Commentary

Saunders: How ’bout giving your alma mater some of that CIAA money?

bsaunders@newsobserver.comFebruary 27, 2013 

In an episode of “Sanford and Son,” Fred’s famously free-spending friend Grip Madlock bursts into the room with a bottle of what he calls “the good stuff: Cold Duck” and proclaims, “Have no fear, Big Money Grip is here.”

I suspect many Charlotte-area hoteliers and restaurateurs, among other businesses, are this week expressing a similarly joyous sentiment with the annual arrival of the CIAA Basketball Tournament.

Downtown hotels that have jacked up their rates just for the occasion and bars serving top-shelf hootch are going to see their bottom lines nudged into the black by the green from thousands of black college alumni.

Yet, at the same time, their perennially underfunded and under-endowed historically black colleges and universities back home are struggling.

Don’t get me wrong, now. I love me some CIAA tournament. It provides great basketball and gives alumni a yearly chance to convene, jump clean and be seen.

Then why do I say this should be the tournament’s last year for a while, and that all of you Eagles, Falcons, Bears, Tigers et al. should stay home next year?

Because your beloved alma maters need that moolah more than Charlotte or the Marriott, Hilton and Grey Goose corporations do. Instead of pumping up their profits, why not pump up your alma maters’ endowments and scholarship funds?

$50.5 million

Determining how much money any convention leaves in a city is an inexact, subjective art, but however much Charlotte reaps this year, it’ll surpass the amount HBCU alumni give to their schools.

It was estimated in 2012 that the CIAA’s 180,000 attendees generated $50.5 million during the week. Imagine if they’d generated that much for their schools.

You can get angry at me if you like, but I’m only saying to you what your schools’ chancellors and presidents wish they could say without antagonizing you as they see you strolling around the Time Warner Cable Arena in your minks or in the hotel lobby sipping that yack. (For you squares, that’s cognac.)

A U.S. Department of Education report shows that the average endowment of a four-year public college or university is $114 million. For HBCUs, it’s $14 million. The report also said that only 8 percent of HBCU alumni contribute money to their school, while the national average is 13 percent.

How much for that hotel?

The late educator Mary McLeod Bethune is, to me, one of the most remarkable human beings to ever walk God’s earth. If I saw her at the CIAA tournament, though, I’d run in the opposite direction.

Why? Because I fear that at some point during our chat, while I was catching my breath from gushing over her, she’d ask incredulously, “You’re paying how much for that hotel room?” and then shame me by asking, “And how much money is in your alma mater’s endowment?”

Bethune, who founded a college in Florida that now bears her name, used to take students out into the nearby woods to pick blackberries. Naw, not for dessert, but to crush up and make ink with which to write.

Nothing better exemplifies our ability to make something out of nothing, to do a whole lot with a little.

When future generations look back at this period in our history, especially if the lights have been turned out on yet another HBCU because its alumni were too busy dancing the Wobble or the Dougie, they may be inclined to paraphrase Winston Churchill: Never have so many done so little with so much.

Is that really how we want to go out?

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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