I am so proud to be a product of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)! Moreover, I am excited that the world’s interest is peaked as general market audiences enjoy experiencing a slice of this rich culture that has been a part of many Americans’ entire lives! Although HBCUs have been in existence since the 1800’s, it is a culture and world unbeknownst to many until Beyoncé ‘s fearless historic 2018 Coachella performance became a conversation starter as to the inspiration behind the incomparable convergence of creativity and musicianship that many had never witnessed before(which was nothing short of genius).
An unfortunate part of our nation’s history is that an overwhelming majority of predominantly white institutions of higher-learning disqualified African Americans from enrollment. This disqualification had nothing to do with capability or capacity. During that time HBCUs were not only necessary, they were the only option for many to receive higher education!
However, those that were once left out, stood out.
Personally, I didn’t know how blessed (and spoiled) I was to grow up in a small city which was home to one of the (now)101 HBCUs in our nation! The high school I attended was literally on the same street as Lane College in Jackson, TN and I cannot remember a time when the culture of the HBCU experience was not a part of my life; moreover, a way of life. Each year included looking forward to homecoming parades, step shows, seeing friends and relatives at homecoming games and attending unforgettable graduations. I thought summer camps that enabled me to stay on campus before being college age was the best part of life!
At the same time, I grew up watching the majority of my closest family members thrive after matriculating from HBCUs. Lane College educated my mother, aunts, and grandmother. Uncles, aunts, and cousins attended Tennessee State University in Nashville, TN. Other Aunts and Cousins attended Fisk University also in Nashville and I was overly proud of my cousins who were Morehouse Men(Morehouse is an all male HBCU in Atlanta, GA).
Naturally, when it was time to choose a college, all of my choices were HBCUs. Although I had more choices, I was excited about choosing one of the schools of my forefathers and foremothers who had no choice.
They had been left out, but they stood out.
They stood out in such a way, that I wanted to follow in their footsteps, even with more options available to me. Personally, my high school friend group all chose HBCUs to attend, as well, not because they had to; but because they wanted to! My best friend went to Jackson State in Jackson, Mississippi and Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. Other friends went to aforementioned HBCUs in Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and Howard University In Washington D.C. My choice was Clark-Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, part of the Atlanta University Center.
As a highly impressionable high schooler in the 90’s, it goes without saying that I was influenced not only by the real life HBCU experiences and graduates in my life but also by the fictitious HBCU institution of Hillman College. Hillman College was the set, school and backdrop of the successful sitcom “A Different World” which was birthed as a spin-off from the unprecedented “Cosby Show.”
Today, I am excited to see recent attention getting images of the HBCU experience turn into opportunities and obligations for education to be a focus for this generation. Most recently, ABC television viewers had the opportunity to see the importance of the legacy of HBCUs brought to the forefront in Kenya Barris’ 2018 black-ish episode entitled, ‘Black Math’ (Season 4/Episode 18) which features a college visit to Howard University in Washington, D.C.
The HBCU experience has also been successfully highlighted while garnering millions of dollars at the box office in the area of film with Spike Lee’s $14.5 million dollar grossing School Daze(1988), Charles Stone III’s $57.6 million dollar earning Drumline(2002), and Will Packer’s $75.5 million dollar making Stomp The Yard(2007) offering more glimpses into positive images of educated African American culture at HBCUs.
The recent focus of HBCU culture during Coachella on stage did not end on stage. Beyoncé became the first black woman to headline Coachella in 2018 since this musical featival’s inception in 1999.
Representation That Was Previously Left Out, Undeniably Stood Out
Beyoncé’s stand out performance lives beyond the stage as her Beygood initiative recently established a Homecoming Scholars Award Program for the 2018-2019 academic year awarding $100,000 to universities Xavier, Wilberforce, Tuskegee and Bethune-Cookman.
As each of us has the opportunity to stand out, let’s collectively decide to take a stand that when given opportunities, we will platform intelligence in the place of ignorance, celebrate creativity in the place of chaos and foster collaboration over competition! Perceived progress that results in individual gain, but moves the culture backward is not progress.
Once Left Out. Now Called Out. Forever Standing Out.
*HBCUs house thousands of brilliant students of color, employ countless prolific professors and dispatch millions of alumni who are literally world changers. The campus culture empowers individuals in a way where graduates leave believing that limits are imaginary. Thus, the contributions of HBCU graduates to this globe are immeasurable.