There has been a great deal of discussion about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) recently. This is particularly important here in North Carolina, as we are the home of ten HBCUs (eleven if we count Barber-Scotia). Each has a magnificent history, with some like Shaw University, dating back to the end of the Civil War (1865). They have educated thousands of students who have gone on to make tremendous contributions to our state, nation and world.
With the advent of integration, many top athletes and students have found their way to previously segregated institutions. Lured by significant scholarship money or perhaps big paydays as professional athletes, these students have abandoned the HBCUs, leaving these schools to continue their mission of providing education to all who enter. It is not an easy job, but somebody has to do it.
It is a common misconception that our brightest people are educated elsewhere. Where do our Congress people come from? Where do our doctors come from? Where do our greatest lawyers come from? Where do our political and social leaders come from? I am sure you will find that many of them began their secondary education at an HBCU. People choose HBCUs because many enjoy going there, even if other choices are available. Our brightest people are sometimes those less acculturated. They may be those quickest to question authority or to not accept imposed limitations. Often these individuals are not high performers.
In a recent meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, it was reported that the President questioned whether the HBCUs were accomplishing enough. While I am supportive of most of the President’s initiatives, I question whether he has a full understanding of the history, the challenges, and the great work of these colleges and universities. Maybe you have to live with them and with their graduates to fully appreciate their work. Harvard, Yale, Brown, Stanford, Duke and Columbia are not the only ones doing a great job of educating students.
In fact, a case can be made that the HBCUs are better at their jobs. Anybody can take an outstanding student with significant GPAs and high SAT scores and help them perform well. It is more difficult to take someone who has been told they can’t learn, one who has been marginalized, one who has just gotten by; and mold them into someone who loves education, who strives for excellence and who is committed to success.
The HBCUs still have a role to play. It is a role they have been performing well for nearly a century and a half. It is the role of taking a forgotten student and recognizing his or her potential. It is the role of providing a cultural experience that instills pride in the student’s past and his or her personhood. It is the role of the encourager. It is the role of the nurturer. It is the role of the champion.
We can do more to support the HBCUs and their great work.
Check out more interesting commentary on this subject here:
The History and Importance of the HBCU Experience | Elwood Robinson | TEDxAugusta