Do Black Folks Still Want HBCUs?
Notice the headline doesn’t read “Do Black Folks Still Need HBCUs?” The answer to that question is clear in the existing disparities in black academic and professional achievement. In 2012, as it was just over 150 years ago at the founding of the HBCU concept, black Americans and the cities and towns in which we live continue to have a pressing need for the nurturing, role modeling and culture-bearing mission of the historically black college.
But do black folks still want them around? Because a look at the financial support and community reception of these schools would indicate that we don’t.
HBCU culture is gasping for air in a ‘post-racial society,’ with media framing of black colleges tethered to terms like ‘survival,’ ‘fighting,’ and ‘relevance.’ There are two institutions fit to preserve black American heritage and ensure our progress as a people, and between the black church and the black college, the HBCU, the institution responsible for all of our political, social and economic power, is most at risk for systematic elimination.
Concerned parties inside and outside of the HBCU village say that black colleges must do a better job of telling the story. But we know our story. We know about the professors, the research, the community outreach and the social uplift that black colleges provide. We simply choose not to support new chapters of this legacy being written.
Through a lack of national sports success, glaring absence of positive media coverage and a failure to brand student development on level with academic rigor, HBCUs have missed at least two generations of students and graduates in building pop cultural allegiance to our institutions. That’s two generations of black people who have no yearning to support or consider the value of black colleges or the culture of black higher education as it pertains to sustaining black communities, or the nation itself.
There are pockets of support here and there. At the larger HBCUs, alumni associations with data on more than 30,000 graduates over 50-60 years are common. But shrinking budgets and a significant lack of vision from many HBCU presidents creates few opportunities for alums to see excellence in action at HBCUs. Truly, the only time there is a common appeal from HBCUs to black America to take interest in the cause is during crisis and homecoming.
And in both cases, the appeal is made far beyond when the help or support is actually needed.
With the buying power of black America nearing a trillion dollars in the next three years, HBCUs have not looked at what black people spend their money on to advance their cause. HBCUs have almost no presence on television beyond athletics, no discernible imprint in the digital space for mobile and Internet branding, and generally frown upon doing the fun events and viral campaigns that attract news headlines and supporters.
The HBCU is the grandmother with the wisdom of the ages, who, in the trappings of our affluence and integration, we’ve neglected and left to suffer in silence. For all that she did or did not do to raise us as a people, for the ways she shaped our perspectives on community and achievement, for better or worse, we still owe her our allegiance and abiding faith.
But we act like we don’t want her around. We believe her to be better off dead and captive within our own wretched, materialistic and self-driven memories.