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Op-ed: April Ryan to MSU grads: Ready to run the world?

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Photo credit: Morgan State University
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By Wayne Dawkins

HBCUs are running the world, Morgan State University alumni April D. Ryan told 500 fall graduates Dec. 17.

Hyperbole? Ryan, Class of 1989, has covered the White House for Black-oriented media for at least a quarter century. That’s since the Bill Clinton administration in the 1990s, meaning she has been around Harvard, Yale and Princeton graduates who are often her sources.

At commencement, Ryan even affected a faux Ivy League accent to the amusement of parents, students, and faculty.

Yes, White House and Congressional ranks are accustomed to those smart Ivy guys and gals. But here come the HBCUs, said Ryan:

* Kamala Harris, the vice president, is a Howard alumna.

* Cedric Richmond, senior adviser to President Biden, is a Morehouse man.

* Peter Harvey Jr., a Morgan alum, is a senior adviser to Biden.

* U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, who is leading the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection probe, is a graduate of Tougaloo College.

* When the Capitol was breached Jan. 6, 2021 and the Capitol Police Chief resigned, the replacement was Youganada Pittman , a Morgan alumna.

* U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, a 1961 South Carolina State graduate, who for the first time was walking in regalia to receive his degree – as Ryan spoke in Baltimore – asked Biden to be his surrogate and give the commencement address in Orangeburg.

Oh, and that correspondent who infuriated the immediate past 45th president with pointed questions, April Ryan, Black press correspondent and CNN contributor, representing Morgan State.

“Let me tell you something,” said Ryan, “Morgan was out there first firing up the president. When he came to Baltimore for a CNN Town Hall, every other person in the audience was from Morgan State. I was screaming and yelling.”

Ryan said she was proud of what the 2021 graduates accomplished: “You met the moment at a time unimaginable [obviously, the coronavirus pandemic]. It took so much from us, time, friends and family. The moment looks like you.

“The news called us: Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. You went out and stood with people who look liked you – or didn’t look like you – to change the status quo of this society.”

And change is calling you, graduates, Ryan continued:

“This piece of paper [diplomas] is about the community you will be part of and about the parents who found dollars that fell on their heads to pay the registrar.”

Ryan spoke from the heart. Not only was she an MSU alumna, she grew up on the campus because her mother Vivian toiled in the office of student activities for 42 years.

“Morgan loved me to success,” Ryan said.

Indeed, official Washington – at least the Biden administration – is aware of the importance of HBCUs.

“They knew I was coming here,” said Ryan, so authorities gave her data to share: The 100 institutions make up 3% of U.S. colleges and universities, yet they educate 20% of African- American graduates, and annually generate $16 billion in GDP [Gross Domestic Product].

“You matter.”

So committed, creative and productive, yet HBCUs receive less than 1% of higher education funding, those government sources told Ryan.

“That’s a problem,” Ryan told the graduates and the families and friends.

So, what must be done? Get involved in the political process and in public service.

Higher Ed money is finite and routinely flows to the Ivy’s and 60-plus Power Five schools that are more than football and basketball behemoths.

HBCUs matter and it is time to meet the moment.

“You cannot have a serious conversation about the future,” said university President David K. Wilson, who introduced Ryan,” without Morgan State present and driving the conversation.”

The writer is a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.