In the education space, he was perhaps one of President Obama’s fiercest critics.

And now, as Johnny Taylor prepares to step down as president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund—a position he’s held for the past seven years—he says that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as well as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai have reached out since the Trump administration took office last November and have been supportive.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

“Even if it were a photo op, we couldn’t get one from the first Black president for eight years,” says Taylor of the highly criticized Oval Office photo of President Trump with HBCU presidents that went viral earlier this year. “Every year there’s a convening of HBCUs. [Obama] never came.”

Taylor is leaving his post to become the president of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), an association representing human resource professionals. Dr. Harry Williams, the president of Delaware State University, will replace him.

“I kind of had the advantage of coming into this space with no legacy, predisposition or whatever,” says Taylor in a recent interview with higher education reporters. “The question was always, ‘Are HBCUs still relevant?’ I just thought it was a dumb question. Well, of course they are. That’s the beauty of the American system. There are options.”

A graduate of the University of Miami and Drake Law School, Taylor began his career in 1992 at Blockbuster, the now bankrupted video rental company. For Taylor, the rise and fall of his former employer is still relevant in the HBCU context.

“Look at what’s happened to these iconic institutions. That’s what I think higher ed has got to get itself ready for,” he says. “We ain’t seen nothing yet.”

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