The White House named a businessman and former professional athlete as the head of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The new executive director, Johnathan Holifield, is co-founder of a consultancy specializing in economic inclusion and competitiveness. He has a background in economic development and leadership training in Ohio.
One of the first things President Donald Trump did in his new administration in February was to call together heads of HBCUs and promise support and that he would appoint a new director of the White House initiative. They have been waiting on delivery of the promises, and some have been vocally critical of the delay.
Holifield told HBCU leaders and advocates at a two-day White House summit on black colleges, which began Sunday, that he looks forward to helping the schools with their mission to boost this country’s competitiveness.
“There is no path to sustained new job creation, shared prosperity, and enduring national competitiveness without the current and increased contributions of historically black colleges and universities,” he told the summit attendees.
Some questioned his lack of experience with HBCU’s, including Marybeth Gasman,the director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania.
She told the Miami Herald: “He does have experience working across a few organizations and his self-published book is focused on inclusiveness. I wish him the best.”
Holifield holds a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University, and played football professionally for the Cincinnati Bengals. He went on to earn a master’s in education and a law degree at the University of Cincinnati. He completed an economic development certificate from The University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute
Holifield worked as a consultant with some colleges and educational organizations, according to his website.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, gave Holifield’s appointment an optimistic endorsement, noting Holifield, “has more than 20 years of multidisciplinary business and government experience, which will help lead the critical work of developing a robust policy and budgetary agenda to positively impact HBCUs.” The fund represents 47 publicly-funded HBCUs.
Others were more circumspect.
Michael L. Lomax, President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, released a statement saying: “I [and other officers] will meet Mr. Holifield tomorrow during the White House Summit on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and we look forward to learning how he will champion meaningful actions to advance HBCUs and ensure that more African American students have the opportunity to go to and through college.”
Rep. Alma Adams, D-NC, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus, said: “This appointment is a first step for the White House as they strive to repair their relationships with HBCU leaders and members of Congress. As co-chair of the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, I extended an invitation to Mr. Holifield to come to Capitol Hill to learn more about the caucus and our legislative priorities.”