Ed. note: This is cross-posted from USDA.gov
Earlier this week I caught up with Tom Joyner on the Tom Joyner Morning Show to announce $35 million in grant support for high quality research, teaching and Extension activities at 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities. Tom, a graduate of Tuskegee University, and I discussed how these additional resources will help support exciting new opportunities and innovative research at 1890s institutions.
These grants are just a small piece of USDA’s nearly 125 year partnership with 1890s schools to support cutting edge research, innovation and student achievement. Since 2009 alone, USDA has awarded $647 million to 1890s schools.
In addition to highlighting the great work of these universities with Tom Joyner, I also joined Congresswoman Marcia Fudge—a champion of education and an extraordinary advocate for underserved Americans—to announce the designation of Central State University, a historically black university in Wilberforce, Ohio, as a land-grant institution.
Beginning in fiscal year 2016, Central State University will be eligible to receive USDA funding to strengthen its capacity to conduct research, Extension and teaching activities. In the meantime, the university is currently eligible to apply for certain USDA competitive grants and students can apply for scholarships through USDA’s 1890 National Scholars Program (applications are due by March 14, 2014).
Partnerships with 1890s institutions are critical for two reasons.
First, working closely with 1890s institutions allows us to work more directly with the next generation of agricultural leaders. Whether they are destined for careers in communications, research, technology, and education, or to work directly in the field as farmers, ranchers, foresters and conservationists, it is important that we build strong relationships early on.
For example, at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, scientists used USDA support to start a program to equip youngsters with the critical thinking skills necessary to prepare them for future careers. This project has increased the number of students entering food and agricultural sciences and in turn benefits rural communities, and all Americans.
Second, these partnerships further our broader mission at USDA to ensure equal access to programs and services for all of our stakeholders.
We’ve made significant progress to create a new, lasting era of civil rights at USDA: We have undertaken an initiative to focus civil rights trainings in agencies with large program complaint filings, which has resulted in three consecutive years of the lowest total volume of customer civil rights complaints in USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Rural Development (RD).
We’ve settled lawsuits brought by African American farmers in Pigford II, and by Native American ranchers and farmers in Keepseagle. We have constructed a unified claims process to provide a path to justice for Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who claim to have faced discrimination by USDA in past decades.
I am proud of what we’ve accomplished, but our work is not finished. We will continue to work towards a more diverse Department that stands ready to serve all customers with dignity and respect, and build a new legacy of equality, service and opportunity for all.
Tom Vilsack is Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture.