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On Thursday, March 31, President Joe Biden named his 18 appointees to the Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). First begun as the HBCU Initiative in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, this year’s esteemed list is comprised of nine men and nine women with a wide range of backgrounds. Some of the names on the Board include 20-year-old Marylander Paige Blake, actress Taraji P. Henson, and 12× NBA All-Star Chris Paul.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting the vital mission of HBCUs,” the White House said in its official statement. “Through the American Rescue Plan, grant funding, and by forgiving capital improvement debt of many of these institutions, the Biden-Harris Administration has already committed more than $5.8 billion in support. Reestablishing the White House HBCU Initiative – and appointing qualified and diverse individuals to the Board – will allow the administration to build on that financial commitment with continued institutional support.”

Henson is an alumna of the HBCU system, having attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to study electrical engineering before transferring to Howard University to study acting. The Hidden Figures star announced her selection to the board on her Instagram page.

Chris Paul didn’t attend an HBCU, but the Phoenix Suns point guard has been a long, consistent supporter. In February 2021, he released a 12-part docuseries on ESPN+ called Why Not Us: North Carolina Central University Men’s Basketball. In it, the Wake Forest grad covered the difficulties HBCUs have attracting and retaining premier Black athletic talent.

“Even though I grew up right there with all those HBCUs, they didn’t really recruit me because they didn’t think they had a chance,” he said in an interview last year with The Hollywood Reporter. “When I was coming up, you felt like you had to attend a PWI [predominantly white institution] in order to be seen.” Paul even sat down with Henson, Morehouse College alum Spike Lee, and other HBCU grads for a set of one-on-one conversations in Why Not Us.

Paul’s second season of Why Not Us debuted last October, and it focused on the Florida A&M Football program. In mid-March of this year, he and BET also partnered with former First Lady Michelle Obama for the “Vote Loud HBCU Squad Challenge,” a new initiative led by her organization, When We All Vote. The Squad Challenge focuses on increasing voter rights education and voter turnout among the HBCU population.

“Look, I know it can be discouraging. But the bottom line is that it wouldn’t be happening if people weren’t afraid of our voting power.” Paul said in a statement to BET. “That’s motivation enough for me, especially when I look at our history as a people in this country and those before us who led the way to ensure we could even vote. Through the Squad Challenge, we are empowering HBCU students to take leading roles in our democracy by volunteering with us and creating a squad and giving them opportunities to fight back.”

The full list of persons appointed yesterday to President Biden’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities is as follows:

  • Dr. Makola M. Abdullah
  • Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston
  • Paige Blake
  • Thasunda Brown Duckett
  • Willie A. Deese
  • Patrick Cokley
  • Dr. Monica Goldson
  • Brett J. Hart
  • Taraji P. Henson
  • Beverly W. Hogan
  • Lisa P. Jackson
  • Shevrin D. Jones
  • Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough
  • William F. L. Moses
  • Christopher E. Paul
  • Dr. Quinton T. Ross Jr.
  • Dr. Ruth J. Simmons
  • Janeen Uzzell

Photo: Paras Griffin / Getty