WASHINGTON — The senior adviser to President Biden for public engagement and former Atlanta mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, hosted a press conference at the White House Thursday with Vice President Kamala Harris. One representative each from over 30 HBCUs took part in the event. This is one of the first in-person public briefings held since the onset of the pandemic in spring 2020 that students have been able to attend.
Student journalists were excited to be on Capitol Hill and eager to take advantage of the opportunity. They were shown the James S. Brady press briefing room and other important federal offices before the briefing. The former mayor and vice president were also extremely happy to have students in the space as they are both graduates from historically Black universities.
“Don’t tell the president, but this is the coolest thing I’ve done since I’ve been at the White House,” Bottoms, a graduate of Florida A&M University’s School of Journalism & Graphic Communication, said.
Students were asked to prepare one question in advance concerning topics that affectHBCU students and American citizens ranging from support for HBCUs, mental health, climate change and racial inequity.
Bottoms spoke on efforts to combat recent attacks on Black history education and diversity, equity and inclusion funding by Florida legislators. Since January, the Biden-Harris administration has invested $5.8 billion into HBCUs. Along with debt relief, President Biden has signed an executive order to expand a White House initiative on improving HBCUs and the lives of Black Americans.
However, Bottoms reminded attendees that all the money in the world could not stop a state’s lawmakers from enacting new legislation. She stressed the importance of voting and interaction on a local level to avoid harmful legislation that could potentially affect
the entire nation.
A student from Alcorn State University questioned how the federal government is protecting young minds from the effects of social media. Bottoms believes that it will take a “holistic approach” from the government to address how social media interacts
with mental health and influences anxiety and depression.
Bottoms quoted a report from the surgeon general: “In 2020, 81% of 14 to 22 year olds said they used social media daily or almost constantly.” With TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, set to testify in a congressional hearing late March America’s interaction with the popular app can be altered.
Harris, who earned her bachelor’s degree at nearby Howard University, joined the discussion and added how other initiatives will affect those at HBCUs such as reducing insulin costs and home buying loans for parents.
Harris also addressed how the administration is dealing with climate change and racial inequalities. She cited her previous work as the district attorney in San Francisco where she created the nation’s first environmental justice unit. Her current goal is to acknowledge who is suffering the most, where resources should go and what needs to be done to make life more equitable for those affected.
N’dia Webb, a journalism student at Howard University, highlighted the impact that the press briefing had on her.
“Representation is really important in journalism and the way our stories are told, especially with the amount of misinformation that there is in the media today,” Webb said. “It was really great to see them in their natural element and their fields doing
exactly what they’re meant to do.”
Bottoms and Harris encouraged attendees to stand proud in being the future. They mentioned several times that the next generation will be the key in solving many of the racial, social and environmental issues society faces.
“We need you to lead and to see what’s coming,” Harris said. “…to help deconstruct it, so people can see themselves in the future.”