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 (l-r) Jimmy Henry, Dr. Alton Johnson, Jillian Semaan, Dr. Joe Leonard, Jr.- USDA’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Dr. Felicia Nave, Dr. Michael McFrazier & Archie Crawford
(l-r) Jimmy Henry, Dr. Alton Johnson, Jillian Semaan, Dr. Joe Leonard, Jr.- USDA’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Dr. Felicia Nave, Dr. Michael McFrazier & Archie Crawford

By: Erica Ponder

PRAIRIE VIEWThe United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Dr. Joe Leonard, Jr., made an announcement at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) that on behalf of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) 1890 Institution Research, Extension, and Teaching Capacity Building Grants Program, over $18 million will be available to “strengthen the research, teaching and extension capabilities at 19 historically Black land-grant colleges and universities in an effort to recruit and train students for careers in agriculture.”

The money will be split between the land-grant universities that apply in order to receive funding for specific programs and organizations that fit the eligibility and requirements. Dr. Leonard told PVAMU officials that “I want to make sure that between you, I and everybody in the room, that you use up all this money. The federal government is supposed to be caring for people, and the money goes back to the federal treasury, so we want to make sure that this money is spent…” Last fiscal year, 30 percent of applications were funded.

Dr. Leonard stated that “This support for the 1890 land-grant universities is an example of the Obama Administration and Secretary Vilsack’s commitment to the 1890 institutions.” He further stressed the importance of the grant money by saying that these grants are the “mother’s milk of all institutions” and that the funding will “continue to positively impact students, professors and institutions for future generations.”

The USDA official said to select PVAMU faculty and staff that USDA often makes different announcements on grants, housing, loans and rural development. He further expressed, “What I’ve seen the lack of is these announcements at institutions that are NIFA, 1890 and HSI institutions.”

The assistant secretary also mentioned that PVAMU’s cooperation extension department and other officials have been very effective while working with USDA’s Jillian Semaan, and have ultimately made them want to come back and further cultivate relationships with the university. Semaan confirmed the statement by saying, “We’ve always had a great partnership with Prairie View, and I think it’s developed more over the years. They run an energy audit program and they’ve taken a pilate program and made it into something much bigger than we’ve ever anticipated. The highlight of that is hiring folks. People are actually receiving jobs from this program. They’ve really been a model for the country and have done a superb job… We were honored to make the announcement there.”

Dr. Leonard said that he wants the 19 land-grant institutions to “continue the mission of those colleges” by using the grant money. “It will train teachers, it will help provide student internships for students to do their research, and it will help to guide another generation of students at the 1890 institutions into the future,” he said.

Dr. Leonard shared that it was important to make the announcement of available funds at PVAMU due to his connection to the university. “My mother, my father and my sister were all graduates of Prairie View, so I’m the beneficiary of not specifically this grant, but grants like it, so it was very important to me to make the announcement of this grant. I’m ecstatic at the relationship we have with Prairie View. They are such a willing partnership and USDA as a whole appreciates it. The Obama administration under the secretary of USDA endeavors to have a closer relationship with the 1890 universities and one of the most stunning examples of that is Prairie View,” he said.

The 1890 land-grant institutions are historically Black universities that were established under the Second Morrill Act of 1890. Under this act, southern states that did not have institutions for Blacks later established them. Multiple programs within these institutions focus on youth development, agriculture and natural resources, community and economic development and family and consumer sciences. Prairie View A&M University is the only historically Black land-grant institution in Texas.

According to USDA, the 1890 CBG program applications are due on March 26, 2015. More information can be found at