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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Whirlwind Trip

image via AL.com
Nearly two years ago, I was questioning whether or not relative upstart Talladega College was the Boise State of black college marching. Now, folks have some other choice names for the Marching Tornado Band.

Talladega has been invited to participate in the Inaugural Parade for President-Elect Donald Trump. They're not the only band to participate - Tennessee, Marist, Citadel, and Olivet Nazarene are among them - nor are they the only to draw criticism for their participation. There have been rumblings since the news first hit before Christmas, and they've gotten louder as Dega's name was included on the official list from the Inaugural Committee.

While Trump's campaign, candidacy, and ultimate election has sparked controversy since its inception, the fact that a historically black college marching band would participate in the inauguration of the preferred candidate of white nationalists has been pretty roundly decried, especially among HBCU bandheads. The Tornadoes have been taken to task on various message boards and social media, and I'm certain the college's public relations team has had their hands full these past couple of weeks. While President-Elect Trump claims to a friend to "the blacks," in the words of Jay-Z, we don't believe you, you need more people.

In early December, it was noted that there would be no participation from DC area high schools or Washington-based HBCU Howard University in the inaugural parade. While a variety of reasons were given, the assumption of many is that this was a referendum on the president-elect and his reception in the black community. This isn't simply a matter of partisanship; both Grambling and Southern participated in George W. Bush's inauguration. Rather, Donald Trump specifically has found himself persona non grata with a sizable swath.

Worth noting about the Marching Tornado Band: While Talladega is Alabama's oldest HBCU, they've only fielded a band for five football seasons, supporting Talladega's NAIA Gulf South Athletic Conference program. They rose quickly, earning a Honda Battle of the Bands invitation and battling formidably with Southern. At face value, an invite to inauguration is a huge honor and a logical step, especially for a program so young eager to make a name for itself. But as many critics have noted, all publicity isn't good publicity. Participation in Trump's inauguration calls into question Talladega's commitment to the very community they were created to serve. Some have considered Talladega a "token" participant. And of perhaps of most concern, Talladega is a private school, which means they rely heavily on alumni giving. If this move has alienated alumni, might it cost them more than they stand to gain?

While the announcement has been officially made, a school representative reports that the college president hasn't yet made a decision on whether or not the band will participate. Whether the band is considering pulling out amid controversy, or whether a statement similar to Marist's on the role of the inauguration is being crafted remains to be seen.

Should Talladega participate? It's not my call to make. But they should know, and they've now undoubtedly seen, how they'll be perceived for the choice they've made. At least they'll confuse some folks looking for Ricky Bobby when they hear Talladega is coming.
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