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Talladega College Tornadoes

Talladega College raises more than enough money to attend Donald Trump’s inauguration

The school’s president appeared on Fox News and $326,000 poured into Talladega’s GoFundMe campaign

Crazy how the tide can change. One week after news that Talladega College’s band would participate in President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration nearly broke Twitter — forcing folks on both sides to vent — the school says it has raised three times the funds needed to join the biggest party of 2017.

That’s right. It was Christmas in January in Talladega, Alabama, for Talladega College, which has indeed raised the money needed to get to Washington, D.C., for Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration celebrations next week, according to multiple reports.

The historically black college – which was started by two former slaves in 1865 — is officially headed to the nation’s capital, thanks to funds raised through a GoFundMe page. As of Friday afternoon, it had raised more than $326,000 from 5,700 people and counting in just 10 days. Its original goal was $75,000.

When school president Billy C. Hawkins was called to verify the funds raised and how they would be used, a cordial staffer said she would pass along the interview request, and noted that his office was being bombarded with calls from the media. As news broke that Talladega would participate in the Trump inauguration, a stiff debate ensued – from alumni of other historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), band directors and even at Talladega College – expressing strong disappointment about Talladega’s participation, and seeming support for Trump, whose history with African-Americans and minorities, particularly during the election, has been less than complimentary.

Others in the debate say, “Why not perform at the inauguration?” That’s certainly been Hawkins’ message — he’s been the one deflecting most of the criticism, as he did Thursday night in an appearance on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.

“It’s about the students having an opportunity to participate on this national stage, in this inaugural ceremony,” he told host Bill O’Reilly. “It’s a civic ceremony. It’s not about politics.” Before Hawkins’ appearance on The O’Reilly Factor, the band had raised only $57,000 for travel and lodging.

When The Undefeated asked HBCU band directors for comment about Talladega’s participation, few offered to speak on the record.

“What we do as HBCUs is very special,” said Nathan Haymer, Southern University’s director of bands. “Bands are very special and our craft is special. When Talladega performs, they’re not only representing their school and state, they’re representing HBCUs as a whole. I hope it works out because it’s a reflection on all of us.”

Whether the debate continues or cools, The Great Tornado – under the direction of Miguel Bonds – will be on its grandest stage ever, with eyes on both sides watching and Hawkins likely deflecting the debate.

“I get that folks are upset,” Hawkins said, “and I feel for those who feel the way they do. But I feel for our students. They want to go. I feel I have to be responsible to the student body. It’s about this band wanting to be part of this event. We are representing the state of Alabama. It’s about the experience. It’s about a peaceful transition of power. We’re confident we made the right decision. God did not put us in this position just to leave us at this point.”

Mark W. Wright is a Charlotte-based sports journalist and documentarian.