When it comes to saving our HBCUs, we all have a role to play
(BALTIMORE – May 28, 2019) – I have to take a moment and thank Dr. Boyce Watkins. With millions of followers, he certainly doesn’t need my “thumbs up” on his YouTube page. He’s doing quite well. Dr. Watkins, in typical fashion, pulls from an array of areas to skillfully illustrate issues we face, such as accountability – no matter who you are.
In a recent video (#Oprah winfrey criticized for not supporting HBCUs like Robert Smith – She responds) he produced, he raises a poignant question that I hadn’t written about yet, but was certainly pondering. I thank him for putting it out there. What?
For me, he raised the important question about our black celebrities and what could be done if they collectively took up the cause of saving our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Even more, what better role could all of us play in this effort to keep the doors to these hallowed halls open?
Now, clearly that is not all he discussed in the video. Much of his commentary was on Oprah. But a takeaway for me was whether more of our black celebrities can “make it rain” scholarships so many more young people can attend college.
“Robert Smith upped the ante!” said Dr. Watkins, speaking of the black billionaire who pledged to pay roughly $40 million to cover the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College’s student loan debt. This jaw-dropping move made a ripple across the globe. Watkins noted that prior to multi-million dollar philanthropic gifts to black colleges by Smith and Oprah, Bill Cosby set the gold standard decades ago by giving millions to HBCUs, including Morehouse and Spelman.
For the uninitiated, HBCUs produce a dominant number of black professionals across America. Always have.
According to the US Department of Education, “In the past, more than 80 percent of all black college graduates have been trained at these HBCUs. Today, HBCUs enroll 20 percent of black undergraduates. However, HBCUs award 40 percent of baccalaureate degrees earned by black college students.”
So, there is no question that there is a definite need to rally our support, work together, and find a way to preserve our HBCUs. We all have a role to play in this process if we are to successfully save our black colleges and universities.
For one, part of the onus is on HBCUs. They have to evolve to meet the challenges of the 21st century business climate just like every other institution, no matter how many blacks they graduate.
Black celebrities could clearly add a great infusion to the cause as we have become specialists in branding products for everybody else. Could you imagine a rap song specifically promoting HBCUs on the level of a “We Are The World”? I know. Not a sexy song, right? Right?
And, we, the alumni of these HBCUs, have to do more to give back as well. The fact is if you don’t have a lot of money, there is more than enough work to go around. Time is an expensive commodity and I am quite sure there’s a spot somewhere on somebody’s HBCU where one’s talents can be appreciated.
I must say, I do like what a 2019 Morehouse graduate said on MSNBC: Donavan White said he plans to give back $100,000 by the time he’s 32. He said that he and some of his classmates made a promise after becoming prime beneficiaries of Smith’s gift to Morehouse.
As Dr. Watkins stated, saving black institutions must become a priority – a priority for all of us, including our politicians – federal, state and local. I think it safe to say it should also be a national black agenda item as we embark upon the 2020 Presidential Election, right up there with ending mass incarceration.
Education and incarceration: These are both two heads to the same coin, for those who fail to get the skills to become a viable member of society often end up in the penitentiary where the black man plays a starring role even though blacks are only 14% of the country’s population. Therefore, we must ask these presidential candidates exactly how much money they are proposing for HBCUs nationally. This must become a priority to us. We have to ask these types of questions and stop letting these politicians slide.
Long story short, saving our HBCUs is going to take the entire village, from the celebrities to Grandma. We have the tools, the skills and the resources. All that’s left to do is to just do it!
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