Twitter is a fascinating, spontaneous, stream of consciousness social media outlet for users to tweet their thoughts and opinions on the Web for millions to see. Sometimes it can be rambling about relationships and football, or it can be used as a platform to hold intellectual conversations meant to enlighten and inspire. Such a conversation happened yesterday, as Dr. Steve Perry asked this question from his Twitter account: “With low graduation rates, depleted endowments & declining admissions, what makes HBCUs still matter?”
As this organization along with other HBCU and non HBCU students and alumni responded, it hit me that the task to defend the credibility of our HBCUs is taxing and never-ending. It is our responsibility to wave the banner for HBCUs and continue to uphold their legacy and tradition.
Like we said in the tweets, HBCUs are an integral piece of African-American culture, and are therefore an irreplaceable piece of American culture.
As America has underappreciated African Americans and our contributions to American history and society, so has the same been done to our HBCUs.
The Harlem Renaissance was the cultural movement that African Americans needed to prove that we are just as artistic, beautiful, ingenious and creative as our Caucasian counterparts. The Harlem Renaissance was birthed thanks to HBCU graduates like Langston Hughes of Lincoln University, James Weldon Johnson of Howard University, and Booker T. Washington, who has connections to Hampton University and Virginia Union University before descending upon Tuskegee, Alabama with a vision that became Tuskegee University.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization that had a huge impact on the civil rights movement, was led by HBCU alumni: Morehouse alumnus Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Howard alumnus Andrew Young, North Carolina A&T State University’s Jesse Jackson and Alabama State University’s Ralph Abernathy.
The sit-ins at segregated businesses where Blacks were not even allowed to sit at the counter were the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Those students who were hit with pies, beaten by police and arrested were HBCU students. Countless other HBCU graduates or people who have gone to HBCUs have made great contributions to America: Oprah, Tom Joyner, Samuel Jackson, Spike Lee, Ed Bradley, Nikki Giovanni, and many more.
With the resume and ambition that Dr. Steve Perry has, he may have had no ill wishes to our precious schools with his question, but even he must acknowledge that HBCUs preach the same morals and code of ethics that he has instilled into his students. Hard work, persistence, leadership, integrity. When Dr. Perry founded the Connecticut Collegiate Awareness Program, at Capital Community College (ConnCAP) in 1998 and then Capital Prep in 2004, he preached excellence, exceptionalism and never settling for average. That is how he can boost that 100% of his students graduate and attend four-year colleges and universities. I know that a good percentage of those students must have attended an HBCU.
HBCUs are still relevant, not just because they are legitimate institutions of higher learning focused on bringing out the best in the African-American community, but also because the racist, segregated climate that these institutions were founded in still has its traces in our ‘Land of the Free.’
Click here to read about Fuqua School. Fuqua has a reputation as the “segregation academy” of Virginia since its inception. Schools were desegregated beginning in 1954 with the victory in the Brown vs. Board of Education. Fuqua did not admit its first black student until the 1980’s.
Fuqua reached out to Charles Williams to serve as an ambassador to improve its image as a racist school. It did not help that, for some odd reason, the school president Ruth Murphy thought it would best to describe Williams’s “maturity and intensity” as that of a 25-year-old drug dealer. Yeah…that makes sense. Schools like Fuqua are the exact reason why HBCUs were founded, and why they are still necessary in 2011 and beyond.
To say that HBCUs are outdated and irrelevant, is to say that black owned, black produced and black controlled institutions are not good enough to compete with white colleges and universities. The deeper meaning: Blacks are not as good enough and cannot compete with white people. We have to show everyone how wrong that is.