affordable Neighborhoods
  6. Claiming our Democracy
  7. Strengthening Our Roots
  8. Access to Jobs
  9. Environmental Justice
  10. Closing the Racial Divide

Smiley quotes Dr. Cornel West, “You can’t lead our people if you don’t love our people. You can’t save our people if you won’t serve our people.”

The State of Black America 2007, published by The National Urban League, focused on 10 essays on the plight of young men.

With almost 40% of young black men unemployed of incarcerated, where was the focus on the recent debates by the 20 Democrats and Republicans actively running for President in 2008.

Do HBCU National Alumni Associations need a “big frying pan” in order to positively impact communities? Can HBCU National Alumni Associations join with each other and other groups, such as the Urban League, NAACP, 100 Black Men, and other interested organizations to deal with this “Big Fish”? Do we expect the Jewish Community to fry this fish for us? Do we expect the Hispanic Community to fry this fish for us? Do we expect the Chinese, Indian, Korean, and Vietnamese Communities to fry this fish for us?

Do we need to get our own big frying pan and begin to fry our own “Big Fish”?

The renowned black labor leader, A. Phillip Randolph once said:

“At the banquet table of life, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take and keep what you can hold. If you can’t take anything, you won’t get anything. And if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything. And you can’t take anything without organization.”

Randolph was right. Without organizations like HBCU National Alumni Associations, black folk will never able to take, keep, or hold onto anything, much less the hard fought gains that we have struggled to achieve.

The responsibility of HBCU National Alumni Associations must also extend beyond the city, state, and nation. I am sure each one of you has read Thomas Friedman’s book, The World Is Flat. We no longer live in the Houston or Carthage Community, the Texas or California Community, or the United States Community. Each one of us is wearing clothes made outside of the U.S.A. We are eating food imported from the world or from international communities.

Why not get involved in building communities in Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Ghana. Why not the Bahamas? Why not Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, or Haiti?

Examples of the understanding of “Capitalism” and “Responsible for Community” are reflected in the efforts of the Pyramid Community Development Corporation, Inc., a Houston organization under the leadership of Rev. KirbyJon Caldwell and a membership organization, in Jamaica, New York, led by Dr. Floyd Flake out of Houston’s Acres Homes Area.

The Pyramid Community Development Corporation, Inc. leveraged its funds with local and national banks. Together with corporate gifts, the result was a major shopping center anchored by a Fiesta Grocery Store. The shopping center has grown near twenty smaller store units. They Pyramid Community Development Corporation, Inc. developed The Power Center Building which includes a large banquet hall and professional offices. The group established the Imani School, a Texas Charter School.

The Pyramid Community Development Corporation, Inc. also developed one of the largest residential villages consisting of over two hundred housing units, each appraised from $125,000 to $225,000. The Pyramid Community Development Corporation, Inc. had a big frying pan and demonstrated an understanding of capitalism and responsibility to the community.

Dr. Flakes secured a “big frying pan” in Jamaica, New York. Understanding capitalism and the responsibility for empowering community, his group acquired an entire city block of property which was turned into a shopping strip. His group also developed an education academy.

One of the most pressing problems facing our nation is the energy crisis. HBCU National Alumni Associations working with respective HBCUs could develop the HBCU Energy Research Institute. The institute could conduct research in agriculture, water, wind, business, etc. The institute could conduct research anywhere in the world, in Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, or Kenya. The HBCU Energy Research Institute could lease 20,000 acres of land in Louisiana or Brazil and create ethanol from sugar cane. It could grow switch grass in Africa. It could collect algae from the Atlantic Ocean.

It would be truly wonderful to have such a research institute based in Liberia. This would certainly help the economic recovery of Liberia, the nation of our forefathers.

The organizations which make these types of efforts work do not have the little skillets. They have big frying pans. I encourage you to keep the little pans for parties, dances, golf tournaments, conventions, etc. Can we dare to get some big frying pans and during the next twenty years make a “big difference?”

If you truly understand capitalism, you know that HBCU National Alumni Association members would not necessarily be workers in these projects. The HBCU National Alumni Associations would control capital which hires leadership and management talent to execute each project for the Association.

The fourth “Big Fish” we need to catch certainly needs a “big skillet” or “frying pan”.

INCREASING AFRICAN AMERICAN PROFESSIONALS

The HBCU National Alumni Associations must take on the responsibility for replacing African American professionals.

African American professionals are declining each year due to age and death.

Who is responsible for replacing the African American Educators, namely, University Presidents, Professors, Superintendents, High School Principals, Vice Principals, and teachers?

Qualified professionals are being imported into the United States from countries all around the world: Nurses from the Philippines, Scientist from Europe, and Engineers from India.

HBCU National Alumni Associations should take on the responsibility of increasing:

  1. Health Professionals (Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists, and Dentist,) How many podiatrists are in your community? There are less than 40 African American podiatrist in Texas for a Texas population of 23,507,783 (2007).
  2. Lawyers (Corporate, Immigration)
  3. Bankers (Investment Bankers & Owners)
  4. Professional Trained Ministers
  5. Engineers and Architects
  6. City Planners
  7. Biologists
  8. Physicists
  9. Agricultural Scientists
  10. Agricultural Economists
  11. Military Personnel
  12. Diplomats
  13. Other Professionals

I wish to close with a final suggestion for the need of a big skillet or frying pan.

Perpetuation of HBCU National Alumni Associations by recruiting African American students to attend HBCUs and African American Faculty to work at HBCUs. 

HBCU National Alumni Associations should assist their HBCU in recruiting qualified African American faculty. While diversity in ethnic background should be encouraged and maintained. HBCUs must not lose its historical identity. This identity is essential to maintain balance in the democracy. A pluralist balance in society gives strength to the democracy. Ethnic groups maintain loyalty to their own group identity. The University of Texas would lose its identity if the majority of its faculty came from Yale. The University of St. Thomas would lose its identity if the majority of its faculty came from non-Catholic institutions. Baylor University would lose its identity if the majority of its faculty came from the University of Punjab. HBCUs will lose its identity if the majority of its faculty is no longer African American.

There was a time when HBCUs could not pay competitive salaries. Faculty came to the HBCU because of loyalty to the philosophy of HBCUs. HBCUs are now paying competitive salaries. The demand for qualified African American faculty and administrators must be met by an active recruitment program of African American professionals.

While diversity is important, there is a need for a faculty and administration to carny on the spirit and traditions of HBCUs.

Recruitment has two parts: Faculty and Students

The HBCU National Alumni Associations must have a student recruitment program throughout their states in key cities and throughout the nation and world.

One of the most ciritical national needs is for professional nurses. HBCU Colleges of Nursing has space to graduate thousands of nurses per years, which is double its present graduation rate. HBCU National Alumni Associations ccould place student center recruiter teams in 50 city sites in each state and 40 in the nation and recruit 2 students from each site and the freshmen nursing enrollment would exceed thousands of students.

This model could be duplicated for recruiting:

  1. Engineers
  2. Elementary School Teachers
  3. Science Teachers
  4. Math Teachers
  5. Reading Teachers
  6. Business Majors
  7. Agriculture Majors
  8. Pre-Med Majors
  9. ROTC Graduates
  10. Others

To accomplish this task, the HBCU National Alumni Associations need a big frying pan – because we are talking about big fish.

There are many big fish which are available to HBCU National Alumni Associations in the economic, political, and other rivers, lakes, streams, and other human endeavor. I pray that each one of you and the entire HBCU National Alumni Association will reflect on this message and look forward to answering the question: “Do HBCU National Alumni Associations need a big skillet with a resounding … YES! I close this visit with the Productive People of HBCUs with two of my favorite statements.

I have given you my best thoughts. If perchance I may have offended anyone please forgive me.

If you have heard me and understood what I said, my words are reflected in the thoughts of Robert Frost when he stated.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves not step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence;

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

On your way home at the close of this convention, please get the biggest skillet you can buy. A big skillet will make a big difference in your life and in the life of the HBCU National Alumni Associations.

 

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The $6 Billion Delusion Of Grandeur: HBCU Alumni Refuse To Accept The Harsh Financial Reality Of HBCU Athletics


“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” – Bob Feller

It sometimes feels like there is no more irrational sector of HBCUs than athletics when it comes to HBCU alumni bases and administrations. We want to buy the Empire State Building, but barely have money for a night at Motel 6. If you have watched ESPN’s 30 for 30: The Pony Express and The U, then you probably do not need to go further in this article. For those who have not watched either, please do so immediately and continue to read. If cheap shots on the field bother you, then you are not at all ready for the brutality of what happens outside the lines and behind closed doors. College athletics is a contact sport, a dirty business, not for the faint of heart, and the cost associated with it remind us just how huge the institutional wealth gap is between HBCUs and our counterparts.

In 2014, HBCU Money produced an article that showed the SWAC/MEAC conferences were losing a combined $130 million in their member athletic programs. Two years later, that number had skyrocketed to $147 million. The members of the two conferences had combined expenses of approximately $194.1 million while revenues without subsidies were a meager $47 million. Of course most alumni have no idea that the subsidies that we speak of are primarily student fees. These subsidies accounted for a staggering $142.5 million or 75 percent of the athletic revenues that the SWAC/MEAC generated if you can call it such a thing. Subsidies or allocated as defined by the NCAA and others consider student fees, direct and indirect institutional support and state money “allocated,” or everything not generated by the department’s athletics functions. It is not clear however by the NCAA definition if booster giving is considered a subsidy or athletic functions. However at 75 percent of revenues what is clear is that it is not ticket sales, sponsorships, merchandise sales, media deals, etc., but primarily student fees driving HBCU athletic revenue.

For the majority of our students, that means additional cost onto their cost of attendance which is largely financed through – you guessed it – student loans. Essentially what rabid HBCU alumni and administrations have done is asked students to take out a loan for sports. A predatory payday loan at that. The irony is that even with the subsidies the two conferences still were losing money, approximately $5 million, meaning HBCU boosters were not even giving enough to breakeven. Many HBCU alumni hold dear to the belief that if you build it they will come (eventually), they being the abundance of riches that African American athletes pour into our white counterparts and if they return to HBCUs the power will tilt and so will the finances of sports back into our favor making our programs profitable and financially abundant. Never mind the harsh reality those mega television contracts we read about to the Power 5 have little to do with the athletes on the field and more about the fans in the seats and audience nationwide. Outside of the Bayou Classic, there is not one HBCU football or basketball game that could bring over 70,000 (Superdome’s capacity) to it and millions of viewers on television. The latter mainly due to it being a Thanksgiving weekend game and the game itself almost became something of a staple to watch in many African American households. Fan bases care about having the best players because they care about beating their rivals. Coaches care about having the best players because they want to keep their job. The fact that they are African Americans is a byproduct of a game played almost 50 years ago when USC beat Alabama with a young African American kid named Sam “Bam” Cunningham who “Bear” Bryant’s all-white team had no answer for so in true fashion they went out and got a few of their own. And the rest as they say is history, but the past echoing into the present is very real and the present’s echo into the future is also very real.

The question is as educated and critically thinking capable alumni, why are we not able to examine this subject in a rational and objective manner? Why are we not able to devise an actual plan that does not involve breaking the backs of our students? African Americans are already the poorest group by median income ($40,258 vs. $61,372 for all races) and median wealth ($11,030 vs. $134,230 for European Americans) in America and we want to make it that much harder for our graduates to become financially stable and wealthy in exchange for sports? Primarily, this accusation is lobbed at football and men’s basketball and the black financial holes that they are to the majority of the nation’s colleges. By far, they are the two costliest sports on any college campus, black or white.

Schools like the SWAC’s Prairie View A&M built a $60 million stadium and new athletic complex (uncertainty as to whether the school’s current renovation of their basketball arena is included or not) and Jackson State University at one point even had the gall to suggest a $200 million domed stadium complex. Yet, without subsidies Prairie View’s program lost $13.1 million in 2016-2017 and Jackson State lost $5.4 million. Meanwhile, Spelman College scrapped its athletic program six years ago. The former president, Dr. Beverly Tatum, “When considering our options, I learned that we only had 80 student-athletes and the cost of our program was approaching $1 million per year.” This against a reality of serving a college of African American women and as an ESPN article noted, “49 percent of African-American women over the age of 20 had heart diseases, and were twice as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes as non-Hispanic white women. The health issues that black women faced, including those at Spelman, were very much linked to diet and a lack of physical activity.” Spelman and its leadership wanted alumni to be healthy now and for the future. Health builds wealth is not just a saying but a real reality. Less days missed at work means more income earned, more money saved and invested, more wealth created, and more opportunity to give back to your alma mater. This is not even getting into the costs that many African Americans suffer from later in life because of poor lifestyle and diet which becomes so costly that there is little left at the end of life to even leave behind to their HBCU. Is Spelman sacrificing their athletic program today so that they can have wealthier alumni tomorrow who would be able to bring back the program and truly have it be sustainable? How much of a donation would it take to endow the $1 million annually to bring back their athletic program? Approximately $15-25 million.

Are we suggesting that all HBCUs follow Spleman’s lead? No, certainly not. There can be a happy medium, but first HBCU alumni need to truly understand the cost associated with major college sports, primarily football and men’s basketball. The harsh reality is that these are the only two sports at the college level that currently generate any significant revenue for colleges and unfortunately the cost to recruit in these two sports starts far before an athlete even gets to college. Recruiting for prized college basketball players for many college coaches starts in AAU middle school. Coaches from the basketball Power 5 conferences are constantly traveling year round and scouting talent that will not be college ready for four to five years in many instances. To say it is costly to follow an 8th grader around is an understatement, but if you do not do it, then you have almost no chance at seriously recruiting them (or their family) later on. HBCU alumni are not sponsoring or even mildly impacting the AAU financial machine, which can cost a family upwards of $5,000 for summer play and often times those costs are absorbed by a benefactor who maybe more akin to the Godfather and wants you to remember the favor he did for you later. Google AAU bribes and Google almost has a heart attack returning the amount of searches on the subject. When it comes to football, the situation has become just as complicated with the advent of the 7 on 7 leagues that have popped up all over the country. The cost spent on developing and “steering” young black boys as athletes begins early and costs tens of of millions annually – and we have not even gotten to the programs themselves yet. There is an enormous amount of dark money that is spent by athletic companies like Nike, Reebok, Adidas, etc. to ensure that the pup stars in both sports go to schools where they can maximize the exposure of the next superstar wearing their apparel. Of course, high school and AAU coaches receive perks for being the “voice of reason” to help influence many young men and advise their families on where would be best for them. Again, HBCU alumni and boosters barely have money to give to their own athletic programs, let alone “lobbying” to high school coaches with no guarantee of payoffs, but mandatory if you want to even be in the conversation. Then there are the facilities.

While Prairie View A&M spent $60 million on a stadium and athletic complex a few years ago, the University of Oregon was spending $68 million on a football performance center. Yes, Oregon built a building dedicated entirely to their football program and the state of Oregon changed the laws to accommodate the building that ran afoul of building codes because of the influence of Phil Knight, the founder and largest shareholder of Nike and the University of Oregon’s biggest booster. According to Oregon Live it includes, “offices, team video theaters, offensive and defensive strategy rooms, a coaching conference suite, a video editing center, a dining hall and a weight room.” Again, just for football. The Darth Vader to Prairie View A&M University’s Luke Skywalker for good measure, Texas A&M University, spent $450 million on a stadium renovation or eight times what the entirety of Prairie View’s athletic complex cost for a renovation to its stadium and now seats over 102,000 people. It has taken some HBCUs over 30 years to raise the money for even moderate renovations to their HBCU athletic facilities. Many are still waiting and some tired of waiting, increased student fees to redirect toward athletics. Colleges have to have the latest and greatest to attract the best athletes who are being treated as deities before even stepping foot on a college campus. College athletics has become an arms race of new facilities, high-paid coaches, under the table bags of money to recruits and so much more that spiral the cost beyond many of our wildest dreams. The rabbit hole is deep.

A few names and numbers:

Al Dunlap – $15 million. Paul Bryant, Jr. – $20 million. Phil Knight – $300 million. Christy Gaylord Everest – $18 million. Drayton McLane – $200 million. Herb Kohl – $25 million. Jack Vanier – $20 million. These are just six boosters that Mother Jones reported were major college boosters in an article in 2014. The six donations account for almost $600 million, an amount that is four times the size of the losses the SWAC/MEAC losses account for just a few years prior. Need even more perspective on how big these donations are? Aside from Prairie View A&M’s $17.9 million in expenses, those donations could cover the expenses of any SWAC or MEAC school in their singular. Phil Knight’s giving to the University of Oregon (since 2014 he has given another $200 million to Oregon) or Drayton McLane’s giving to Baylor University could cover the cost of every school in the SWAC and MEAC ($194.1 million) with money left over in the bank – by themselves. In comparison, HBCU Gameday recently reported that Winston-Salem State University was in the midst of a $250,000 athletic capital campaign with major donors coming from ESPN and WSSU alumnus, Stephen A. Smith, with a gift of $50,000 and Chris Paul, an NBA player whose 2018 salary was $25 million, giving a gift of $25,000. Large donations in HBCU athletic circles indeed, but making HBCUs competitive in recruitment among blue chips – not so much.

Unfortunately, there is no real repository of data on booster giving among colleges. Most of the information on the aforementioned boosters is from press clippings where donations to Power 5 conferences make headlines. In fact, a lot of giving becomes very opaque if we factor in boosters who provide jobs to athletes’ family members (remember Reggie Bush?) and the like. For the HBCU 5 conferences, there are not even press clippings, although if HBCU athletic and development departments wanted to disclose how much in donations were directed toward athletic programs from alumni it would be acutely helpful or create a database that sites like HBCU Money could use to give a fair analysis of the giving that is happening in HBCU athletic programs it would be greatly appreciated. However, again when 75 percent of the revenues come from student fees, it is not hard to know those numbers would be embarrassing and minuscule at best. And that brings us back to our problem of HBCU alumni who seem to be delusional about the true cost for building the type of athletic programs that can be self-sustaining and not breaking the back of students who in the future will not be able to give like they could and creating a vicious cycle of under giving to the institutions as a whole – all for the sake of sports.

The HBCU 5 athletic programs based on the SWAC and MEAC’s numbers, being Division 1 programs makes them inherently more expensive, brings all five conferences (SWAC, MEAC, CIAA, SIAC, & GCAC) total expenses to around an estimated $300 million annually. There are only two HBCUs with endowments above $300 million and we are possibly still a decade away from Howard University becoming the first HBCU to a $1 billion endowment. There are over 100 HWCUs with endowments over $1 billion. Around 90 percent of HBCUs do not even have endowments of $50 million. A startling statistic when you have schools trying to run athletic programs that cost $10 million plus annually. If HBCU alumni who truly cared about sports wanted to endow HBCU athletic programs with enough to generate the $300 million annually they would need to raise between $4 to $6 billion and hope they can find returns of almost 10 percent annually in an economic environment that is giving out low to mid single digit returns far more commonly. At 5 percent annual return, it would take $6 billion for HBCUs to get HBCU athletic programs off the backs and out of the pockets of its students and help reduce student debt loads. Almost 9 out of 10 HBCU graduates will finish with debt, 32 percent higher than the national average and a median debt load that is 40 percent higher than their counterparts at Top 50 endowed HWCUs. Is it worth it is a question any HBCU alumni and athletic boosters must ask themselves who cares about our institutions and the students who matriculate through them.

Wayne Gretzky is famously quoted as saying he was great because he skated where the puck was going not where it has been. HBCU alumni are bent on doing the exact opposite when it comes to athletics. Even if HBCU alumni could raise the $6 billion, it would be a fools’ decision to spend it on sports, mainly again football and men’s basketball. So why is an HBCU like Florida Memorial University selling $100 t-shirts to bring back its football program? Is it pressure from alumni? Is it an administration that wants it to be part of their legacy? The long-term implications of fielding a football program when Florida Memorial was moving towards a future of profitable athletic sports is baffling to say the least.

Little League sports statistics show that soccer is the future in this country, baseball is seeing a resurgence, and women’s sports is just scratching the surface of its potential globally. David Beckham, an international soccer megastar in his day and now the owner of the Miami MLS franchise, spent time at Florida Memorial just five years ago. Beckham’s is a relationship that should be leaned into and nurtured to put it mildly. Meanwhile, the pipeline for football is dwindling rapidly due to society’s fears over health concerns and yet, less than twenty HBCUs have soccer teams. HBCUs have all but abandoned baseball despite its resurgence in America and globally. Again, where the puck is and where is it going. This is to say nothing of the infancy that Esports is in, an industry that is estimated to breach a value of $1 billion in the next year according to the World Economic Forum coupled with prize money as high as $1 million for gamers in some tournaments and what feels like an exponential growth in sponsorships and endorsements. Esports is picking up so much steam it is being introduced in high school athletic programs and even some colleges are starting to offer Esports scholarships. There is not one of us who is over the age of 35 and under the age of 50 that does not remember a Madden tournament in the dorms of our HBCUs. We were early as we usually are, but completely missing the opportunity to leverage and be ahead of the curve.

HBCU alumni and athletic boosters need to have tougher conversations with themselves and with administrations. Read your HBCU’s financial reports for starters. A lot of this is poor financial literacy in that we do not know the cost of running our institutions, growing endowments, and sustaining an athletic program. We simply can not afford to buy high and sell low with HBCU athletics anymore. There is a happy medium and we need to have a honest conversation about it. Alumni and boosters need to understand the true cost of running our programs (something administrations need to be more transparent about) and not continue with the pie in the sky hope that African American high school athletes are just going to miraculously pick us. Zion Williamson, who had two parents attend Livingstone College still chose Duke University. There is a moat around football and men’s basketball and we need to accept that, but those two sports will not be the fountain of prosperity forever. Malcolm X said the future belongs to those who prepare for it today and it is time for us to start preparing like we need to cram for a final exam in the morning and our graduation depends on it.

Jay-Z’s Billionaire Ascension Highlights The Black-White Billionaire Wealth Gap In America


“I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say “Because of you I didn’t give up.” – Reginald F. Lewis

Forbes Magazine recently declared that Shawn Carter AKA Jay-Z AKA Hova officially has the net worth to enter billionaire status. We wonder if there will be a follow-up to 50 Cent’s I Get Money song that was remixed and called the Billionaire Remix or Forbes 1-2-3 where Jay-Z, Diddy, and 50 Cent who at the time were worth a combined $1 billion between the three of them. Now, Jay-Z can do the song all by himself. Unfortunately, while social media celebrated Mr. Carter’s new found billionaire status, it does open up an additional layer to the conversation on the racial wealth gap in America. Of course, no one who is a billionaire is going to garner sympathy from Main Street America, but the lack of African American billionaires certainly can be argued as a point of why there is continued institutional weakness among Main Street African America.

African Americans make up 15 percent of the American population, but of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans there are only three who make the cut – Mr. Carter is not one of those three. This amounts to less than 1 percent representation. According to the website, “The minimum net worth to join this exclusive club hit an all-time high of $2.1 billion while the average net worth for a Forbes 400 member rose half a billion to a record $7.2 billion.” The only three African Americans present on the Forbes 400 are Robert Smith, who recently made headlines by promising to pay off all of Morehouse’s 2019 class student loan debt. Then there is David Steward, a man who could walk into almost every room in African America and would not be recognized, but has made his $3 billion fortune through co-founding an information technology firm that is integrated in the highest levels of corporate and government. Lastly, Oprah Winfrey, who ironically is not even the wealthiest HBCU graduate but is the wealthiest African American HBCU graduate. It would take 60 African American billionaires with a net worth exceeding $2.1 billion to be representative according to our population’s percentage. Overall, there were 680 billionaires in the United States in 2018 and only four of those at the time were African American, Michael Jordan being the fourth who is also a recently minted billionaire and also is a case study in himself of just how astonishing the wealth gap is among African American and European American billionaires, but more on that later. The irony of representation for African Americans is that the United States in 2018 comprised almost 25 percent of the world’s billionaires despite being less than 5 percent of the global population according to Wealth-X.

In 2014, the median wealth for African America stood at $9,590 versus $130,800 for European Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This means that for every $1 that African Americans have European Americans have approximately $14. This in itself is an astonishing number until you examine the gap among the billionaire class. The five wealthiest European Americans (Bezos, Gates, Buffett, Zuckerberg, & Ellison) have a combined net worth of $427.7 billion versus $13.4 billion for our billionaire five of Smith, Steward, Winfrey, Jordan, and Carter. It is a ratio of the aforementioned having $31 to every $1 of the latter, which is almost 2.5 times greater than the overall gap. For the gap to be progressively worse as the wealth goes higher is in some ways astonishing and in a lot of ways expected because of how the wealth is being created. Re-enter, Michael Jordan.

There is the man who built Nike and the man who owns Nike and they are not the same. Very few will argue that had Michael Jeffrey Jordan not signed with Nike in 1984 the company, founded and majority owned by Phil Knight, probably never becomes more than a two-bit player behind the likes of Adidas, Reebok, and New Balance. Jordan was a paradigm shift. The financial gods aligned the stars in 1984 for Phil Knight with the signing of the man who would become arguably the greatest NBA player of all-time, the NBA’s continued meteoric rise in popularity, cable television, and ESPN. All of these ingredients came together to take Nike from a company that in 1984 was doing $867 million in revenue to the behemoth that it is 35 years later with revenues of $36.4 billion. An increase of 4200 percent over the time period. Jordan’s brand accounts for almost 10 percent of the company’s revenues today despite Jordan himself not having played in the NBA for almost 20 years. No other brand comes close to the singular importance that Jordan still holds for Nike, and therefore Phil Knight. Yet, Knight’s net worth is almost $34 billion, while Jordan’s is only $1.9 billion. Ultimately, Jordan who earns around $100 million annually from Nike or 3.2 percent of the Jordan brand revenues is simply well compensated labor, while Knight, the owner, truly reaps the fruits of His Airness.

Consequences of these gaps is not unnoticed institutionally within communities. Billionaires tend to be major donors to institutions like education, healthcare, and more philanthropically. These are areas of institutional infrastructure for African America that are severely under built and underfunded.  Never mind the investments they make in the order of private equity or venture capital that spawns new generations of wealth and influence, which tends to lead into immense political influence in the form of political contributions that shapes policies for hundreds of millions. Phil Knight has contributed well over $2 billion to his former alma maters, the University of Oregon and Stanford Graduate School of Business,  an amount equal to the value of all 100 plus HBCU endowments combined. He has so much influence that the state of Oregon has changed laws just to accommodate his giving to the University of Oregon.

Unfortunately, coming back to one of Jay-Z’s most prolific lyrics tells a lot of the issues facing African American wealth accumulation where he says “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” For many this line is interpreted as Mr. Carter braggadocios that he is bigger than just being Phil Knight, he is Nike – and he is right and that is where he is also wrong. Instead of controlling the company and brand, he is the company and brand. In other words, if he does not work, then he does not eat in a sense. Many of Mr. Carter’s businesses are built on their relationship to him. They are what is considered a lifestyle brand and he is the lifestyle brand you aspire to be. You drink his liquor or wear his clothes because this allows you to share in his coolness. For his business to continue to produce, then he himself must remain relevant. Three of the five African American billionaires have made their money via sports/entertainment and mainly off their own image, while four of the five European American billionaires have built their companies via technology and scaled those businesses to something that the entire world wants and needs. Even Mr. Buffett, who has largely made his money through investments and lords over companies like Geico, Wells Fargo, and many other companies is so integrated into people’s lives, often in ways they do not even realize on a day-to-day basis. Their companies and brands are far more well known to the world than the founders themselves. Governments buy Microsoft software. In fact, Microsoft Windows still accounts for use on almost 80 percent of the computers worldwide. They have created systemic companies, while our billionaires have created mostly popularity brands and as we know popularity eventually fades as new generations arise. The fact that Mr. Carter has remained relevant this long is a testament to him for sure (and his wife), but not something anyone should assume can last a lifetime. There is also the reality that even if it does, he can not pass his social capital along to his children, but Jeff Bezos’ children can and will most likely inherit Amazon even if they choose to not run it.

The situation is also not isolated to African America. Worldwide, the sons and daughters of Africa are battling the same fate. Asia is experiencing a meteoric rise in their billionaire class and now trails only Europe/US with the Diaspora with the most billionaires. Africa, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, has less than 2 percent of the world’s billionaires but contains over 15 percent of the world’s population – mainly, due to Asian and European interest continuing to siphon the continent of resources and burden it with predatory debt to their own interest and benefit. Simply put, we are not going to sing, dance, or chase balls in closing the wealth or power gap overall or the gap in the pantheons of the two. We are going to have to build institutions that wield wealth and power on a mass scale not just in small silos. Mr. Carter and Jamie Dimon are financially worth roughly the same, but Mr. Dimon is the CEO/Chairman of J.P. Morgan bank that controls almost $3 trillion in assets. An amount that is 600 times all African American owned banks combined. Mr. Dimon is not a business, man. He is “just” a businessman.

A multilayered cake is what the wealth gap entails like so many other issues that African America is looking for solutions to as a community. This data ultimately just gives us another layer to examine to help level the playing field. Mr. Carter’s billionaire status while admirable also should raise pertinent strategic questions for the community in its economic development. How is African American wealth being created? Is it scalable? Is it replicable? Are we seeing the wealth circulated back within the our community’s institutions? The reality of what it means that the gap at the apex of wealth is so pronounced must be examined and what it can tell us is still to be determined, but we do know that while men lie, women lie, numbers do not.

Black News Channel’s Chairman J.C. Watts Discusses BNC’s Deep HBCU Ties & FAMU Partnership


In a recent interview with Bold TV, Chairman of Black News Channel, J.C. Watts, discusses his plans for the coming launch of the new television channel that seeks to focus on a myriad of topics from culture, religion, politics, economics, and more that cover the diverse range of African America’s views on topics. Chairman Watts emphasizes that this will be a channel for African Americans and by African Americans. Just how far that is to go though we will discuss later on in the article.

Starting at the 8:50 mark in the video, Chairman Watts discusses with Ms. Sheffield, Founder of Bold TV, the important relationship that Black News Channel will seek to build with HBCUs and just how much content there is available within those institutions alone. A statement that should be not underappreciated given that BNC is going to attempt to be a 24/7 news channel. While the plan a few years ago was for BCN to be housed on the campus of Florida A&M University, the company has shifted its focus on making the FAMU School of Journalism a target school for BCN with internships, curriculum engagement, and employment opportunities upon graduation.

The company features a host of Rattler alumnae. Mr. Amir Windom, a rising star in media circles will be the Director of Creative Services. It also features Ms. Georgia Dawkins, who will serve as Director of HBCU Services. Lastly, the Director of Corporate Business Development is Ms. Erika Littles.

Ms. Sheffield brings up just some of the larger outlets in the landscape that currently stands in African American targeted media like The Root, Black Entertainment Television, NBC Black, OWN, TV One, and questions aloud where BCN will find its place among the field.

However, a point that was not brought up and should always be at the forefront of our minds when new products are launched that target African America is who actually is profiting from our eyeballs. We are often providing the labor and the viewership in many instances while reaping none of the economic rewards that comes with ownership and ultimately the control of the narrative. BET is owned by Viacom, NBC is owned by Comcast, The Root is owned by Univision, which itself is owned by very Eurocentric private equity firms, and even OWN, the channel beloved by Oprah followers, is majority owned by Discovery Communications. On the website for Black News Channel, while Chairman J.C. Watts is listed as a co-founder, the other co-founder is Bob Brillante. What is the potential ownership split? There are seven other owner/investors listed on the company’s website, but what each individuals stake is remains unclear. As a private company, they are certainly not required by any means to disclose this information, but it would certainly go a long way to endorsing just how much of an African American “owned” media asset this actually is.

There is a harsh reality that the majority of sizeable media assets focusing on African Americans is not in the ownership hands of African Americans. The Washington Post reported that in 2013, “African American ownership remains particularly low, hovering at less than one percent of all television properties, and less than 2 percent of radio.” This is certainly not to say that Black News Channel will not have an impact. It is projected to employ almost 100 people, many of them being HBCU alumni and students as we have already seen in key positions, but we must push the envelope further. We need more investment in publications that are owned by our community like HBCU Digest, Atlanta Black Star, HBCU Gameday and many others.  Traditional media is not dying, it is evolving (and consolidating into the hands of a few) and has already done so in major ways. Unfortunately, we are often lacking the resources to keep up despite our ingenuity.

We appreciate that the Black News Channel makes it a point to be transparent about their ownership, hope that they will be an inclusive platform to smaller African American owned publications looking to establish themselves, and definitely continue to integrate itself within the many schools of journalism that HBCUs have and the richness that those assets can bring to the table.

Will Morehouse’s 2019 Class Be The Greatest Donors In HBCU History? After Robert F. Smith’s Donation, They Better Be


“The results of philanthropy are always beyond calculation.” – Mary R. Beard

By now we have all heard the breaking news, on May 19th in the year of our lord 2019, Robert F. Smith, an angel of God descended upon the sacred grounds of the AUC in Atlanta, Georgia and in his commencement speech to an estimated 400 Morehouse College graduates also pledged to ensure that his family would pay off each and every one of their student loans. The grant is estimated to be a gift valued at $40 million making it the second largest donation to the HBCU community, still trailing Bill and Camille Cosby’s gift of $20 million in 1988 to Spelman College, which adjusted for inflation is valued at $43.2 million today. Stating the obvious, there still has yet to be a gift of $100 million or more in HBCU history, while HWCUs received 13 gifts of $100 million or more in 2018 alone. This is not to take away at all from Mr. Smith’s gift as the reality that the return on investment to HBCUs  on gifts of $10 million or more are often worth a multiplier effect because of the size of our schools, how starved we are for donations of any sort especially major ones, and lastly our schools often being so adept at doing more with less that when we get more it often feels like it maybe overwhelming (it is not, please feel free to give any HBCU $100 million, seriously). But what will this gift mean to the HBCU landscape for the coming generation?

You hear it all the time among recent HBCU graduates and alumni when asked what are some of their primary reasons for not giving back. At the top of the list tends to pertain to the burden of their student loan debt. It is no secret that HBCU students bear a serious burden when it comes to student loan debt in comparison to their HWCU counterparts, especially those counterparts who attend an institution that is among the Top 50 in college endowments. In our 2016-2017 HBCU Graduate Student Loan Report, 86 percent of HBCU graduates finish with student loan debt at a median debt load of $34,131 versus 40 percent of Top 50 college endowment graduates who finish with student loan debt at a median debt load of $24,237. This is due to a mixture of factors, most notably HBCU endowments and familial wealth.

The top 30 college endowments in America control over 50 percent of the nation’s $500 billion college endowment value, while 100 plus HBCUs control less than 1 percent. Combine this with the African/European American wealth gap not moving for 50 years, which according to a Forbes article, “African-Americans had a median wealth of $13,460 in 2016 or only 9.5% of the median wealth of $142,180 of whites”. These major pinpoints make it extremely difficult for HBCU graduates to reduce their student debt loads while matriculating and therefore build wealth after college. The result becomes they are either prolonged before they can become donors or never do and the sword of educated poverty is what they and our institutions fall upon decade after decade with no end in sight.

Morehouse College Class of 2019 though sits in a special position to change the trajectory of not only Morehouse College’s endowment, which we have argued has grossly under performed compared with the likes of Hampton, Spelman, and Howard in its fundraising efforts. This despite the help from the likes of another billionaire, Oprah Winfrey, who herself as put hundreds of Morehouse Men through college as well. To what extent her giving to Morehouse has reduced student loan debt for graduates is unknown, but knowing Ms. Winfrey’s giving history, it has been formidable. However, the Class of 2019 may prove to be worth a longitudinal study in HBCU philanthropy. What happens when an HBCU graduate finishes with little or in this case no student loan debt? Do they see it as an opportunity to be more active donors back to their institution and to other HBCUs. Will their donor rate be higher than other classes? It is no secret that despite the Morehouse pride, the alumni giving rate at the institution has been underwhelming at best. If these 400 young men properly build their wealth and give back to Morehouse and other HBCUs, then have we potentially unlocked one of the keys to making our institutions sustainable? We have also long argued what it would look like if African Americans supported HBCUs in a major way, even if they did not attend an HBCU. Giving because a strong African American institution of any sort is a reflection of themselves in society and that our fates are always intertwined. That a people are ultimately only as strong as the institutions that represent their interest.

However, to do what Robert F. Smith did on an institutional level is going to require more than just one billionaire (or even two), but it is definitely a pivotal step in the right direction – hopefully. After all, it has been over three decades since a donation of this size for HBCUs. The lack of multimillion dollar gifts to HBCUs and African American educational institutions in general has been, continues to be, and is problematic systemically. For instance, if we extrapolated the notion of helping HBCU graduates be debt free, endowments at our institutions would have to be exponentially greater than what they are now. Howard University, Spelman College, and Hampton University, the three largest HBCU endowments, which have current endowments of $688 million, $389 million, and $285 million, respectively, would need endowments exceeding $6 billion, $1.7 billion, and $2.5 billion, respectively. In other words, they currently have a combined endowment value of $1.4 billion but need $10.2 billion, which is a margin of $8.8 billion, greater than Robert F. Smith and Oprah Winfrey’s wealth combined, an estimated $7.6 billion. This of course speaks nothing of and to the number of HBCUs who are hanging on for dear financial life and whose endowments if they even exist are paltry at best. Like many small and state colleges, lesser known HBCUs struggle to attract major donors, but the Morehouse 400 does/should know who they are and should take the vanguard in being integral over the next 50-60 years of ensuring that all HBCUs drink from the fountain of opportunity that they have been granted access too. These young men have a chance to alter the trajectory of the HBCU universe and we hope with this great opportunity they have been gifted that they also know comes a great responsibility. Will they become the greatest HBCU donors in HBCU history? Only time will tell.