Hakeema Mercurius entered Morgan State University (MSU) in Baltimore in 2010 with dreams of practicing law. Her plans quickly changed, however, upon taking a sociology course that opened her eyes to racial disparities in the criminal justice system and prompted her to pursue a career as a parole officer.
Mercurius said that she’s grown more socially conscious since starting her studies at the historically black university. She said that its Afrocentric curriculum along with the family-oriented campus culture inspired her to choose a career path that would allow her to give back to her community.
“Studying at a historically black college gives me a greater connection to my heritage,” said Mercurius, 21. “I get to network with like-minded people and sharpen my communication skills. Taking classes here showed me that I have to help my people,” said Mercurius, a junior who lives in Baltimore.
MSU stands among more than 100 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the nation that opened its doors to African Americans when they could not enroll in predominately white institutions. Despite carrying rich histories, many HBCUs have struggled in recent years to increase enrollment numbers, maintain financial solvency, and encourage alumni giving, raising questions about their relevance in an increasingly multicultural society.
That’s why two veteran television executives launched an online media outlet last month that features original content about HBCUs. They aim to rally support behind institutions on the brink of shutting down with programming that explores facets of campus life.
HBCUX, also known as HBCU Experience, provides around-the-clock sports, lifestyle, and educational programming about life at predominately black colleges. Curtis Symonds, co-founder and CEO of the Northeast-based company says it can bolster alumni giving and spark interest among prospective students.
“We’re rolling out a full network,” said Symonds, 58. “There’s no place that young people could see this information in one place. Doctors, lawyers and young professionals are sharing their stories [about their HBCU experiences],” said Symonds, former executive vice president of sales and marketing at Black Entertainment Television (BET), who lives in Fairfax, Va.
The launch of the network comes during a time when the Obama administration cut federal grants to the 105 historically black institutions by more than $7 million and imposed strict limits on lending for Federal PLUS loan applicants. Programs chronicle the activities of black fraternities and sororities and members of college bands. Students also give testimonials about their studies in documentaries filmed in college classrooms.
“This is programming that helps young people learn about the significance of historically black colleges,” said Symonds. “They think they can only get a quality education at [a school like] University of Maryland or Georgetown [University]. I’m trying to educate families, educators, and teachers about the strength of HBCUs,” said Symonds.
Symonds and his colleague Clint Evans developed the 24-hour network in 2010, establishing partnerships with The Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage in Northwest and the United Negro College Fund in Fairfax, Va. They opened offices in the District, Atlanta, and Chicago. A deal with college sports network ESNPU allows HBCUX to stream its programming on the website. University journalism programs across the country have also received calls for programming.
“All of the bright communications and journalism students can work with their department heads and showcase their work,” said Evans. “We’re about helping young people establish careers in the media business.”
Veteran sports newscaster Charlie Neal will provide coverage of games in all four HBCU conferences. This type of sports programming comes years after BET cancelled its live coverage of black college games. He said that the network can raise the profile of what he considers quality athletic programs that do not receive media coverage.
“HBCUs are not getting the exposure,” said Neal. “BET doesn’t showcase black athletics anymore. The number of HBCU sports teams [on television] has diminished as well as the conferences. There is a need [for HBCUX],” said Neal who lives in Mitchellville, Md.