Morgan State University was chosen to host one of four national White House forums addressing issues pertinent to African Americans.

The July 13 White House African American Regional Policy Forum event featured topics including health, housing, food access, education, economic stability and community revitalization. The Morgan White House African American Policy Forum followed similar events in Las Vegas, Nev., Cleveland, Ohio, and Jackson, Miss., officials said.

The White House was represented by Valerie Jarrett, the senior advisor to President Obama. She said that after holding a forum at the White House last November about African American initiatives, there was a push to bring the discussion into the community. The forum consisted of two discussions, as well as several breakout sessions. President Obama did not attend, but delivered a speech via video.

Jarrett was interviewed by XM Satellite Radio host Joe Madison. She said President Obama’s priorities include improving the quality of community college education and upgrading economic development in African American communities.

She said Morgan was selected as the fourth forum because of its proximity to the White House.

“We thought it would be good to end at an HBCU closer to home,” said Jarrett, who holds an honorary degree from Morgan State University. “It was important for us to engage with the community and highlight the progress we’ve made thus far, but also to listen what more we could do to help strengthen the African American community.”

After the Madison interview, the AFRO spoke to Jarrett about the Obama campaign and the President’s decision to skip the National Association of Black Journalists annual conference in New Orleans in June and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s convention in Houston earlier this month. He plans to attend the National Urban League Convention on July 25 in New Orleans, she said.

“He sent his Vice President , who by every measure did a tremendous job, coupled with his Attorney General,” she said. “He thought it was important that his attorney general be at the NAACP given the many civil rights achievements of the Obama administration and he’s looking forward to going to the Urban League.”

Jarrett discussed with Madison an executive order making it easier for small businesses to obtain government contracts. The order allows small companies that subcontract with the government to work 15-day pay periods, instead of the traditional 30. The administration hopes the shortened pay period will boost business.

On the topic of education, she pointed to a study organizers referred to a recent study released by the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C. think tank that stated that “American students say schoolwork is too easy.” Jarrett discussed efforts to ensure students are learning.

“The challenges with education are universal,” she said. “ are making sure that our primary and secondary education is of a high quality. The president has a keen interest in early childhood education, making sure that young children get off on a good path.”

Affordable higher education is a top priority for the Obama administration, she said. She also cited as priorities preventing interest rates on student loans from doubling and ensuring that community colleges, which traditionally include a significant percentage of Black students, have quality curriculums.

After the forum, Morgan President David Wilson, Ph. D., told the AFRO that the university’s success was a reason why it was considered an appropriate location such an important event. He said he is working to maintain a high level of quality at the university. During his tenure, Morgan’s retention rate has increased from 68 percent to 74 percent, he said. Although the overall unemployment rate is disproportionately high for African Americans, currently at 14.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Morgan students are highly employable, Wilson said.

“Morgan is a leader in this country in producing African American graduates and African American talent to enable the country to be competitive,” he said.

Morgan is working on a new online education program that would help students obtain their bachelor’s degrees in less time. Wilson said he fears that HBCU’s will be left behind if they aren’t apart of the discussion with larger universities about adopting new strategies and using online technology.

Wilson said he was pleased that the White House decided to use Morgan for the forum. “Morgan is interested, always, in extending its tentacles in the African American community and being in a position where we understand what’s going on in the community,” he said.


Krishana Davis

AFRO Staff Writers