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Virginia Union University rescinds permission for outside group to use campus facility for Trump event

Bonnie V. Winston and Ronald E. Carrington | 1/17/2020, 6 a.m.
Virginia Union University on Tuesday pulled out of allowing a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration after learning the ...

Virginia Union University on Tuesday pulled out of allowing a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration after learning the private group arranging the event planned to bring President Trump to the campus to be honored.

Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the VUU Board of Trustees, said in a Free Press telephone interview that organizers “misrepresented” the event in booking the Claude G. Perkins Living and Learning Center on campus for the program that was scheduled for Monday, Jan. 20.

Dr. Richardson

Dr. Richardson

Dr. Richardson said VUU only learned this week the real purpose when a flyer touting the event was widely distributed. The flyer identified the organizers as Darrell C. Scott and Kareem Lanier of the Urban Revitalization Coalition.

Dr. Richardson said VUU was told a different story when the organizers sought to book the campus space. He said they held themselves out to school President Hakim J. Lucas as being part of the White House Initiative on HBCUs.

Dr. Richardson said Dr. Lucas was told the White House group wanted to book the center for a dinner honoring VUU as an outstanding historically black institution.

The White House Initiative on HBCUs was established under a February 2017 executive order by President Trump. As Dr. Richardson noted, federal legislation was signed into law in late December that, for the first time, makes funding for HBCUs and for Native American and Hispanic-serving schools a permanent fixture in the annual federal budget. VUU and four other Virginia schools would collectively receive about $4.3 million a year under the act.

However, alarms began sounding when the flyer went viral on social media. It showed photos of Dr. Lucas, President Trump, his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Johnathan Holifield, executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, who it stated were being honored at the invitation-only event.

In addition, the flyer stated the event would honor “urban impact leaders” and would feature a $30,000 cash giveaway. It also listed Mr. Scott and Mr. Lanier, whom records show as co-founders of Urban Revitalization Coalition and as longtime supporters of President Trump, as “hosts” of the event and Dr. Lucas as “co-host.”

Dr. Richardson, senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, N.Y., said he was swamped by emails and phone calls from board members and others wondering if the flyer was real or fake. Dr. Lucas, he said, was out of the country and expected back on Tuesday evening.

He said he first learned of the flyers Tuesday when he received a call from a VUU staff member.

“Students, like everybody else, were waiting to hear an explanation,” Dr. Richardson said. “Many people thought it was fake news — and, really, that’s what it was,” because the university was never told the real details before the flyer was released.

The upshot, he said: VUU rescinded permission for the URC to use the campus facility and issued a public statement distancing itself from any part of the event or the organizers.

“The university was not part of the planning for this event, was not informed of who would be participating and was not a part of distributing information about the event,” according to the VUU statement.