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Thursday, June 13, 2024

What can HBCUs do when angel donors turn out to be devils in disguise?

As HBCUs have fought against local, state, and federal governments for resources and funding equal to their PWI counterparts, the angel investor has been a huge part of our schools’ battle to stay alive and thrive.

Famous, wealthy and influential people of note have given back to HBCUs for many years, providing a heaven-sent reprieve from total despair.

Our institutions now have to decide what to do when an angel investor is a true devil in the flesh.

Weeks after Florida A&M’s administration was played by a hemp farmer, Howard University must do some soul-searching as the news about one of their more famous alumni, Sean “Diddy” Combs, becomes darker and more horrifying with each passing day.

Rolling Stone recently published an investigative piece that featured six months of interviews with former Combs associates, employees and observers that seem to confirm his violent and predatory nature.

Combs made headlines last fall with donations to Howard and Jackson State University. He stated at Howard’s annual YardFest, “This donation to Howard is not just a financial contribution; it’s also a reaffirmation of our commitment to a cultural institution that has touched countless lives. It’s about ensuring that HBCUs continue to receive the support they rightfully deserve.”

Combs’ recent troubles mirror those of another noted benevolent celebrity exposed for criminal behavior.

Bill Cosby donated countless millions of dollars to various HBCUs but was convicted of aggravated indecent assault in 2018 (the conviction was overturned in 2021) after years of stories of him drugging and sexually assaulting women made global headlines.

Photo: Florida A&M University/Facebook

This is not to say all donors to HBCUs, or any school for that matter, have shady pasts. Unfortunately, however, HBCUs are more likely to accept help no matter where it comes from due to the generations-long negligence of various branches of government. 

When allegations against donors like Combs and Cosby surface, or even when a gift is too good to be true as in the FAMU case, the schools who benefit from the resources are placed in an unenviable situation.

Of course, the right thing to do would be to refund the donations. The problem is that this would come at a greater cost than the initial investment, and not just monetarily. 

Perception is not always reality, but the court of public opinion holds more weight than an actual court of law. HBCUs will catch more flak than PWIs because it’s the popular stance to take. Of course, that does not make it right.

HBCUs survived Jim Crow because of community efforts and with an apparent return to that era looming, community will once again be the way.

The illusion of celebrity is dead. Not all people with endless amounts of money are good people. It is up to the alumni and all who love our schools to save ourselves. 

Depending on rich folks writing a check when they’ll likely need that money for lawyer fees is only going to lead to more awkward, conflicting thoughts about the kind of help we receive and the kind of people we are receiving it from.

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