By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

Students, alumni, friends and advocates of Maryland’s four HBCU’s have gathered in recent weeks with a new plan of action to ensure the State of Maryland complies with court orders to address an historic pattern of discrimination impacting Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and The University of Maryland Eastern shore for decades. 

“The Maryland HBCU Coalition is sponsoring a series of town halls and taking our case directly to the legislative leaders and people of Maryland, said Sharon Y. Blake, spokesperson for Maryland HBCU Advocates. 

The most recent town hall was held at the Reginald Lewis Museum in downtown Baltimore. More than 150 participants from all parts of Maryland packed the Museum’s theatre to demand the State settle the case for an equitable sum.

(Courtesy Images/Logos)

Backed by promises of new state legislation this year to settle the decades long court case, advocates of the State’s HBCU’s said it’s time for the State of Maryland to provide funding to the HBCU’s to end the segregated system of higher education, which continues to perpetuate, according to the 2013 ruling handed down by US District Court Judge Katherine E. Blake. 

“If Governor Larry Hogan wanted to settle this case, he could click his fingers right now and do it now,” said Pace J. McConkie, Director of the Robert M. Bell Center at Morgan State University and townhall panelist. 

“But he’s not and that’s why we have to fight,” McConkie added. 

In December 2018, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered monitored negotiations with the State that also failed in 2019. 

US District Court estimated that more than $1.2 billion would be needed to correct the inequities between predominately white and historically black institutions in Maryland. HBCU Coalition attorney, Michel D. Jones has requested only a portion of that amount – $577 million. 

Jones wrote a letter to the Maryland General Assembly, urging the Legislature’s involvement after repeated negotiations with Hogan failed. 

“If a financial settlement is reached, the Coalition will use funds to launch new academic programs, provide scholarships and undertake rebranding initiatives to offset the State’s decades of stigmatization,” Jones wrote in a September 10, 2019 letter to the Maryland General Assembly

Hogan countered with a $200 million, calling the sum his final offer. Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Darryl D. Barnes (D-Prince Georges County) said the sum was “woefully inadequate.” 

Hogan pushed the ball to the Maryland General Assembly’s court and challenged State legislators to come up with funds to address the settle the case. 

“The Governor , Attorney General (Brian Frosh) and Legislature need to stop playing ‘hot potato’ with this issue and support our HBCU’s,” said Brandon Cooper, First Vice Chair of the Maryland Republican party and a panelist at the Baltimore Townhall forum. 

Cooper encouraged HBCU advocates to take their message to all people and political persuasions across the state. 

“The value of our HBCU’s exceed the money we have invested in them”, said Cooper. “They are our best investment and that’s a message all people and political parties can support.”

In a recent Annapolis Summit, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said legislators would be introducing a bill that would seek to settle the Maryland HBCU case. 

“It’s important to get this done because we don’t want this to go on to the Supreme Court,” Jones said. Jones is the first African American and woman to serve as Speaker of the Maryland General Assembly. 

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) has also followed the case since its inception and is on record in calling a settlement “imperative” at this point.

“The courts are not going to settle this issue Every representative and political leader in the state is who we should look until this case is settled“ said Judge William Bell, panelist at the Baltimore townhall. “This case affects us all.”

Maryland HBCU Advocates will host their next townhall panel at Bowie City Hall, Wednesday January 29th.