When New York’s black high school seniors return to school in the fall and start looking ahead to college admissions, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) should be at the top of their lists.
As protests over racism continue to ripple across the country, HBCUs offer a safe haven where young minds can feel truly embraced by a racially diverse faculty who will empower them for the future. According to US Department of Education statistics, 75 percent of all black people with a doctorate degree (and four fifths of all black federal judges) received their undergraduate training at HBCUs. With typically lower tuition fees and a more integrated staff than traditionally white institutions, HBCUs are a more affordable and supportive way for black kids to level the playing field.
Today, there are 107 HBCUs, and the majority of them are in the South, so NYC high school students have no choice but to look farther away from home to places like Claflin University, Morehouse College, Tuskegee University and Howard University. They might feel nervous, but the journey will be worth it. Take it from me — I went from Yonkers, NY, to Claflin University, a private HBCU in Orangeburg, SC, where I received an incredible education from some of the brightest minds teaching the art of public speaking, philosophy and Black History.
I learned some surprising fun facts, too, including one about Martin Luther King Jr. not being born “Martin.” He didn’t get that name until his father came back from a church-related trip and began to call himself Martin Luther King instead of Michael King in honor of the Protestant leader. On July 23, 1957 — 28 years after his birth — King Jr.’s birth certificate was revised. Dr. King, Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall all attended HBCUs. In addition to having the most iconic and prestigious black alumni base in the world, here are three more reasons why HBCUs shine:
A compelling historical background: The majority of HBCUs came about after the end of the Civil War. Former slaves knew that education was their ticket to the future, and they applied the same skills they had learned as slaves to their schools’ curriculums — including painting, architecture, farming, stonemasonry, cooking, carpentry, nursing and more. During the 1930s and 1940s, when many Jewish intellectuals left Europe after the rise of Nazism and could not find work in the US due to anti-Semitism, HBCUs embraced them with open arms. While much of America was still practicing anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice in the 1940s, Albert Einstein lectured at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, an HBCU.
They have always been open and loving institutions: HBCUs weren’t created as a way to go against the dominant society; they were created because the dominant society wouldn’t allow blacks to enroll in other schools. And contrary to popular belief, HBCUs are not just schools with black students. Some HBCUs even have more white students than they do black students. Bluefield State College in West Virginia was founded in 1895 to educate the children of black coal miners. Today, this HBCU is over 80 percent white. Many HBCUs also have students who are open and proud members of the LGBTQIA+ community. In 2019, the country’s only all-male HBCU, Morehouse College, opened its enrollment to transgender men, stating that, “Morehouse accepts applications from those who live and self-identify as men.”
The culture is unparalleled to any other type of institution in the country: A culture of black excellence thrives at HBCUs, producing some of our most prominent leaders including Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, Toni Morrison and Chadwick Boseman, to name just a few. But HBCUs are also renowned for their warm hospitality and homestyle Southern cooking, which tastes just as good as the knowledge you’re receiving. What other collegiate dining halls serve peach cobbler, macaroni and cheese and cornbread? Come on now. (It’s no wonder that I put on weight during my undergraduate years.) All of this: delicious food, a family-like atmosphere, manicured lawns, pristine buildings, top-notch tuition and abundant love from professors is everything that black students — no, all students — need now more than ever.
Dennis Richmond Jr. is a freelance journalist and the author of “He Spoke at My School: An Educational Journey.” He is the founder and director of The New York-New Jersey Historically Black College and University Initiative, which prepares students by exposing them to opportunities only found at HBCUs.