Searching For Laquan McDonald – Why Chicago Works So Hard to Support HBCUs

His body twisted with the first rounds, and jolted backwards towards the pavement. Gunsmoke rose from his body in the cold Chicago air. Amazingly, Laquan McDonald wouldn’t die in the street as Jason Van Dyke had intended with the 16 shots to his head, neck, chest, abdomen and legs – he died on the way to the hospital. 

And that was the end of McDonald’s life, another black male victimized by disproportionate police violence levied by an unqualified police officer with 10 times the fear and five times the number of bullets in comparison to his basic humanity. Cold blooded murders of black men and women happen everywhere, and now that its common for killings to go viral on YouTube and social media, the Windy City’s peculiar history of race relations and police corruption is now being thrust into the nation’s conscience. 

This was not the life – or death – anyone wanted for McDonald, or anyone like him. And it is the reason why Chicago is a major hotbed for youth outreach, recruitment and engagement from HBCU graduates.

Thousands of alumni and students, Chicago natives who flock in droves to HBCUs all over the country, return to their hometown to save their streets under the banner of their alma maters. It’s why Morehouse College students traveled to Chicago last March to volunteer with youth during their spring break, and why the man who organized the trip, Corey Hardiman, considered running to become the city’s youngest elected alderman

It’s why the Chicago HBCU Alumni Alliance launched this fall, with members from 14 city-based HBCU alumni chapters participating in its second gathering. 

It’s why the city continues to throw its support behind the Chicago Football Classic, a game that attracts youth and supporters from the throughout the city to experience black college football and marching bands for one afternoon that, hopefully, translates into HBCU applications and enrollment, or donations to the participating HBCUs. 

It’s why Chicago native and Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell continues to personally and frequently recruit students in the city, students of all races and schools of all profiles. Because he knows that bringing kids from Chicago does more than provide an alternative to hard luck and fast life, but that it is an investment in solving the city’s economic, political and cultural enigmas. 

Chicago is a microcosm of what HBCU support and engagement can look like in any city, but specifically one without a black college campus within or near its perimeter. DC, Atlanta, Nashville, Houston, Charlotte – cities with HBCUs and significant black financial and political clout don’t put in as much work as Chicago in looking to get youth out of the city and into HBCUs.

And save for a few ignorant counselors, they usually get the job done. 

These students, graduates and administrators aren’t working this hard in the city solely for the sake of HBCU support; they are literally trying to save lives through promoting education and nurturing environments away from the city. They know that sending students south for college does more than prepare them for work and productivity, but that it decreases the probability that these students will commit a crime or run afoul of aggressive police officers while increasing the probability of building wealth, being politically active, and birthing children who will exceed their success in both areas.

They hope that the lessons taught at Chicago-HBCU hotbeds like Grambling State, Jackson State, Central State, Prairie View A&M, Tennessee State and Morehouse/Spelman resonate with future generations. They hope that these schools will generate the scholars and leaders who will raise families to support black-owned businesses, to groom political figures and to diversify police ranks in the city. 

Chicago is an HBCU city, not just because its people have great love for and ties to black colleges, but because they know that they are the greatest resource in the effort to save kids like Laquan McDonald before the smoke clears from another black body in the street, claimed too early by the Chicago cold.


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