For close to two years now, I have been “beating the drum for HBCUs,” as former Claflin University Professor Patricia H. Koger calls it. Now, let’s fast forward to summer ‘16.
I “hit the ground running” as my mother told me when I came home. Within a week of me completing my junior year of school at Claflin University, I met with New York State Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow and was able to gain his support with the initiative, as I updated him on all that was going on. I figured this would be appropriate since last year he made a commitment to become a sponsor. Within the next few weeks, I met NY Congressman Charles B. Rangel, legendary Civil Rights activist Al Sharpton, and former NYC Mayor David Dinkins. All of them, are outstanding and extremely knowledgeable men.
As my summer picked up, I met with Yonkers, NY City Clerk Vincent E. Spano, spoke to NYC residents at The National Action Network in Harlem, read to elementary school students at Paideia School #24 in Yonkers, provided words of advice to students at Roosevelt High School in Yonkers and Truman High School in The Bronx and I was featured in Harlem Community Newspaper. On May 19, I met with business owner and rapper Jadakiss. Later that day, I met with NYS Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer. Both of whom, on the same day, sponsored The NYS HBCU Initiative! Jadakiss is a first time sponsor of the initiative and Assemblywoman Mayer has sponsored for the second time. Later that month, I fundraised with Mrs. Leigh-Bracey, Supervisor of Casework at DSS in Yonkers and met with Active Plus NYC founder Tarik Kitson and others of the Harlem Rotary.
Now, I was ready for the second part of my summer to begin. My first internship experience!
I interned through The UNCF and BAEO, the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Through BAEO, I was able to travel to Nashville, TN for The National Charter School Conference. I made sure to record numerous HBCU students on the campuses of Fisk, Meharry, and TSU. When back in NY, my uncle John Sherman Merritt and I made a discovery that traced our family back to the 1770s! Aside from that, I was able to catch up with Mr. Andres Martin, the Brooklyn Nets & Barclays Center Account Manager, and recorded even more HBCUs students at Howard University. As my summer began to come to a close, I had gained the support of LHHNY singer and songwriter Cardi B! I completed my second internship at the Yonkers District office of Westchester County DSS and most recently received a letter from Congressman Eliot L. Engel.
In a word, my summer was iconic. I want to thank everyone that has assisted me to get here. I was able to travel across the country this summer. I am humbled to have had a rapid networking experience.
I thank God for all that he has done and continues to do for me. Next stop, senior year!
Dennis Richmond Jr., a rising graduating senior at Claflin University, is a member of the Class of 2016 HBCU Top 30 Under 30 list. He advocates for HBCUs through his New York State HBCU Initiative.