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First of All with Victor Blackwell

Golfer Billy Horschel And Wife Britanny Share Personal Struggles To Help Uplift Others; Morehouse President On Possible Biden Speech Protests; Will Sean "Diddy" Combs Be Held Legally Accountable?; Lawsuit Ventura Settled With Combs Last Year Included Details Matching Assault Seen On Video. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired May 18, 2024 - 08:00   ET



AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks to our Carolyn Manno for that. First of All with Victor Blackwell is next. What do you have coming up?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I am Victor Blackwell. Thank you. Good to see you.

Listen, you've got my full interview with the President of Morehouse, Dr. David Thomas. Of course, he told me why he resisted calls to rescind an invitation for President Biden to speak at the commencement tomorrow. Also, what the threshold is for him to step in and ended potentially in the middle of the President's address. So we'll talk about that.

Also a new low for Diddy and new concerns for what Cassie Ventura went through after the video of him assaulting her. Will there be any legal accountability? We'll discuss that.

And this new CDC Schutz study shows that there's an increase in people drowning, especially people of color. The first black woman to make the U.S. Olympic swim team now has a mission to teach kids of color to swim. Maritza Correia McClendon is going to join us coming up in the next hour.

WALKER: Super interesting. Have a good show.

BLACKWELL: Thank you very much. Let's get started right now.

Well, first of all, black voter turnout influences presidential elections and well, Atlanta influences everything. President Biden seems to recognize that and this week, we saw a surge in outreach, targeted ad bots , interviews with black radio stations, a speech at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a meeting with leaders of the Divine nine historically black sororities and fraternities.

And today he'll meet with black voters here in Atlanta. But his biggest moment will happen tomorrow at the historically black Morehouse College. President Biden will deliver the commencement address to more than 400 graduating Morehouse men, and we've been speaking with some of them, and they recognize a presidential visit is an honor. But this speech will be his first speech on a college campus since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, and Israel began its bombardment of Gaza. Some students wanted the visit to be canceled and some plan to protest.


MARQ RIGGINS, MOREHOUSE COLLECGE GRADUATING SENIOR: If our guest star at commencement, is the reason why we have to be so uptight that we would disavow our pledge to you know, making the world a better place and not allow people to protest and voice their opinions, then I think that's all the more reason that you shouldn't have been there in the first place.

NOAH COLLIER, MOREHOUSE COLLECGE GRADUATING SENIOR: In case any of the older generations watching this are confused as to why we are here right now. We are tired of the messages.


BLACKWELL: Well, Marc and Noah represent the feelings of some of the graduating class of 2024. But of course not all seniors feel the same way.


AYLON GRIPSON, MOREHOUSE COLLECGE GRADUATING SENIOR: I think that those that are opposed to them are a little bit more vocal. Most of my peers in my classes want a peaceful graduation.


BLACKWELL: I had the speech White House official Stephen Benjamin met with students. Calvin Bell was one of them. If you watch the show, you'll remember that he was on with me. And back when we spoke with it and when the visit was announced, he was opposed to it. Well, now he sent us this update.


CALVIN BELL, MOREHOUSE COLLECGE GRADUATING SENIOR: Hi, Victor. We are t minus two days from Morehouse his commencement. And I'm truly excited as festivities have already started this weekend. I think that it's important that we feel seen that day and that's what we tried to convey. And we hoped that that is the address that we receive.


BLACKWELL: Well, we've learned that the President's team has also been in touch with prominent Morehouse alumni for help crafting the speech. Sources involved in the preps tell CNN the speech will highlight triumph over adversity and the lasting impact of peaceful protest.

Now the president of Morehouse College tells me that he stands by his decision to invite the president. I spoke with Dr. David Thomas on the campus of Morehouse, and he was candid about how he will handle any protests during President Biden's speech. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID THOMAS, MOREHOUSE COLLEGE PRESIDENT: What we won't allow is disruptive behavior that prevents the ceremony or services from proceeding in a manner that those in attendance can partake and enjoy. So for example, prolong shouting down of the President as he is speaking.

I have also made a decision that we will also not ask police to take individuals out of commencement in zip ties. If faced with the choice, I will cease the ceremonies on the spot if we were to reach that position.

We will allow silent non disruptive protests. I had students ask me about it. What if we, you know, turned our backs on the President or turned our chairs? And I said to them, I'll be embarrassed with that. It's not your problem. You want to walk across the stage in a in a in a piece of garment that identifies your moral connection to either side of this conflict, you can do that.



THOMAS: We will look at that sign. And if that sign is seen as being hate speech, you cannot bring it in.

BLACKWELL: What's the line for you on hate speech?

THOMAS: Anything that calls for violence against another group, or individual genocide, the Jews, ethnic cleansing, for the Palestinians in Gaza.

BLACKWELL: River to the sea.

THOMAS: River to the sea, I don't think that river to the sea, would qualify as hate speech as opposed to a political view.

BLACKWELL: Your decision of not having the graduates taken off campus in zip ties and the image of having black men in cap and gown leaving this campus in police custody, the importance of drawing the line there for you.

THOMAS: It's a great framework, Victor. And I have to say, in all honesty, I didn't think about it through the lens of what would it look like having black men taken off this campus. I looked at it through the lens of who is Morehouse College. The reason for us to take people out in zip ties would be that we thought that we were exalted above the humanity of those people who are expressing their opinion and don't feel like they can find another avenue, I would rather be the first president to have a fail commencement than to say, you are less important than the ceremonies of this institution.

BLACKWELL: Why not rescind the invitation considering the protests from some on campus, some students and faculty? THOMAS: I think we need someplace in this country that can hold the tensions that threaten to divide us. We look around some of the most venerable institutions of higher education, have canceled commencement, canceled valedictorian speakers because of their having spoken out and exercise their rights for free speech. So we need some place in this country that can hold the tensions that can say, yep. I -- we don't agree with what's happening in Gaza. But that's not going to lead us to cancel someone, right, whose body of work is much bigger than this moment in time that we're in.

And that can respectfully listen to the views on all sides. Now, that said, I don't think it would be in the President's interest to come here and give a campaign stump speech.

BLACKWELL: What do you think would be in his interest, best interest?

THOMAS: And I think what would be in his interest would be to answer three questions. One, why did I choose Morehouse to come give this speech, to connect to the soul of this place, what it represents in the world. Two, for him to get his vision of the direction that we need to move domestic policy over the course of the next four years, so that it creates a more inclusive economy and a more inclusive environment for opportunity. And third, he needs to speak to the issues of Israel, Hamas, and Gaza.

My own view is that we need to be working toward a permanent ceasefire. We need to organize an international coalition of countries both in the Middle East and the West, to essentially run Gaza until we can establish a new government there. Have the Israelis retreat militarily. And we need to be working toward a two state solution.

Now, that may not be the President's position. But I think the President would do himself well, if he made clear, right, what his vision is that he's working toward, even though he might not be able to do it all in one fell swoop --



BLACKWELL: My thanks to President Thomas for taking some time to speak with me and to Morehouse for hosting that conversation.

CNN political commentator Jamal Simmons is here with me now. He is a Morehouse alumnus. Jamal, good to see you. First year, I understand that the White House --


BLACKWELL: -- are reporting is at the White House has consulted several Morehouse alumni to support the writing of this speech to help craft it. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Montgomery Mayor, Steven Reed, or you Eddie Glaude, Jr. Also at Princeton University, were you consulted on this speech? Did you help out? SIMMONS: I wasn't. I wasn't consulted on the speech. But you know, I went down to Morehouse about a couple of days before Steve Benjamin went down the school asked me. The Alumni Association asked me to lead a conversation with about 70 students, alumni, members of the board, it's kind of a family talk. It's off the record. So I can't tell you exactly what happened inside.

But I will tell you, I was amazed at the thoughtfulness of the students, their concern for both the people in Gaza and for anti- Semitism. So I don't think we should not get those things conflicted. And there were some people who were civil rights leaders who, you know, older generation were civil rights leaders wants to talk to them about how they focused on politics when they when it was their turn. So I had to communicate it, you know, some of what I learned back to the White House, but I was not involved in the speech.

BLACKWELL: And the supporting context. Now, after those conversations, what are you expecting tomorrow?

SIMMONS: Yes. I think, you know, I don't know what the President's going to write because they didn't tell me exactly how the President was going to go forward. But I'll tell you what I did learn from there, and then had a follow up conversation with some students after I was down there last week. So I think we've -- the thinking of the board and the alumni and the President is the more engagement we have with young people about this, give them a chance to say what they have to say. Give them a chance to speak to people who they may feel are kind of distant and maybe a little bit removed from their day to day lives. Tell their story about what they believe.

I detected something very particular. These children, they're young men, these guys don't know, Joe Biden, right? We think Joe Biden's been in office for 40 years, and every 50 years, and everybody knows Joe Biden. They've been paying attention for two, four, maybe five years. They don't really know Joe Biden. So the things that they would talk about Biden were things that you may have heard the 2020 election, about the crime bill, or you know, his other work, but they don't know about his wife and daughter dying in a car crash, literally.

They don't know about what happened around, you know, his son, Beau Biden dying. They don't understand the work he did with even thinking about, you know, talking about the appointments that he's made historically. They didn't know he was poor, right? That he was the least -- he was the poorest United States Senator, when he got chosen to be vice president. People thought he was rich, and that he was just another rich old white guy, frankly, who was trying to leave the country in a way that they didn't necessarily agree with.

So it was helpful, I think, to have a conversation with them where they understood some of the contours. I'd advise the President to talk about who he is first, and then talk about what he wants to do for the country.

BLACKWELL: You know, what's interesting is that we heard from President Thomas, there is that he's willing to if necessary, shut down the commencement if the President is shouted down. I don't expect that to happen tomorrow. I don't expect Morehouse men are going to stand up and shout down the president nor will their families have come to watch their moment. This is the graduates moment.

But if there is silent protest, and some of the men stand and turn their backs on the President, will it have been worth it? Will the President get out of this moment, obviously, coming to an HBCU in a swing state so important? Well, this had been the right decision to come to Morehouse.

SIMMONS: There will be silent protests, Victor, I'm not sure exactly how they will shape up. I know there are classes of Morehouse men who are choosing not to have their reunions this year are choosing not to give money this year as a kind of protest. So that will happen.

It's important for the President to do it because he's got to engage this community if he wants to be reelected. There's just not a path to the White House for a Democratic president that doesn't run through African Americans. When the President leaves Morehouse, he's going to Detroit, my home again, I'm putting myself in it. He's going into Detroit. And I was told last night that Detroit NAACP sold out their dinner two times. They sold it out. They announced Biden they added more space. They sold it out again. That's the kind of interest that they've got coming to that dinner in Detroit.

So I think, you know, young people are clearly concerned. They're engaged. I think people who are maybe their parents and a little bit older, are a little bit more enthusiastic about the president, but he's got to figure out how to knit some of that community back together.

BLACKWELL: He certainly has a lot of work to do. Jamal Simmons, good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

We've heard the allegations and now we're seeing the shocking video of Sean Diddy Combs grabbing, shoving, dragging, kicking his then go for and Cassie Ventura. But why eight years later.


Plus 70 years after Brown versus the Board of Education was decided, we have this reality check on how segregated schools still.


JOE BIDEN, USA PRESIDENT: Once upon a time, wasn't that long ago. And all the progress we've made is still have more to do. And they're still groups are trying to raise it.



BLACKWELL: Sean Combs has gone by many monikers. Puff Daddy, puffy, P. Diddy, Diddy, Brother Love, but what do we call him now? Now that he's shown us who he really is through horrific surveillance video obtained by CNN, where he is seen kicking and punching and dragging his then girlfriend Cassie Ventura. A warning the video is disturbing and it may be triggering. CNN is Elizabeth Wagmeister has the exclusive.

ELIZABETH WAGMEISTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: New surveillance footage obtained exclusively by CNN appears to corroborate some of the allegations of abuse against music mogul Sean Diddy Combs. The video captured on multiple cameras, shows Combs wearing only a towel, assaulting his then girlfriend Cassie Ventura in a hallway at a Los Angeles hotel in March 2016. A lawsuit filed by Ventura in November last year and settled the next day referenced actions that seemed to match those seen in this video. There is no audio.

According to the complaint, Combs became extremely intoxicated in punch Ms. Ventura in the face giving her a black eye, which according to the lawsuit prompted Ventura to try and leave the hotel room. The surveillance video obtained by CNN begins as she enters the hallway. The complaint says as she exited, Mr. Combs awoke and began screaming at Ms. Ventura. He followed her into the hallway of the hotel while yelling at her.

The complaint goes on to say he grabbed her and then took glass vases in the hallway and threw them at her. In the surveillance video, Combs can be seen grabbing Ventura in throwing her to the ground. As Ventura lies on the ground, Combs then kicks her twice, and attempts to drag her on the floor back to the hotel room. Ventura is seen picking up a hotel phone. Combs' seems to walk back to the hotel room, then returns and appears to shove her in a corner.

Moments later, he can then be seen throwing an object in her direction. According to Ventura is now settled lawsuit, the pair began dating several years after they met in 2005. They parted ways in 2019. Combs attorney said the decision to settle was in no way an admission of wrongdoing. Ventura declined to comment on the video but her attorney told CNN, "The gut wrenching video has only further confirmed the disturbing and predatory behavior of Mr. Combs. Words cannot express the courage and fortitude that Ms. Ventura has shown in coming forward to bring this to light."

The video hasn't been seen publicly before, and comes on the heels of a series of civil lawsuits alleging Combs involvement in sex trafficking and sexual abuse. Allegations that Combs has repeatedly denied. Authority search Combs his homes in Los Angeles and Miami in March as part of an ongoing federal investigation carried out by a team that specializes in human trafficking crimes.

In a December 2023 statement, Combs responded to the claims and some of the lawsuit saying, "Sickening allegations have been made against me by individuals looking for a quick pay day. Let me be absolutely clear. I did not do any of the awful things being alleged."

Clearly very disturbing footage and violent actions that we're seeing coming from Diddy who up until this point has denied many of these allegations from all of these lawsuits that he is facing. Aside from this lawsuit from Cassie, which he settled back in November 2023, he is facing five separate lawsuits and he has been fighting back through his lawyers. In fact, just last week, we reported on a motion that he filed to

dismiss a lawsuit from a Jane Doe that claim she was 17 years old, a minor at the time of her allegations in just a few days before that he filed a motion to dismiss a portion of an entirely different claim. It'll be interesting to see now how this may impact all that Diddy is facing. But we have yet to hear directly from him.

BLACKWELL: Elizabeth Wagmeister, thank you so much. A lot to talk about here plenty of questions. Could there be criminal charges? How does it impact the other lawsuits? And why are we seeing this eight years later? Answers from an expert next?



BLACKWELL: We still have not heard directly from Sean Combs. But after CNN revealed the surveillance video of him assaulting Cassie that we showed you before the break, her now husband posted a letter that seems to be a response. Here's a line from it.

"To the abusers, you're done. You're not safe anymore. You're not protected anymore." Attorney Lisa Bonner is here with me to talk through a lot of legal questions and then we'll get to some of the entertainment elements as well. Thank you first for coming.


BLACKWELL: There were questions. Initially when this lawsuit was filed by Cassie. Why was it settled so quickly within a day? This is the answer to that.

BONNER: This is absolutely the answer to that. That was the fastest settlement in history. And I think this was predicated on the fact because he knew this was true. And he knew that the allegations were true.

But what I think is that he did not think that she had the guts and the gumption to file, excuse me, such a lawsuit such as that because it was so graphic so explicit, that and so horrific that you know, who thought that she would have actually filed that. And he I think he had hedge to bet against himself and he lost.


BLACKWELL: 2016 is when this happened. Eight years later we're seeing the video. How does something like that not go public before now? I mean, allegedly he paid $50,000 for the video from the internet, Intercontinental Hotel. But how does it stay private?

BONNER: They pay the money. And you know, one of the things that has been said is, Diddy he has had a history of paying people off. They said that he has all of L.A., the police, a lot of the detectives, a lot of the DAs on his side, because he is such a powerful -- well, it was such a powerful individual. And he has allegedly paid people off like this before.

So you see something like this has happened. You know it's embarrassing. You know this could be the interview. So here's 50,000, t ake it and let's just make this go away.

BLACKWELL: And the criminal charges here, potentially?

BONNER: No, the statute -- not for this particular thing, because the statute of limitations sadly has run. But there will be -- this will be used in other allegations and other lawsuits that have been filed against him.

BLACKWELL: As part of the settlement and let's get to those other lawsuits. As part of the settlement would there have typically been some clause that says that Cassie could not testify against him, could not bring any claims against him related to anything of their personal interaction?

BONNER: Yes. Once you do a settlement is generally a full and final settlement. It also has a confidentiality clause and not generally a non-disparagement clause where you cannot say anything, which she has not. That's why her lawyer has spoken.

However, if you are subpoenaed in a lawsuit --

BLACKWELL: In one of the other lawsuits.

BONNER: The lawsuit from the feds or any of the other lawsuits, absolutely. That's why she hasn't said anything yet, because she does have a settlement agreement with an enforceable confidentiality clause in there.

BLACKWELL: You know, what's interesting is that the Intercontinental took that $50,000.

BONNER: They sure did.

BLACKWELL: And there was no that we know of call to police report of it. Again, we're seeing it eight years later. I'm surprised that they would have risked the brand image damage that they took a payment to sell this video.

BONNER: I am with you 100%. And this is the -- this is such a mind boggling issue. Why did they do this? What happened? Why are you risking your brand for this for $50,000 from a rap mogul? Why do it?

BLACKWELL: If that's true? I mean, that's in the lawsuit.

BONNER: Right. That's alleged but --

BLACKWELL: If that's exactly what happened.

BONNER: But apparently it -- I mean, we don't know if it's true, but it's alleged and all of it seems to add up. Right? Because this alleged -- this came out, I'm sure because this was subpoenaed. And you when you are subpoenaing the tapes, it was alleged in the lawsuit that this had happened at the Intercontinental and that he had paid the $50,000

BLACKWELL: You work in entertainment law so let's talk about that. A tertiary issue, admittedly, considering what we've seen. I was getting texts as that video was airing and they were saying, oh, it's a rapper Diddy. That's over. I mean, a lot of his relationships related to revolt, media and Ciroc and all that have already been severed. But who plays his music? Who books him anymore? That's it for Sean Combs?

BONNER: I think he's a persona non grata like R. Kelly at this point. It's unfortunate, but things that are done in the light, dark will eventually come to light and this has -- he has a history, a pattern of violence, a repeated pattern of domestic abuse. This was the worst kept secret in the entertainment business that Diddy had such a horrific temper, and was an alleged domestic abuser.

BLACKWELL: Lisa Bonner, thank you so much.

BONNER: Thanks for having me.

BLACKWELL: Listen, if you or someone you know is struggling with domestic violence, there is help. That includes the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The number is one 1-800-799-SAFE. That's 1-800-799- SAFE.

One-fifth of public schools described as intensely segregated. That stat is not from 70 years ago, it's from two years ago. A reality check on whether we are living up to the promise of integration 70 years after the landmark Brown v. Board decision.



BLACKWELL: We just marked 70 years since the landmark Brown versus Board of Education decision that outlawed so called separate but equal. But it never really resulted in fully integrated schools and civil rights groups say the conservatives are now trying to change what the ruling men. The head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund says that, "Brown is being weaponized against the very people it was intended to directly serve."

Raymond Pierce is the president and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation and he's on the advisory board of Brown's Promise. Raymond, good to see you this morning. Let's start here by just a reality check of over the last 70 years. How persistent these racial lines although not legally have kept schools segregated across this country. What do we need to know?

RAYMOND PIERCE, ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER, BROWN'S PROMISE: Well, they have been persistent, Victor. The nail on the head and I think the historical context is very informative here. People should understand that half the nation's public education system and the majority of education systems that were put together for African Americans were up after the Civil War. In a large part as part of the Freedmen's Bureau if you know that that history and a lot of that a large part of philanthropy participated in that.


But during the reconstruction period, when black folks were elected to office and major numbers and large numbers in Louisiana, the Carolinas and Georgia, the one thing they wanted, our people want it was education, the taxpayer paid education. And so was black folks during reconstruction with poor whites, and some northerners and movements from the north down to the south, who are building the legislation for public education and this issue as to whether or not the public education or mass education as they called it back then, with desegregate or not was a big issue back then. This is 1866-1867.

Many states like Arkansas and Mississippi were silent on the issue. Many states that okay, it'll be open to everyone. But when reconstruction ended, and you know, that history there, the Federal to support out, segregation just settle back in to our public system of education, and we've been battling it ever since. So that is the infrastructure. There has never been a time since the formation of public education. Even in the north, I dare say where the forces for segregation have not existed.

BLACKWELL: What's interesting is that as we talk about segregation, often we speak specifically about racial segregation, but Brown's Promise also highlights income segregation, and how does that impact, you know, the way that students are taught, the way that schools are funded? I mean, right now how we zoned schools. You go to your neighborhood school, and potentially your classmates are at the same socio economic level. But talk about income segregation, which I don't think we focus on enough.

PIERCE: Income segregation is critical to this. Because Victor income determines funding for public education. Most public education locally is funded by property taxes. And if your income is larger, and you live in a community, you're paying more taxes, and so more taxes are going to your neighborhood schools. Whereas people across the track who have lower income, their personal property taxes can only afford so much in terms of the resources for public education, which is why the Brown's Promise project at the southern Education Foundation is a wonderful way of reanalyzing not just district lines, but how these public schools are being funded, and the income inequalities that cause disparities.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And I've read the call to action that came out because of the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board. And there was a line that stood out to me that said, "diversity is not the same as integration".

Just because you have a longer list of different nationalities and races and religions that are a school, it doesn't mean there's full integration. So what do people at home who care about this? What can they do to get their schools toward integration and not just diversity?

PIERCE: I'd also say desegregation is not the same as integration. And of course, integration is not the same as diversity. But I think on the local front, parents and concerned citizens who pay taxes and who live in communities that have schools and children who are being educated in those schools should be engaged in the governance of the schools to their school boards, and be mindful of the funding formulas, how -- and look at the disparities. The disparities are there.

You can look across one school district to another and see one has immensely more funding for more teachers, more resources, more science, equipment, and that puts other students at a severe disadvantage. So to answer your question, people need to get involved. And not involved in terms of just divisiveness in terms of what we see so much of right now. But on how do we create a more equitable school system.

Some polls and surveys done by the Brown's Promise project, which is run by two very strong attorneys shows that most Americans actually very favorable to integrated school systems.

BLACKWELL: But just being favorable as we know that's not enough. You got to get involved and active. Raymond Pierce, there with the board of Brown's Promise. Thank you so much for the insight and the context.

CNNs race inequality team put together a deep dive on the legacy of Brown v. Board. Check it out now and

So the CDC says that drowning deaths are on the rise especially among people of color. I'll ask the first black female U.S. Olympic swimmer why that is and she'll tell us what she's doing to change it.



BLACKWELL: So just as we're getting ready for summer trips to the beach, the CDC is warning that drowning deaths are on the rise. This week, the CDC reported that after two decades of declines, the number of drowning deaths overall is up 15%. Listen to this. 15% of adults admitted they don't know how to swim, but for black adults, it's 37%. My next guest is working to change that.

Maritza McClendon was the first black woman to make the U.S. Olympic swimming team and the first to win a medal and now she travels the country helping kids learn water safety. Good to have you otherwise you would be here in Atlanta, but you're in Houston because of a swim clinic. I appreciate you waking up early to be with me.

We also learned this from the CDC that over the two year period that they studied the most recent one among Black people drowning rates increased 28%. Why is this happening? Why are numbers going in the wrong direction here?


MARITZA MCCLENDON, 2004 OLYMPIC SILVER MEDALIST: You know I think it's just been a continued to issue unfortunately, with our black and brown communities. And we're still trying to do as much as we can really -- we really need to frame a conversation about water safety to our communities. And that's essentially what I'm doing right.

In 2004, when I made the Olympic team, I was the first black female to make the U.S. Olympic swim team. And ever since then, it has been my mission to continue to bring that conversation to the community. I don't think black people really talk about how much we need to know how to swim and learn how to swim. When you hear those statistics, it's unfortunately very, very alarming. So we really have to do something about that.

I get the opportunity to work with USAID programs like USA something and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated. We have our partnerships from 1922, where we are actually addressing that issue.

We're going into our communities teaching not just our children how to swim, but also just families in general. You think about the summer heading, we're heading into the summer and everybody's like, okay, well, what can we do as hot outside, let's jump in the pool. But first and foremost, we got to make sure they're safe in and around the water.

BLACKWELL: Now, of course, there's cultural context here is that for so long during the period of segregation, that the public pools were segregated, the beaches, many were segregated, and then upon desegregation, a lot of the pools, public pools that were available in black communities were underfunded or defunded. A lot of public schools in urban communities don't have swim teams don't have pools. And then we went through the pandemic, where, like, with so many industries that weren't a lot of lifeguards, or coaches available. So we saw some numbers increase.

I wonder, though, for teaching communities of color to swim, are there such things as culturally conscious swim classes? Or is it like a driving course? Like this is the way you drive. This is what all the things are in the car. Let's go.

MCCLENDON: Now, you know, I always say swimming, it's not a one shoe fits all, right? It's like with a lot of different situations, you really have to take the time to understand why somebody is fearful of the water, why they haven't started swimming, and kind of talk through that situation. So I always tell people take swim lessons and learn how to swim at your own pace. So if you have a coach that's really pushing you and you're just really, really uncomfortable, take a step back. Go find somebody else that can actually really take the time to walk you through what it means to learn how to swim because the hardest part is, especially as an adult, you're almost fearful of the water already. It's even harder to learn how to swim, so really have to have that patience, and really have to take a moment to celebrate even the little wins.

I would say, you know, I've had some clinics where I've had women come in with me and they're just like, I'm never going to get in the water. You know, I had -- I'm 80 years old. I don't want to do this. And I literally sit on the pool with them and have a conversation and their feet are in the water. And then by you know, maybe in the next hour, I may have them sitting on the stairs. So it's really just celebrating that when that they are getting that much further and that much closer to learning how to swim and supporting that journey.

BLACKWELL: Maritza McClendon, I've enjoyed the conversation. Thank you so much, and I appreciate what you do.

MCCLENDON: Thanks, Victor. I appreciate it.

BLACKWELL: There's a new twist in the debacle of the $237 million HBCU donation that turned out to be worth nothing. Plus, one got acceptance letters from 230 Plus schools. Another got a doctorate and at outstanding graduates of 2024 I've seen, next.


[08:58:10] BLACKWELL: An update now to that bizarre story involving Florida A and M University and what they thought was going to be the largest donation ever to an historically black college and university. With a school now admits missteps in vetting the $237 million stock gift and whether it was really in the bank, as its donor Gregory Gerami claimed. Well, now the university vice president of advancement has resigned from that role and the school's president Dr. Larry Robinson apologized.


LARRY ROBINSON, FLORIDA A and M UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: I wanted it to be real and ignored the warning signs along the way. The public announcement at commencement was premature at best and I apologize to all who witnessed it.


BLACKWELL: Well, FAMU was also removed mentions of Gerami's donation from their social media. So it's graduation season, and we want to shout out some outstanding graduates that start in Michigan with Samara Sackers. She's celebrating her acceptance to all 11 colleges to which he applied. That includes five Ivy League schools. She says she plans to attend Yale in the fall.

Now here in Georgia, Madison Krauss says she got into more than 230 colleges. She was awarded nearly $15 million in scholarships. She plans to attend High Point University. Her number one tip is always prioritize yourself.

Dorothy Jean Tillman, she's 18 but she just graduated with a doctorate in behavioral studies at Arizona State University. She earned her Associate Degree at 11. Bachelors at 13. She completed a master's at 15 years old.

And it's Sunday ceremony at Morehouse, Brian Strong will be one of the graduates. He left school 21 years ago to care for his father as he recovered from a stroke. He picked up his studies back after the pandemic and now he plans to keep them going and he hopes to earn a doctorate in data science.