Congressional Black Caucus Members Bring National Listening Tour to ASU

News Date
sewell-townhouse photo

By Hazel Scott

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is sharpening their listening skills by taking to the road to visit historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to discuss national issues.

They brought their Listening Tour to Alabama State University on Nov. 1. While here, they held a CBC Town Hall National Listening Tour meeting and a news conference with ASU's President, Dr. Quinton T. Ross Jr. in the Ralph David Abernathy College of Education's auditorium. 

The National Listening Tour is designed to discuss critical issues facing the African-American community and address student concerns. The CBC hopes to tour the more than 100 HBCUs in the country, most of them located in the South. 

Representing the CBC were U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07), the official host of the tour, and the CBC's chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37). President Ross and Mayor-elect Steven Reed also gave remarks. 

“We are grateful that the CBC representatives have taken the time to come here and talk to our students about those issues facing historically black colleges and universities,” Ross said. “This tour will get ASU students thinking more about how we can best work toward making our country a place where the values we share are front and center.” 

The audience engaged the Members of Congress with questions about student loan debt, funding for HBCUs, voter suppression, and different ways to strengthen HBCUs. 

The tour, Sewell said, is one of several initiatives put forth by lawmakers in their effort to find ways that the federal government can help HBCUs and their students.    

“I have seven HBCUs in my district, and we understand the importance of making sure we have adequate funding and that we provide better opportunities and more resources to our HBCU graduates,” said Sewell. 

Sewell said that funding is the biggest challenge facing HBCUs. 

“What we are finding is that there are a lot of HBCUs teetering on the edge,” said Sewell. “We have to make sure the federal government is providing technical assistance when it comes to the financial end of higher education.”

Bass said that student loan debt is another big issue and that she understands that it is not an issue that is just going to disappear overnight without a concerted effort by Congress. 

“We need to make sure we are setting up future generations for success, not crippling debt,” Bass said. “The fact that Americans owe trillions in student loan debt is a dramatic reminder that student debt is an ever expanding impediment on the young graduates in our country. Students should not leave college with the same amount of debt as a mortgage would cost. This load is too great for our nation’s graduates to bear. We may not solve the student loan crisis, but we are going to try to make it better.” 

To help address this crisis, Bass said that the CBC, along with two other minority caucuses in Congress, is in the process of passing legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Within that act is the student aid program, federal aid to colleges and oversight of teacher programs.

Bass said to create a more perfect union for black families, we have to listen, involve and mobilize young black leaders.

“The goal is to get students more involved,” Bass said. “To share the importance of becoming more civically engaged and making sure their voices are heard.”  

Bass said one way of participating and getting involved is through an internship in Washington, D.C. 

“There are all sorts of internships. The CBC offers internships, which gives an opportunity to learn about the legislative process and see how government works,” Bass said.

Both Bass and Sewell said the Congressional Black Caucus will continue to make reaching out to young people a priority.

“We know it’s important to invest in the future generation,” Sewell said. “And there is no bigger and better investment than to invest in a mind that goes to an HBCU.”