Kamala Harris hugs Amos Jackson III, then Howard University Student Association president, after speaking at Howard University in January 2019. Boasting having educated the first Black and first woman to be elected Vice President, Howard University leaders discussed the significance of Kamala Harris and the importance of holding leaders accountable to address issues facing HBCUs and the Black community. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

In addition to its world-renowned reputation of training the Black upper echelon, Howard University can boast educating the first Black and first woman Vice President elected in the United States.  Prior to the presidential inauguration,   Howard President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick and other institutional professors and leaders met with the press to discuss the significance of the university in relation to history, the current time and efforts in holding the next administration accountable.

“The election of the first Black and first female Vice President has coincided with an attack on our democracy and democratic institutions. At the same time, there are forces ushering our country forward, there are also forces trying to hold it back,” President Frederick said.  “And if we’ve learned anything this past week it’s that the progress is never inevitable.  Nothing is invulnerable, and each of our institutions has weaknesses that can be breached.  Repairing the damage done to our country will require work and determination as well adherence to truth and service.  If we’re going to solve our country’s challenges, we’ll have to be honest about what they are and willing to endure the struggle of correcting them.”

Despite the White supremacy displayed on the Capitol steps and the threat of violence within the nation’s capital, Frederick and other Howard leaders such as associate professor of political science and Director of the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership Dr. J. Jarpa Dawuni, Esq., emphasized that the university and its students will fearlessly face the challenges.

“At Howard University our students are not afraid to speak up.  The spirit of activism and the spirit of accountability will continue throughout Howard University students and faculty, and I think that in as much as we are being accountable and express social justice and transparency, that we base such activism on research and data.”

According to the event’s speakers, which also included Chair of Afro American Studies Dr. Gregory Carr, former executive producer and associate professor Cathy Hughes School of Communications Jennifer Thomas, and senior political science student Peter Lubembela, key things to pay attention to in this new administration is inclusivity, equity, widening the lens of news coverage and digging deeper into stories.

Dawuni said that Harris’ election as Vice President offers a reawakening for the world to the power of women’s leadership. 

“The election of Vice President, Kamala Harris, who is a Howard alum, we have to add that all the time, is a moment that is not just limited to Howard, but is a global shift.   I would classify it as a reawakening of the consciousness that… women have played important roles in our communities- Black women and women of color… starting from the home to the community level and the global space,” Dawuni said.  “So when we’re talking about Black women or women of color, we’re talking about principles of matriarchy- that’s simply the experiences and power and control that women have within communities wherever they find themselves.  So the election of Vice President Kamala Harris is one that is going to be a confirmation of what most Black people know.

“It’s a confirmation of the true horizon, of the lived experiences and the historical trajectory that shows how Black women… what they were in African communities before they came to the Black diaspora, have always done and continue to do,” Dawuni continued. 

In addition, Dawuni said that Harris’ election inspires hopes.  “The election of Vice President Kamala Harris is going to be the reawakening and the consciousness and the hope of many young girls- many young women everywhere in the world to know that this is really what we’ve been told, and let’s take it to a different level.”

Professor Thomas, a former executive producer, said that as the world looks at Harris’ election, the new administration and continued injustice, the media plays an integral role in shaping the narratives around Black people, addressing challenges in the community and holding leaders accountable. 

“If it weren’t for the media, the Civil Rights Movement would have been a bird without wings.  So we have to the impact of the roles that we as journalists play.  And we as journalists of color are committed to telling those stories, to contextualizing those stories and to covering our communities that might not be covered,” Thomas said.

“So this is an important time. It’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times to be a journalist.  We see how important and impactful journalists are to the democracy of America.  And so it’s time for us to continue to call out our colleagues in the press of how they report and tell stories,” the communications expert and professor continued.

The panelists also discussed new efforts at the University to strengthen news coverage and conversations about the importance  of equity in gender and race when it comes to leadership.

“The that we’ll be launching soon….it’s going to be a place where we’re going to have research, student programming, we’re going to have engagement by the community in Washington, D.C. and the Black community nationally and there is also going to have a global outreach,” Dawuni explained.  

The Director of the new Center said that the school’s leadership is “positioning Howard University not just as a premier institution in the United States, but globally a space where we can discuss issues of women, the interactions of gender and how all these conversations affect global leadership.

The Cathy Hughes School of Communications will also get treats as students and faculty alike brush up on their reporting skills in this important time.

[MSNBC’s Joy Reid will] be teaching a class covering race, gender and politics in the digital age and we’re excited to have her with us and we’ve seen her last week how she was telling the truth about what’s going on about how it would have been different and how the outcomes would have been different so we’re excited to welcome her,” Thoms said. “And we started a reporting while Black series for faculty, so we’re continuing to examine those issues and talking about the things that matter from a journalistic lens.”

According to the panelists, Harris’ election emphasizes the lack of Blacks or women in executive roles and is exactly why Howard is emphasizing the need for more representation in various fields- particularly the media, through which perspectives are molded. 

“ underscores the need for us to have people of color in these decision making positions.  It also helps us to call out our fellow people in the media, who are not doing that,” Thomas said.  

Traditionally, such as with the inauguration of Barack Obama, according to Dr. Carr, Howard has been a place where great Black minds meet to discuss and address policy.

“I suspect for this year, in 2021, there will be another convening in some way that brings us together to talk… because our people need to know that it is our institutions that thoughts on policy should be driven,” he told the AFRO.

With the new administration, Dr. Carr said Howard students are also closely examining and following specific challenges that affect them- particularly student loan debt.

“Student debt is probably first on the minds of most of our students and I think that that’s something that has to get solved very quickly” Carr said.

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor