Melissa Harris-Perry: It's now week three of a student protest at Howard University where about 150 students have organized a sit-in to call attention to poor living conditions in their student housing. Using the #BlackburnTakeover, students have complained of mold, rats, and roaches in their living areas, and they say conditions have not gotten better since the start of the protests.
Speaker 1: We are tired of it. There are students exiting this [unintelligible 00:00:26] right now who will go back to mold-infested dorms, flea-infested showers, but they don't care because that's just Howard. Howard is the haves and the have-nots but I want to make something very clear, the have-nots have had [bleep] enough.
Melissa Harris-Perry: To further dramatize the situation, some students have moved into a tent encampment outside of Blackburn University Center to show just how serious they are. Now students are demanding an in-person town hall with President Wayne Frederick to address these issues. Jessica Disu is the founder and executive director of the Chicago International Youth Peace Movement. She may be better known to some as FM Supreme and Jessica joins me today. Thanks for coming on The Takeaway.
Jessica Disu: Oh, thank you so much for having me, Melissa. I really appreciate you lifting up the story of our young people at Howard who just want healthy housing.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, obviously, you are not a student at Howard. How did you get involved in this particular protest?
Jessica Disu: Actually, the protest is deeply personal to me as a first-generation college graduate, the first of my mother's five children to graduate high school in 2006 and go to college in 2006 as well in New York City. I actually dropped out of college in my sophomore year because we couldn't afford to pay for my dorms in New York City and so that alone, that story, me hearing the conditions that these young people will have to face when they're paying $50,000 a year, was compelling enough for me to want to get involved.
However, I was called on my birthday, October 12th, which is the day the protest happened. My dear friend, Shay Phelan Brooks, who is a parent of Emaya Diaz who's a leading organizer at Howard. Emaya is a first-generation student and Shay had called me to wish me happy birthday and then night she told me, "Well, you know Emaya is sleeping outside?" I said, "Why is she sleeping outside?"
The more stories I got and then beyond hearing about the mold and the rodents inside of their dormitories and the mushrooms growing, I was-- She told Emaya to tell me her story how when she first moved on campus, when it was hot in DC in August, their air conditioners were not working. Then their wifi was not working. There was just different issues that her big dream of going to college, her parents never went to college so this is huge for Emaya.
Emaya and Shay are from Virginia, Loudoun County, which is the wealthiest county in Virginia. It's not like she's coming from poverty here. It's like she left her home, a middle-class working home, to go live in impoverished conditions at Howard and that is unacceptable. That's the reason why I'm in this fight.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is this impacting the freshmen dorms in particular?
Jessica Disu: Yes, the Harriet Tubman Quad dorms. Now, what I'm hearing, I've been speaking with parents who've been reaching out to me as well as alums, this is a systemic issue that has been happening for decades at Howard University. It just has been unkept. In fact, I spoke with Congressman Bobby Rush yesterday from the Illinois 1st District, and he actually gave me a call. I called him Friday so he returned my call yesterday. When I told him what was going on, he said, "How can I help?" I said, "Well, you can help by using your bully pulpit to call over to the administration at Howard and tell them they need to meet demands of the young people.
He agreed that he would do that. He also stated that his granddaughter is a Howard alum and her issue at Howard was housing. This is a deeply systemic issue. I'm curious if we do an audit, a financial audit, as well as an administrative audit, going back to 2008 when Barack Obama ran and won presidency, I would love to see the administration. I want to follow the money because there's no way that few guys are getting all these resources. Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Job's widow, gave Howard $5 million in 2020 in the pandemic after George Floyd. Google, the multi-billion dollar tech company has invested money into Howard.
Howard's endowment, I have to do my research on that, but I'm certain that Howard is the most endowed HBCU next to Morehouse and Spelman. I'm very deeply educated when it comes to business and finance and it's clear to me that Howard has a financial issue going on, which makes no sense so we have to follow the money.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Jessica, as always, thank you for bringing the uncompromised fire in your analysis.
Jessica Disu: I love Howard, I love HBCU, I want to say that. Can I please say that on-air because I don't want to seem like I want to embarrass HBCUs. I think historically Black college university is necessary because we know that when Black kids are in predominantly white schools, there's cultural sensitivity, sometimes it's not-- It's a lot of microaggressions and this is important to be affirmed in our blackness, but I'm just calling for fair housing. Healthy housing for the Howard kids and all HBCUs.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We reached out to Howard University for a comment on this story. The full statement is up at thetakeaway.org.
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