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Howard protest to end today; agreement reached, sources say

Texas student says after more than 33 days, “it’s Over!”

President Wayne A.I. Frederick
President Wayne A.I. Frederick

The #BlackburnTakeover is over.

The battle between unrelenting students at the prestigious Howard University and the college’s head-strong administration has ended, sources said late Sunday.

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick signed an agreement over the weekend that effectively will end the more than a month-long sit-in at Howard’s Blackburn University Center, sources close to the negotiations said. 

Lawyers for the students are expected to announce the agreement Monday morning. Student protesters sitting in at the Blackburn Center will leave the building later Monday, said the sources, who asked not to be named Sunday night.

Channing-Hill
Channing-Hill

Channing Hill, president of Howard University’s NAACP chapter, one of the student organizations leading the protest at Blackburn Center, acknowledged that an agreement had been reached.

“It’s over,” Hill said, declining to offer more details on the deal.

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“We’re not allowed to speak on it,” said Hill, 20, a junior from Bedford, Tex. who is majoring in Strategic Legal and Management Communication. “There’s a confidentiality clause to the agreement.”

University officials could not be reached late Sunday via email for comment on the agreement.

The 33-day sit-in is the longest student protest in the history of Howard University, a college that has graduated some of the nation’s most prolific African American voices in politics and social justice, including former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young; former New York Mayor David Dinkins; L. Douglas Wilder, the first Black governor of Virginia; and Kasim Reed, the former mayor of Atlanta. Vice President Kamala Harris also is a Howard University graduate.

Students began the sit-in at Blackburn Center on Oct. 12, complaining that mold was growing in dorm rooms at Howard, and that the campus had problems with rodents and insect infestation. Student leaders said their complaints to university administrators had fallen on deaf ears.

Simultaneously, protesting students began posting pictures of leaky pipes, moldy vents and flooding hallways at Howard under the hashtag “#BlackburnTakeover.”

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Rev. Jesse-Jackson
Rev. Jesse-Jackson

The images immediately went viral and led to international news media coverage. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Hollywood actress Debbie Allen visited the campus and encouraged student protesters. Former presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted her support as well.

Student protesters had sought to have Howard administrators agree to four demands: a university-wide Town Hall hosted by Dr. Frederick allowing students to air grievances; a restoral of alumni, student and faculty seats on the Board of Trustees; a comprehensive plan to remediate mold from university buildings; and legal and academic amnesty for protesting students.

Meanwhile, as media attention on the protest grew with students appearing on programs airing on national news networks CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC, Howard administrators, particularly Dr. Frederick and Vice President for Student Affairs Cynthia Evers, remained mum, either refusing requests for news media interviews or, in one case, with network CNN, failing to show up at the interview at all; after agreeing to do so.

Dr. Ben Chavis, president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association – the Black Press of America, was scheduled to meet with Dr. Frederick on Friday.

Over the weekend, Howard alumni, including Ras Baraka, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, rallied on the campus seeking, among other things, a reversal of a decision earlier this summer by Howard’s Board of Trustees which eliminated seats on the board previously held by alumni, students and faculty.

Mayor Ras_J._Baraka
Mayor Ras_J._Baraka

Hill said the appearance of Baraka on the campus may have played a pivotal role in this weekend’s agreement. 

“We’ve had Rev. Jesse Jackson, we’ve had about six Congressmen, we’ve had Sen. Elizabeth Warren,” to no avail, Hill said. “Mayor Baraka had Dr. Frederick negotiating within minutes of his arrival.”

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Baraka led a protest in 1989 against Howard, his alma mater, citing similar concerns. 

Baraka, Hill and three other student protesters, Erica England, Jasmine Joof and Elishabeth Cunningham, met Saturday with Dr. Frederick and Evers, but Hill would not say what the two sides agreed to.

Protesting students previously said they believed university administrators would retaliate against them. They sought the amnesty agreement in an effort to prevent academic repercussions, such as a loss of scholarships. 

“We are fearful from retaliation from our own school,” senior Erica England said in reference to an amnesty agreement with the University.

The agreement would calm the fears of England, other students and supporters.

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