Featured Image: Bennett College
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) graduates are leaders in every field and include barrier-breaking doctors, business owners, scientists, artists, lawyers, engineers, and educators, many of whom are public servants.
Today, for example, several HBCU graduates serve in senior roles in the Biden-Harris Administration, including Vice President Kamala Harris – the first HBCU graduate ever to serve as Vice President of the United States – and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan. Harris attended Howard University, and Regan, North Carolina A&T.
HBCU Challenges Today
HBCUs were created to provide educational opportunities to Blacks in the South following the Civil War. According to a report titled, Basic Needs Insecurity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, “Today, there are more than 100 HBCUs in the United States. Collectively, these institutions serve roughly 300,000 students each year and serve 1 in 10 Black students throughout the country.”
The report further states, “HBCUs also enroll significantly more first-generation college students and students from low-income families than traditional colleges or universities. Nationwide, 75 % of students at HBCUs are Pell Grant recipients. Despite the important role they continue to play, many HBCUs struggle with a lack of investment, dwindling enrollment, and — most recently — fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Family Love of HBCUs
I am a proud HBCU graduate who represents a family lineage of the same. My father attended St. Augustine’s University and my mother, Bennett College. In addition, the overwhelming majority of my parent’s siblings are also HBCU graduates, including my uncle, Dr. Donald R. Hopkins, a world-renowned epidemiologist.
Growing up, my sisters and I often discussed going to college with our parents. In these discussions, there was a spoken expectation that our parents would cover our undergraduate education and that all academic requirements would be met in four years. There was also an unspoken expectation that we would attend an HBCU. Angela and Kimberly respectively graduated from Howard and Hampton Universities.
My HBCU Choice
Morehouse College was my first choice. After initially receiving a rejection letter due to an incomplete application package, I was accepted. Unfortunately, campus housing was full, and all freshmen were required to reside on campus. I then applied and was accepted by Saint Augustine’s. My plan was to attend “St. Aug” for one semester, then transfer to Morehouse.
In transferring there, I wanted to ensure my exposure to the Black thought leaders of the time. I wanted to meet and hear from Benjamin Mays, Julian Bond, Dorothy Height, Jesse Jackson, Ben Chavis, Andrew Young, Coretta Scott King, and others. Unless I attended Morehouse, I did not believe that I would gain such exposure.
I was wrong. I met all of them and many more.
What I quickly learned at “St. Aug” was that these political giants visited my campus either on their way to Morehouse or having just left. I quickly fell in love with my alma mater and continued my matriculation there.
There, I saw men and women every day, who looked just like me, successfully running an institution of higher learning. As role models, they undergirded my belief in the ability of Blacks to fulfill their dreams.
While in college, the president, Dr. Prezell R. Robinson, taught my father sociology. My professor for Western European Civilization, Dr. Elmer Schwertzman, also taught him that same class. There was a continuity and personal tradition in my education.
For several years, I served on the Board of Trustees of “St. Aug.” And today, I am active with the local alumni chapter.
HBCU Pride Never Leaves You
Whenever you speak to HBCU graduates, there is pride that will follow us for the rest of our lives.
One, Ama Asafu-Adjaye says, “As a Bennett College graduate, I was fortunate to experience a community that supported me. There was a special kind of understanding among my peers and teachers that continues to follow me nearly 25 years later.”
Or as Vice President Harris said in commencement remarks last year at Tennessee State University, another HBCU, “I stand before you today …. as a proud graduate of an HBCU to say: There is no limit to your capacity for greatness. There is no obstacle you cannot overcome. There is no barrier you cannot break.”