Two Marylanders are helping White House focus on lifting up historically Black colleges and universities

Paige Blake, a rising senior at Bowie State University, and Monica Goldson, CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools, were appointed to an HBCU advisory panel by President Joe Biden in March. Photos from Prince George’s government, Bowie State University.

Two Marylanders are new members of a national board advising the White House on ways to support America’s historically Black colleges and universities.

Monica Goldson, CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools, and Paige Blake, a rising senior at Bowie State University, were appointed to the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities by President Joe Biden in March.

“The President has selected two impressive and talented individuals to serve on his HBCU Board of Advisors,” US Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said after the members of the panel were named. “We must address the everyday challenges and barriers that have historically burdened our HBCUs, such as underfunding and lack of equal opportunity for students.”

Other members of the board, who will advise Biden on strengthening and supporting HBCU campuses, include actor Taraji P. Henson and NBA player Chris Paul, as well as HBCU presidents and business executives. The board is charged with advancing “the goal of the HBCU Initiative, established by the Carter Administration, to increase the capacity of HBCUs to provide the highest-quality education to its students and continue serving as engines of opportunity,” according to a White House press release.

Blake and Goldson have shown particular interest in helping to guide the advisory board’s recommendations on campus infrastructure.

Other subcommittees within the board are focusing on issues of attracting research opportunities, creating financial and career pathway supports, and HBCU preservation and growth.

Blake, 20, wants to be a part of infrastructure discussions to improve mobility for students on campus, which is especially personal to her because she was diagnosed as a young child with sacral agenesis, a rare form of spina bifida.

“I know how hard it is for students to move around on campus. Let’s say, for example, a campus doesn’t have the money to renovate or re-do a building to get an elevator for a student who’s in a wheelchair; how’s that student going to get to class?” Blake said.

The biology major said she hopes she can give voice to the students at these schools.

Goldson is also interested in the panel’s infrastructure work, citing her desire to share the expertise she gained as the Prince George’s school system established an expansive public-private partnership program to tackle a multi-billion-dollar maintenance and construction backlog.

The CEO — a three-time HBCU graduate herself — said many HBCUs have aging infrastructure similar to the county school system. The partnerships she helped establish allowed the school system to make unprecedented progress on infrastructure, Goldson said.

“We’ve been able to execute a public-private partnership that has allowed us to begin to do historic building that we have not been able to do before,” she said.

Goldson cited the nine new schools being built in the county that are set to be completed by the end of the 2022-2023 school year.

Creating similar partnerships may be a more feasible solution for HBCUs than fundraising or government funding efforts, Goldson said.

Darren Swain, president of the Bowie State University Alumni Association and a former state delegate, said the White House advisory board will shape the conversation around the challenges that HBCUs face and highlight their successes.

“I think it’s a great idea, something that is certainly long overdue,” said Swain, who was on a House of Delegates’ HBCU committee from 2001 to 2003.

Swain said the success of the board will depend on how intentional efforts are to understand HBCUs, as well as a dedication to best allocate resources to them.

The White House effort to re-invest in HBCUs comes as Maryland is increasing investments at the four HBCU campuses in the state. Last year, the state settled a 15-year lawsuit with HBCU alumni and supporters that will lead to $577 million in additional state funding over the next decade.

Both advisory board members said they were excited to pursue the board’s goals.

“To be able to give back to the universities who’ve helped to shape my own personal and professional career is such a blessing and rewarding,” Goldson said.

“Everyone is really ready to work and we have so many great ideas to really continue the empowerment of our HBCUs,” Blake said.

The board’s next meeting is on Sept. 20, right at the start of National HBCU week.

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