The other thing that we heard that we wanted to design for this year was to have more one-on-one with the business community. We brought a lot of corporations in so they could talk one-on-one, this is specifically what we’re looking for in graduates – whether it's from the engineering side, the tech side, the nursing component, medical. I’m privileged to represent the largest HBCU in the country with (N.C.) A&T. Chancellor Martin has become a good friend. That is what drove this year – more business connections, more industry connections. Fifteen or 20 years ago, the education world was not having to switch or move with such flexibility. We constantly see the ever-rapid changing industry, and we understand that’s part of the need.
DTH: Why is it important for politicians, and Republicans in particular, to meet with HBCU leaders and educators?
MW: I believe that the stronger we make families, the better chance we have in education, the better chance we have in fighting against poverty, and I guess in some ways, it’s personal for me. I represent A&T; my wife is a two-time graduate at Winston-Salem State University. So, I know there is great education there, but I felt like we needed to do more to bring awareness. What are the action steps we need to take? What other components are needed out there to be able to see these HBCUs continue to flourish?
DTH: Do you have any plans for future meetings with HBCU leaders?
MW: We want to be able to see the different universities have access to funding. And when I address the Chancellors, we need dialogue back from them because the more that you have success, the more it helps us be able to present this information to Congress as a whole.
What we haven’t done a good job of in the past is keeping those bridges of communication open. Even though your question has to do with what’s next, a lot of that will come from the chancellors themselves as far as saying “here’s where we’re having gains, here’s where our success is, how do you guys help us with this process?” And that’s what this marriage has been about. Even though it’s barely 13 months old, it’s been very educational for myself, for Sen. Tim Scott and the few others that are willing to do it. Alma Adams has helped some of this, Bradley Byrne from Alabama is co-chair of the HBCU caucus – so these are people that have extensive areas of education. I’m not saying that we’ve arrived yet, but I think we’re off to a decent start in bridging these gaps and trying to figure out what’s important to the HBCU community.
DTH: Have you ever met any resistance regarding policy or other projects from HBCU chancellors and educators?
MW: Yes, you get pushed back from time to time. Sometimes I get asked: “What’s the long-term gain to this – the amount of resources and time it takes to build these relationships where it's legitimate and it's genuine?”
Republicans need to do a better job of messaging as a whole. This judgmental, condescending approach that if you don’t agree with this or you don’t hold to these principles – we have to get beyond that, and I’ve always believed that if the relationship was real, then you have a chance to figure out which policy direction is the way to go. And I guess that’s what’s important to me. I don’t know how long that will keep me around in Washington, D.C., but in our second term we’re going to keep fighting and working on behalf of all of our constituents.