President William R. Harvey | Hampton University President
The marching band of my alma mater, Talladega College, the oldest historically black college in Alabama, accepted an invitation to participate in Donald Trump’s inaugural parade. Many people, including some Talladega alumni, are upset.
They shouldn’t be. It is an honor to participate in the inauguration of any president of the United States. Talladega and its band will be celebrating the peaceful transition of power, a hallmark of America’s democracy.
Some may believe that performing in the parade is tantamount to endorsing a candidate. It’s not. The Talladega band is simply performing in a historical event that will have an international audience and provide a unique opportunity to showcase its talent.
This will be a wonderful learning experience for the student musician. It will be a moment for them to understand the importance of supporting the leader of the free world, despite one’s political viewpoint. The chief reason-for-being of any college and university should be to promote learning, not to enhance a political agenda.
The band’s decision should also be celebrated beyond the Talladega community. For those who attend the inauguration or simply watch on television, this is a unique learning opportunity to become familiar with America’s historically black colleges and universities or HBCUs, and an opportunity for those who already know about HBCUs to be proud.
Just like majority institutions, HBCUs are not a monolith. Some are very good, some are not so good, and others are somewhere in the middle. Allow me to share a few examples. In 2011, Xavier University was the top producer of African-American students who earned medical degrees. For six consecutive years, North Carolina A&T University has been the top producer of African-American engineers.
My own institution, Hampton University, where I have served as president for nearly 40 years, is one of the best modest-sized universities, black or white, in the country. Not only is Hampton a top producer of Ph.D.s awarded to African-Americans in physics, we are also the only HBCU to ever have 100% responsibility to NASA for one of their space missions. In addition, Hampton scientists are principal investigators for experiments on two other satellite missions in orbit and another to be launched in the coming weeks. All these satellites are gathering information on weather patterns and environmental conditions.