Historically black colleges and universities have always been a social, political and economic engine of black communities, but what they haven’t always been are energetic partners in bragging about their work. Several HBCUs are beginning to take pride and ownership in the work they do to uplift communities and citizens, and the results are beginning to attract attention from private foundations, city and state governments, and donors who want their money to power initiatives that make life better in the cities where they work and live.
In Dallas, Paul Quinn College continues its effort to address the food desert surrounding its community in partnership with Abilene Christian College. Next week, the two schools will launch a program where students will study and address food access problems in South Dallas while living on a WIC-comparable daily food allowance. The learning experiment will not only invite outside perspective onto a community issue that is commonly under-addressed in the region’s media, but will also heighten awareness of PQC’s strategic effort to bring a grocery store and sustainable food sources to the region.
Alcorn State University will host its 22nd annual Small Farmers Conference in Greenville, providing under-resourced farmers with information, training, and technological transfer to help these entrepreneurs create more robust, sustainable crops. With specific interest on pest control, marketing and new advancements in planting and harvesting, Alcorn is bolstering earning opportunities for predominantly minority farming enterprises.
In Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University is continuing efforts to revitalize its adjoining northwest corridor with commercial development, and an eye towards a burgeoning arts district for the City of Charlotte. Additionally, JCSU is also combating its problems with food deserts through partnerships with Blue Cross & Blue Shield, and working with food service enterprise Perkins Management Services Company Inc. to bring healthier food options to the west end.
In Baltimore, Morgan State University is on the verge of introducing its Community Mile initiative, a project that will bring research and development vision from Morgan’s schools and colleges into outreach opportunities in the square mile surrounding the Morgan campus. Among its efforts – to create small business and commercial ownership among area residents, public health and safety awareness partnerships with Baltimore City and city health care corporations to provide services to residents, and beautification programming.
These are but a few of the emerging initiatives HBCUs are undertaking to improve circumstances for the people and neighborhoods beyond their campus borders. They are proof that the model of the ivory tower is not only outdated, but less-than-profitable for schools competing for student talent, funding sources and media leverage. Working with communities is the surest way to secure all three, and HBCUs for generations have provided these kinds of opportunities, but haven’t looked at them as funding or awareness building opportunities.
If HBCUs become more aggressive in promoting these programs to neighbors and communities, there’s no telling the limits to how crime, health care, public education and wealth can be transformed for positive gains. Communities want to listen, and thankfully, more HBCUs are talking about what they have to offer beyond degrees.