A Public But Controversial Spokesman for HBCUs - Higher Education
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A Public But Controversial Spokesman for HBCUs

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by Ya-Marie Sesay

He’s become an ardent defender of President Donald J. Trump, taking to the public airways to defend the embattled commander-in-chief.

But Paris Dennard—a CNN political commentator and NPR political analyst—is also a staunch advocate for historically Black colleges and universities, as the senior communications director for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the advocacy organization that represents publicly-supported Black colleges.

“Johnny Taylor Jr., our president and CEO got my resume and he literally said, ‘I don’t know what I want you to do at TMCF, but I do know that I want you at TMCF,” Dennard told Diverse in an interview. Dennard is the outspoken politico who regularly spars with CNN host Don Lemon and the liberals that appear on the cable network.

“Johnny said, ‘Paris we have got to be intentional on our engagement outreach in the political space. We’ve got to be working just as much with Democrats and Republicans to get things done for our Black college community,” said Dennard. “And so I took that and Johnny let me run with it, and it’s proved to be a very successful and intentional strategy in government affairs.”

Dennard began his career at TMCF in the department of government affairs. He later became director of government affairs where he did liaison work on Capitol Hill with many different organizations. During the 2016 presidential election, he played a central role in helping HBCU students gain access to the Republican and Democratic Conventions and was able to use his influence and voice in getting students embedded in both political campaigns.

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Toward the end of the election cycle, Dennard joined TMCF’s communication department, where he has used his media connection to become the voice of Black colleges.
Despite his work at TMCF, when he is speaking as a political commentator, advancing the causes of the Trump administration, Dennard said that he is certain to point out that he is voicing his own personal views and not those of his TMCF.

“When I appear, I’m not appearing on behalf of TMCF,” he said. “I’m appearing as a GOP political commentator who comments and gives analysis about politics and political opinion,” said Dennard.

During one of his most recent appearances on CNN, Lemon abruptly cut Dennard off and ended the show after Dennard continued to insist that mainstream media organizations were promoting “fake news stories.”

Dennard’s political acumen came at a very young age. He was involved in student government since elementary school in his hometown of Phoenix. His love for politics developed with the idea that “it’s the ability to impact change and make the difference in the lives of people that you are elected or appointed to serve,” he said.
By the time he reached high school, he was invited by a friend to an Arizona Republican convention for teenagers. With no political affiliation, he decided to run for the position of corresponding secretary and emerged victorious. When his friends later asked his opinions on specific political viewpoints, Dennard said that his responses were all aligned to the core principles that the Republicans espouse.

“If my personal beliefs and my gut reaction line up with the party beliefs then that’s what I believe and I haven’t turned my back, changed or wavered since,” Dennard said.
Dennard previously worked for U.S. Senator John McCain’s campaign in Arizona, then for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, making his debut on CNN, where he delivered a speech at the 2000 Republican Convention at the tender age of 17.

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After graduating from Pepperdine University in California with two degrees in public relations and political science, Dennard interned at the White House during the Bush administration and was hired in 2005 as the director of Black outreach

Dennard said that his affinity for HBCUs and the Republican Party makes sense.

“My strong passion for TMCF and my strong passion for the Republican Party and the president is because I have seen a direct impact on TMCF advocacy and engagement with this administration and with the Republican Party,” said Dennard.

“In my life I always try to give 100 percent, and I never do things I’m not passionate about, and I never do things that I don’t want to do, or do not interest me,” said Dennard. “What attracts me to public service is the service part of it and using the God-given talent that you have to impact the lives of others in a very tangible way.”

Dennard said he believes that Trump has HBCUs’ best interest at heart and believes that he will be a staunch advocate for these vulnerable institutions.
“I like the fact that the president is a man of his word,” said Dennard. “If he says he’s going to do something and if it’s in his power to do it, he’s going to do it.”

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