Trump Administration Taps New Leader for Black-College Initiative

Johnathan Holifield, a consultant and former NFL player, has been appointed executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges, the White House announced at the opening ceremony of the annual black-college summit on Monday. News of Mr. Holifield’s appointment was first reported on Saturday by HBCU Digest.

Mr. Holifield will start on October 2, and his office will be housed in the White House, alongside a deputy director and an assistant, a Trump-administration official said. The four career staff members who currently work on the initiative will remain at the Department of Education. The shift of the initiative’s top leadership to the White House is a result of an executive order signed in February by President Trump.

Advocacy groups for black colleges praised the announcement. Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said in a written statement that Mr. Holifield’s experience in business and government would “help lead the critical work of developing a robust policy and budgetary agenda to positively impact HBCUs.”

The weeks before the annual summit, which kicked off on Sunday night with a dinner followed by the opening ceremony on Monday morning, were dogged with controversy, as lawmakers, advocacy groups, and students called for the event to be postponed. The tensions were exacerbated by the program’s lack of an executive director and the perceived “lack of progress” on policy initiatives from the administration.

The conference, which has been held for more than two decades, is not intended to be a political event but an opportunity for black colleges to build relationships with those across the federal government. The event has assumed political implications this year, however, as the relationship between the Trump administration and the black community continues to be rife with tension.

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