Black Girls Get Serious about HBCUs?

The winter weather didn’t stop the crowd from attending The Good, Bad & Ugly: What a Different World Doesn't Tell You about Attending an HBCU at Shaker Heights High School last Thursday evening.

Table top discussions at the HBCU Panel (SHHS)

About 100 people participated in the 2nd annual event organized by Tiara Sergeant, a 2014 graduate of Shaker Heights High School, and junior at Hampton University.

Tiara Sergeant 

Tiara Sergeant 

By engaging the community in conversations to dispel myths about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), this event targeted African-American students from suburban high schools who may not be guided to consider HBCUs during their college search.

In case you’re not familiar with HBCUs, here’s an excerpt from the U.S. Department of Education, White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities:

HBCUs are a source of accomplishment and great pride for the African American community as well as the entire nation. The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended defines an HBCU as: “...any historically black college or university that was established before 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans…HBCUs offer all students, regardless of race, an opportunity to develop their skills and talents...”

Students, families, teachers, and community leaders gathered in the school cafeteria for facilitated table discussions, an iconic keynote speaker, an HBCU panel discussion with former and current students, and a resource fair.

Students and their families gather to discuss benefits of HBCUs

Students and their families gather to discuss benefits of HBCUs

If students and families left the event lacking knowledge or doubtful that HBCUs provide an education equivalent to PWIs (predominantly white institutions), perhaps they weren’t paying attention. Maybe they didn’t grasp the historical significance of HBCUs or feel a sense of pride listening to the students talk about their experiences.

I've been sold on HBCUs since graduating from Howard University a long time ago, and this event renewed my perspective about the significance of these historic colleges and universities.

  • HBCUs represent a legacy of educational aspirations of many black families. My table discussion leader shared when she was growing up, attending an HBCU was the only option in her family. And with her children, she expects the same.

Table Discussion Facilitator, Angela Daniels Harrell

Table Discussion Facilitator, Angela Daniels Harrell

  • HBCUs serve as an important part of United States History post civil war. The founders of HBCUs established them so former slaves could receive an education since they weren’t allowed to attend white institutions. Reverend Dr. Otis Moss gave a brief, but moving keynote that overflowed with history; it blew me away. According to him, “HBCUs were the democratizing institutions in America when there weren’t any, especially in the south when blacks and whites could not meet without the threat of death.”

Tiara Sargeant and Reverend Dr. Otis Moss

Tiara Sargeant and Reverend Dr. Otis Moss

  • HBCUs were and are institutions of excellence. Dr. Moss attended Morehouse College in Atlanta with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He fondly talked about being required to attend chapel every week or be faced with the possibility of not graduating. Shami Mitchell, a sophomore at Spelman College shared how she represents the brand of her school regarding academic achievement and community engagement wherever she goes.  

  • HBCUs continue to fight for survival and support. Someone from the audience posed a question to the panel about the President Elect’s impact on HBCUs. A hush came over the crowd, but someone on the panel spoke up and declared that there’ll always be attempts to close HBCUs; the President-Elect shouldn’t stop them from achieving their goals or graduating but should make them work harder to make a difference. Also, communities must do their part to support HBCUs.

The panel also discussed financial aid, entrance requirements, and benefits of attending HBCUs. A representative from The Cleveland Council of Black Colleges Alumni Association shared information about an upcoming east coast tour of schools and scholarship opportunities available to students interested in attending HBCUs. Dr. Gregory Hutchins, Superintendent of the Shaker School District, sent the crowd off with additional words of encouragement.

Tiara deserves a standing ovation for organizing this event and providing families with information and resources to help them make informed decisions about their children’s higher education pursuits. HBCUs need our support to continue educating, enlightening and preparing all students (regardless of race) so that students like Tiara can continue to make a difference. To learn more about Tiara's experience at Hampton, check out her article, Suburban Girl Goes to an HBCU on hercampus.com 

What is your take on HBCUs? Do you believe they are adequate for preparing students for the “real world”?