Brown skin. Black thought. Afrofuturistic brilliance, building, and belonging. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are not replicas of the institutions that many Black children have been taught to strive toward; no, they offer another way of existing in the world. They offer nurturing and respite from a white supremacist world gnashing its teeth to eat Black children up and spit them out broken, bruised, and bloodied.
Of course, there are still issues of class hierarchy and the need to destroy the Talented Tenth logic that would have some Black people thinking that a degree places them above their communities, instead of better positioning them to be of service to them. Still, HBCUs were conceived in love, revolution, and resistance. They are brick and mortar responses to the miseducation of the negro; the sustaining evidence that Black people have always attempted to decolonize education—to tell the truths that the U.S public school system tries to keep hidden.
“There are over 100 HBCUs, and there used to be more—big ones, small ones, private ones, and public ones, ones with more bougie reputations, ones with more ratchet reps, ones with more country reps, liberal arts, as well as technical/mechanical. Some are big on athletics, and some not,” J. Ama Mantey, Ph.D., an environmental justice policy professional, tells ESSENCE.
“There is an HBCU for every Black child based on their educational desires and goals, personality, and what they look for in a campus climate. As flawed as they can be, HBCUs literally were made to nurture and grow Black people. ALL Black people,” Mantey, who earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and doctorate from Meharry Medical College, continued. “And, if you as a Black person (from anywhere) don’t feel welcome anywhere else in this world, know that HBCUs are for you, even if you have to take and make the space for your version of Blackness. Like, for real, add it to the HBCU cultural rolodex, so others can learn to love and appreciate it, too.”
As 2020 presidential candidates continue to discuss higher education on the campaign trail—access to it, quality of it, and the American way of going into debt for it—and a Republican-controlled Senate holds funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities hostage, read a few love letters to some of our beloved HBCUs below.
“I spent K-12 in private, predominantly-white schools where I was often one of only a few Black students. Everything about the culture at those schools was exclusionary, but the academics were superb. My parents and all of my aunts and uncles went to HBCUs in the SWAC and I enjoyed attending football games with them because it felt like a big family reunion and I knew I wanted that same experience. I chose Spelman College because it felt like home. I was surrounded by people who embraced me and didn’t treat me as an ‘other.’ I remember being in awe my entire freshman year as we studied some of the same topics I learned in high school, but with a afrocentric focus. I never imagined that my history and my heritage would be important enough to be addressed and discussed and included in a typical classroom lecture. Going to an HBCU literally saved me and gave me the boost and confidence I needed.” — Dr. Kia Baldwin, Attorney & Professor – Spelman College
“All those years of Quaker school??!! I earned my place at Howard University and a chance to experience a Marion Barry DC!!! #youknow” — Erica McCloud Carruth, Howard University
“I went to visit Morehouse my junior year in high school. The immersion into that beautiful, Black space—it was overwhelming to me. I’m from Southern California, so I’d never, ever been in a space like that before. Interacting with professors, administrators and students who all looked like me, who assumed I was there to be a student and not an athlete, it was intensely compelling.” — Dr. Charles McKinney, Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies, Associate Professor of History, Rhodes College. Most importantly:
Morehouse College, c/o ‘89
“The shorter answer would be, ‘Why not?!’ There are so many reasons but the most profound for me was the opportunity to surround myself with every shade, and every cultural nuance of US. To be embraced by, inspired by, and educated by the US that I only got to see on TV in the evenings. To find a community that acknowledged the Afro in my Afro-Latina roots.” — Genese Lapaix, Clark Atlanta University
“I choose North Carolina A&T State University because I wanted an environment that was going to prepare me to be great, not only in my profession, but personally as well. I encountered so many professors and administrators who were concerned with not just my grades, but how I was doing so far from home (I’m originally from Chicago). They made sure I had well-rounded experiences, from volunteer work to traveling abroad. Aggie Pride is a love that’s hard to describe, but I instantly saw it the moment I stepped on the campus as a touring high school student, and left not wanting to go anywhere but there!” — LaRia Land, North Carolina A&T University, Class of 2012, B.S. Journalism and Mass Communication