The Renaissance Hotel
2:27 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. It’s a great honor to be here with you. And Ja’Ron, you’re a special person — a great friend of my daughter and my son-in-law. And he’s done an incredible job.
And it’s really wonderful to be with the unbelievable leaders of our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It was a very important trip for me to be here with you today. A couple of people aren’t happy because I had to cancel them out, but that’s okay. We don’t mind.
I’m truly honored to be here today to celebrate the vital and cherished role of the HBCUs in American life. Together, we will ensure that HBCUs continue to thrive and prosper and flourish for the countless generations to come. For more than — (applause) — it’s true. We’re doing it. And you know we’re doing it. We’ve done a lot, and we’re going to do a lot more.
For more than 180 years, HBCUs have strengthened our country and called America to greatness. Your institutions have been pillars of excellence in higher education and the engines of advancement for African American citizens. They’ve been incredible, the job they’ve done. (Applause.)
You have shaped American leaders, trained American legends, pioneered American innovations, empowered American workers, built American communities, and you’ve made all of America very proud of you and the job you’ve done, and all of those great students that have learned so much from your wisdom. Thank you very much.
This nation owes a profound and enduring debt of gratitude to its HBCUs. (Applause.) So true. And that is why we gather to pay tribute to this remarkable legacy and to renew our commitment to protecting, promoting and supporting HBCUs like never before. And I think you’ve seen that. You’ve seen this administration’s commitment bigger and better and stronger than any previous administration, by far. So that’s very important.
My administration is determined to fight for you and the noble institutions you represent each and every day.
We’re grateful to be joined this afternoon by a tireless supporter of HBCUs, Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is in the audience some place. (Applause.) Betsy, thank you. Thank you, Betsy. Thank you.
I also want to recognize our terrific executive director of the White House HBCUs initiative, Johnathan Holifield. (Applause.) Where is Johnathan? (Applause.)
And I want to tell you, Evander Holyfield is a friend of mine and he could fight. (Laughter.) You always knew when went in the ring with Evander, he may be 50 pounds lighter, but you knew it was going to be a tough night out there for you. But he was something.
I just spoke with my Board of Advisors for HBCUs. And let me thank our amazing Chairman, Johnny Taylor. Johnny, thank you very much. (Applause.) Great job, Johnny.
And also, our Board member here today — and we have a few of them:
Aminta Breaux. (Applause.) Aminta, thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Phyllis Dawkins. (Applause.) Phyllis, thank you. Great job, Phyllis.
Rodney Ellis. (Applause.) Rodney, thank you. Thank you very much, Rodney.
Marshall Grigsby. (Applause.) Thank you, Marshall. Thank you.
Nickolas Justice. (Applause.) Thanks, Nickolas.
Ronald Johnson. (Applause.) Thanks, Ronald. Thank you.
Harold Martin. (Applause.) Thank you, Harold, very much.
Bernard Milano. (Applause.) Connie Rath and Billy Hawkins. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you all.
And, Billy, I will always remember the Talladega Marching Band in my inaugural parade. That was something. You topped them all. That was a great — that’s a great group. Thank you very much. They were fantastic.
This afternoon, we are also thrilled to be joined by more than 40 students who were selected as the 2019 White House HBCU Competitiveness Scholars. Would you please stand so that we can congratulate you and applaud? Where are you? (Applause.) See, that’s what it’s all about, when you get right down to it, isn’t it?
The inspiring tradition of HBCUs dates back to the Civil War era, when pastors, abolitionists, and men and women who had escaped slavery founded many of the first colleges and universities for African Americans. That’s a long time ago.
In 1861, a free African American woman, Mary Peake, taught 20 students under an oak tree near a Union base in Virginia. That tree still stands tall and mighty on the campus of Hampton University. (Applause.) Good school.
In the face of immense hardship and painful injustice, your schools rose to the very pinnacle of academia, becoming many of America’s finest and most acclaimed institutions of higher learning. Tremendous respect everybody has for the work that many of you have done — almost everybody in this room has done. I can tell you.
HBCU graduates have improved and uplifted every feature of American society. From your halls came great Americans like Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, acclaimed inventor Lonnie Johnson, Air Force General Daniel James Jr., NFL Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice, and legendary Coach Eddie Robinson. Eddie Robinson was a good coach. (Applause.) I think Eddie Robinson won more games than anybody, didn’t he? (Laughter.) Is that true? Is that true? I think so.
And we are — by the way, have Scott Turner, speaking about good football players. Where is Scott? He’s leading such a great charge with the Opportunity Zones. (Applause.) Thank you, Scott. He’s a great, great gentleman. He works so hard. He goes — he’s all over the place. I say, “Where’s Scott today?” He’s in about six cities at one time. (Laughter.) And the Opportunity Zones have really caught on. Been incredible. Thank you, Scott.
During World War II, Tuskegee University trained the young Americans who would become the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. That was great group of people.
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. graduated from Morehouse College. (Applause.) That’s great.
And African American students helped plan the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the basement of another HBCU, Alabama State University. (Applause.)
Our Historically Black Colleges and Universities have always challenged our nation to be better and braver, to do what is right, to dream bigger, aim higher, and always be bolder in pursuit of what is just, decent, and true.
HBCUs represent only 3 percent of America’s higher education institutions. You get graduates — 80 percent — think of that: 80 percent of African American judges, 40 percent African American engineers, and more than 50 percent of African American doctors. That’s an incredible statement. From 3 percent overall to 50 percent and more for doctors. (Applause.) That’s an incredible statistic. It’s an incredible achievement.
My administration is deeply devoted to advancing this amazing legacy of success, commitment, and contribution to our nation. You have never stopped working to improve this country, and you deserve a government — you have to just keep going. You really do deserve a government that never stops working for you. And you never stop working for it. You’re amazing people in this room. Incredible people. And I congratulate you for it. (Applause.)
That is why, in my first weeks in office, I took action to make HBCUs a top priority once again. I signed an executive order to move the federal HBCU initiative to the White House, right where it belongs. (Applause.)
Over the past two and a half years, we have listened and learned from you, and we have taken very, very major action. I think you know that. I signed legislation to increase federal funding for HBCUs by a record 13 percent. That was the highest ever done. (Applause.)
When members of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund asked us to lift the ban on Pell Grants for summer classes, I included that change in my budget, and we worked with Congress and we got it done. (Applause.) And, you know, we had a little opposition to getting that done, I must tell you. But we got it done.
In the fall of 2017, we met with leaders of HBCUs devastated by Hurricane Katrina: Dillard University, Southern University at New Orleans, Tougaloo College, Xavier University of Louisiana.
And less than a year later, my administration took action to fully forgive their disaster loans, so these colleges could get out of debt and back to their critical mission of educating our nation’s future leaders — and truly great leaders they will be. So, congratulations. (Applause.)
Last year, my administration also worked with UNCF and key members of Congress to provide capital finance loan deferment to 13 HBCUs that presented rigorous plans for growth. In total, over the last two and a half years, through the Capital Financing Program, we have provided more than $500 million in loans to HBCUs. (Applause.) At a very good interest rate, I might add. (Laughter.)
Right here in our nation’s capital, we delivered an additional grant of $15 million to the only federally chartered HBCU — a great school, with a great reputation, that was already mentioned once today: Howard University. It really is; it’s a great school. (Applause.)
I signed a farm bill that included more than $100 million for scholarships, research, and centers of excellence at Historically Black Colleges and Universities that are land-grant institutions. One hundred million dollars. (Applause.)
And thanks to Secretary DeVos leadership and her work with many of you, we’ve also made unprecedented progress to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens so that your institutions are free to innovate and offer more flexible ops — you know, options for the students. And you’re doing that. You’re doing a lot of great options. I looked at some before. They’ve got a lot of really great options, and that’s what you need.
Today, I’m thrilled to announce another major action we’re taking to protect HBCUs. Previously, federal law restricted more than 40 faith-based HBCUs and seminaries from fully accessing federal support for capital improvement projects. This meant that your faith-based institutions, which have made such extraordinary contributions to America, were unfairly punished for their religious beliefs. Did we know that? Did everybody know that? Because it was — it was hap- — that was not good.
This week, our Department of Justice has published an opinion declaring such discriminatory restrictions as unconstitutional. (Applause.) It was a big step. And from now on, faith-based HBCUs will enjoy equal access to federal support. (Applause.)
When I came into office, I directed the entire federal government to develop a strategy to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Today, 32 federal departments and agencies have released statements of priority that are helping your institutions receive resources and support that you deserve.
To give just a few examples, NASA is expanding outreach to HBCU students who want to become scientists, engineers, and even astronauts. I don’t know about the astronaut. I don’t want to be an astronaut. How about you? Does anybody want to be an astronaut over there? (Laughter.) Huh? I don’t see too many hands going up. (Laughter.) I see one. There’s one brave person over there. That’s pretty great though. But what we’ve done there is terrific. And for those that do want to be an astronaut and those other wonderful things, it’s now possible.
The Departments of Labor and Education are working with HBCUs to increase apprenticeship opportunities. Our federal budget also prioritizes HBCUs in our plan to give more students access to state-of-the-art training in high-demand fields, such as science, technology, engineering, and math. We want to help each student have the experience they need to get a tremendous job, enjoy a rewarding career, and join our great national effort to rebuild America, which is what we’re doing. (Applause.)
The fierce dedication to strengthening HBCUs is a core part of my administration’s unwavering focus on the project of national renewal.
We are working every day to make decisive decisions so that we can really avoid many of the failures of the past. There have been so many failures. It just didn’t work. And a lot of that has been our government’s fault; they didn’t allow it to work. We are fixing decades of mistakes made by politicians in both parties who put the needs of other countries before our own country, and who put special interests before the interests of everyday, hardworking people.
Past leaders spent trillions of dollars in the Middle East, but they let our citizens suffer, our middle class languish, and our neighborhoods fall into total disrepair. And they didn’t take care of our — you know, our colleges. I mean, our colleges at different levels. They didn’t take care of a lot of things.
The Washington establishment enacted ruinous trade policies that devastated millions of hardworking families and inflicted deep economic pain on many African American communities. Both leaders in both parties let China and other nations loot our jobs, raid our factories, and shatter the dreams of our citizens. China would take out of our country more than $500 billion a year for many years and steal our intellectual property. Things are much different today.
More than half a million African Americans lost good-paying manufacturing jobs after a twin disasters of NAFTA and China’s entrance into the WTO. That’s the World Trade Organization. That was when it all began to happen. These were not good deals. You’re going to all make better deals than that. You have to promise me, when you’re up here someday — one of you or two of you or three of you, at different times, of course. (Laughter.) You’ll be up here. We don’t do any tries over here, right? But you’ll be at different times, but you’ll do much better than the past.
But under this administration, the era of economic surrender is over. We are bringing back our jobs, we’re bringing back our wealth, and we are bringing back our dignity. The stock market is getting ready, it seems, to hit the 118th day. We have had 118 records, where we hit the highest point. And three weeks ago, they were saying, “Recession, recession.” They were hoping for a recession because maybe that would hurt our chances of doing all of the things that we’re doing.
But we’re getting ready, it looks like, to hit another great milestone, another great all-time stock market record, which to me means jobs, more than anything else. Forget about stock prices; it means jobs.
After years of building up other countries, we are finally building up our country, standing up for our workers, and fighting for our forgotten communities.
The first and highest duty of government is to take care of its own citizens. African Americans built this nation through generations of blood, sweat, and tears. And you, like all of our citizens, are entitled to a government that puts your needs, your interests, and your families first. (Applause.)
The first agenda and the America First agenda is about the sacred bonds of love and loyalty that unite all Americans. That is why we’re joining forces with HCBUs to invest in the workforce of the future. Our Pledge to the American Worker has already secured commitments for 13 million employment and training opportunities for American citizens. It’s been an incredible success. We are getting people off of the sidelines and back into the game. Last month alone, nearly 600,000 Americans entered the labor force. You read that just the other day.
To unleash small business creation and produce millions of jobs, we passed massive tax cuts and launched a historic regulatory reduction campaign. We cut more regulations than any President in history, even though they’ve been there for, in many cases, a lot longer than I have.
Thanks to these pro-American trade, tax, and regulatory policies, the economy is booming and wages are rising, and our country is very much respected again. Last month, the unemployment rate for African Americans hit yet another all-time, historic low. In the history of our country, it’s the lowest number we’ve ever had. (Applause.)
And this is very exciting, especially for the folks in the room and those young folks over there that are so great and so smart: African American youth unemployment has reached the lowest rate ever recorded in the history of our country. (Applause.)
So, in other words, it’s a good time to be looking for a job, right? You picked the right time.
For the first time ever, most new hires are minorities and predominantly women. So, that’s a big statement. Most are minorities and women.
The African American poverty rate also reached a new record low in the history of our country. The lowest poverty rate. We are — (applause) — that’s something. I don’t know, when I’m on that debate stage with whoever I’m on, these are pretty good numbers to, you know. (Laughter.) Who is going to beat these numbers? Please tell me. (Laughter.)
We’re working hard to ensure economic opportunity extends to all Americans, including those who have been released from prison. With employers and educational centers like HBCUs, we are supporting Second Chance hiring policies so that former inmates get a new shot at life. (Applause.) And we’re very proud of this. I have to say that it’s never been like this before. There’s never been anything where you get out of prison and they weren’t able to find jobs. They had that stigma and they weren’t able to find a job. Nobody would hire them.
And today — and a lot of it has to do with the fact that the employment numbers are just about record low for country. And it’s been incredible. The success has been incredible, and the quality has been incredible. So many employers are saying, “I wish I knew about this. I would have started it years ago.” So it’s been an incredible time. And there’s never been a time like it, as far as people getting out of prison and getting a real shot at life. So we’re very proud of that.
This is just one more way that we live by those two simple and really crucial rules: Buy American and hire American. (Applause.) For this reason, we’re also pursuing immigration reforms to protect jobs and wages for American workers, especially those who have been left behind.
We’re fighting to give every parent of every student access to school choice, because no American child deserves to be trapped in a failing school. (Applause.)
To remedy unfair sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt African Americans, last year I proudly signed groundbreaking criminal justice reform into law, a bipartisan FIRST STEP Act. So we signed that just recently. (Applause.) They were never able to get it, and we got it.
We’ve taken historic action to confront the opioid crisis. And last year, our nation saw the first decline in drug overdose deaths in more than 30 years.
My administration — that’s a big thing. It’s such a problem for our country and such a problem for countries all over the world. It’s a tremendous problem, the drug problem.
My administration has also launched an unprecedented campaign to spur investment and revitalization in our country’s most underserved communities.
Under this vital initiative, America’s governors have designated nearly 9,000 communities as Opportunity Zones. And that’s where Scott has been so incredible. About half of all of the HBCUs are located in these Opportunity Zones.
Scott, come up here for a second. Will you just come up? This guy is so unbelievable. (Applause.) He’s so unbelievable, the job he’s doing. I only ask, do you sleep? But they ask me that question too, “Do you sleep?” He sleeps, I think, maybe less than I do. Come up, up Scott. He doesn’t need stairs. (Applause.)
MR. TURNER: Well, thank you, Mr. President. And very briefly, Opportunity Zones — this initiative called Opportunity Zone is really unprecedented in our nation’s history. You take private capital and you partner it with public investment to bring about real revitalization and transformation in our communities.
And it’s unique because it’s not just economic development; it’s community development. See, poverty, it has no favorite. Poverty is in the black community. It’s in the white community. It’s urban. It’s rural. It’s tribal. It’s suburban.
We’ve been to 38 cities in the last 15 weeks, and I’ve seen some of the worst cities in our country, from coast to coast, tip to tip, and even in the Heartland. And one thing I’ve learned is that poverty does not care…
what you look like. It doesn’t care where you come from. But I’ve had the old saying that I like to teach my son: We fight fire with fire.
The name of this council is the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council. “Revitalize” means to imbue with new life. It means to reinvigorate, to reenergize. Revitalization also has no color. Revitalization has no party, ladies and gentlemen. Revitalization starts in the heart of every man and every woman.
And our goal here, our mission — and thank President Trump and his administration for the courage and the vision for this — our mission is, yes, it’s job creation, it’s new businesses, it’s housing, but it is the eradication of poverty in our nation — a systemic problem that has crippled this nation for a long time.
And we’re here, and we need all of you. We spoke to the HBCU Conference yesterday. We need everyone in this room, one, to pray for our leadership, to pray for what we’re doing, and number two, see how you can get involved to bring about revitalization where you live. Doesn’t matter black, white, Democrat, Republican — it doesn’t matter. Revitalization starts in the heart.
I’m grateful to steward this council, and I’m going to try to reach as many people as we can. Because at the end of the day, long after all of us have gone to glory, this has to have a generational impact. And history will tell the story — (applause) — of revitalization. God bless you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Scott. Is he great? He is something. What a job you’re doing, Scott. Thank you very much. What a job.
I know that each and every one of you shares the same commitment to improving our communities and building a future of limitless opportunity.
For nearly two centuries, America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities have done exactly that. You have empowered millions of students to thrive in their careers, start a business, own a home, and raise proud, strong, and loving families.
That is your magnificent legacy, and that is the mission we are determined to help you carry on. We’re right by your side.
So together with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, we will power this nation to new heights. Heights like nobody would’ve imagined.
We will reward hard work and innovation in every field.
We will champion freedom, justice, equality, and opportunity for all.
We will pursue greatness together, as communities, as citizens, and as one United States of America.
Every day of my presidency, we’ll strive to give every child, of every background and every race, religion, color, and creed, the best chance to reach that beautiful American Dream.
As we do, I pledge that we will always support the institutions which help make these goals possible: our nation’s wonderful HBCUs. We will never let you down and we will never stop fighting for you.
And I just want to thank everybody for being here today. It’s a great honor. God bless you. And God bless America. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)