Students at historically Black colleges and universities have held up their end of the bargain when it comes to maintaining the HBCU legacy of domestic agitation on important cultural issues. When we have needed young voices to champion voting equity, they answered the call. When young Black men have been shot down and murdered in the streets, Black college students have taken to those same streets to draw attention to the issue.
But what students haven’t done in great measure, through no fault of their own, is transform peaceful protest into a wrecking ball for political and economic equality. And as HBCU alumni, that’s our fault.
Those of us who, in the 90’s, 80’s, 70’s and 60’s carried on protest tradition in the name of Black pride, have not collectively or effectively lent our resources and wisdom to this generation of civic agitators. And it is this generation that needs the most financial and political backing, because they have more media influence than we had, more social capital than we had, and more culture blending than we had, to make a real difference in the lives of Black people domestically and abroad.
HBCU students today should not rely solely on peaceful assembly in the public square to bring attention to issues. For every instance of inequity and injustice, our students should be collectively organized and well-financed enough to say, ‘we are prepared to affect every political campaign, every business development project, and every piece of legislation which does not meet the best interests of us, our colleges, and our communities.’
Students march and mobilize on general principles of racial inequity and cultural struggle, but we need their activism to be laser focused on very specific issues that can help to build traction for greater parity, now and into the future.
Marching used to be a short-term solution that created lasting impact in media and social conscience. But in 2014, more people are likely to come out for Black Friday sales than for civic assembly. And even when we do come out for protest, viral images and videos should not be confused with policy making or empowerment. We should not be fooled; politicians, media, corporations and legislative and cultural oppressors know just how effective marching is today; the timing of last night’s non-indictment announcement in Ferguson, Mo. should give us all a sense of just how much Black folks in a crowd matters to the public, even with the imminent threat of violence.
It’s not to disrespect students, alumni, faculty or leaders who still believe firmly in the power of of the people duly assembled, but marching shouldn’t be our go-to move. We should begin to perfect the art of grooming business leaders, political candidates, journalists, economists, and college presidents in HBCU communities, beginning as early as ninth grade for the most promising pupils. Alumni business owners and communities organizers should preemptively look at at zoning and voting districting in these communities to strategically support students as they plot campaign support and lobbying initiatives.
Our students should be educated on key issues of environmental, political, social and financial matters affecting the towns and cities where they live, so that they can be inclined to make a difference in those cities, or other cities to which they may travel after graduation. This is the role of the HBCU professor; to make curriculum intersect with reality in Black America, and for that intersection to lead to community empowerment.
The A&T Four sat in 1960 as a bold proclamation of equality. Today, our students should be empowered to start their own businesses with our financing power, so that others may boldly support them in a defiant act of mainstream consumerism. Our goal should not be to withhold our money on Black Friday from Best Buy and Walmart, but to spend our money on registering 1,000 new Black-owned businesses nationwide, or pledging to collectively spend $1 billion at Black-owned businesses in the next three months.
Nothing changes communities, police forces, politics, schools, and minds, faster than money. Investing in our own is the first and most critical step in building advocacy.
College students should not be expected to visualize and execute these kinds of plans. They should be waiting for our instructions and encouraged to provide feedback. We should rely upon our seasoned presidents and graduates to frame the war for our young people, in preparation for the battles that lie ahead.
If we want our men and boys to stop being killed in the streets, it is our duty to take ownership of them. Young people cannot, and should not, fight for them alone.