Dr. Ruth Woods’ Pike High School classroom is a sanctuary. Instead of stained glass windows depicting final suppers and the iconic images of patron saints, the walls are covered in colorful pennants from HBCUs and photos of recent graduates. Among them are aviation specialists, high-ranking military personnel, educators, doctors and architects. She takes great pride in sharing each one of their stories. “See the young man in the blue there, Eric? Guess whose money he takes care of? P. Diddy’s,” she said, beaming. “He’s on Wall Street.”
Woods, who has been involved with the Indianapolis Black Alumni Council (IBAC) for more than three decades, has an interesting connection to Black institutions of higher learning. Her great great grandfather and his brothers built three of the buildings on Kentucky State University’s campus. Despite that lineage, Woods graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, though if the choice was entirely in her control at the time, she would have chosen differently.
“I’m a part of the civil rights movement, so my dad had sued for me to attend a white school,” she said. “He wouldn’t let me go to Kent State, but I made him a promise that if I ever had any kids they would go to Black schools. I was so angry and so upset. I ended up marrying my sophomore year of college, and me and my husband were so angry because we wanted to do the opposite of what our parents wanted us to do. I promised him if he let me get married that I’d stay in school, so I did.” Woods also kept her promise and sent each of her children to HBCUs.
Woods’ passion for this work continued past her own offspring through her involvement with IBAC. During her tenure, the group has hosted an annual college fair and various other programs geared toward college prep.
The roots of IBAC began in the late ’70s with Black College Row, an exhibit of HBCUs at the Indiana Black Expo’s annul summertime event, organized by Alexander Brown, an alumnus of Clark Atlanta University, and Martha Mitchell, a graduate of Talladega College. In October of 1978, the idea was had to branch off the success of that effort and form a fully functioning organization. Since then, the group has assisted thousands of students across the Midwest and beyond with scholarships to Black schools.
Woods shared that it is her mission and vision to help further promote awareness of the opportunities and options that HBCUs offer. Another hope of hers is to end the myth that these schools are for students with poor grades and nowhere else to go.
The troubles that have plagued Black schools in recent years are well documented. In 2012, Morris Brown, which was founded in 1881, was forced to file bankruptcy after issues with financial mismanagement causing enrollment to drastically decrease, among other things. The institution appears to be on the mend, but much of what happened has transpired at other schools, as well. Despite those blights, the rich history and legacy continues. According to the U.S. Department of Education, HBCUs have provided undergraduate training for three-fourths of all Blacks holding a doctorate degree, three-fourths of all Black officers in the armed forces and four-fifths of all Black federal judges. The data goes on to reflect that HBCUs rank high in terms of the proportion of graduates who pursue and complete graduate and professional training.
In Woods’ experience, HBCUs are staffed by educators who are “dream makers, not dream breakers,” who have a vested interest in student success. She considers her role in connecting students to the experience and benefits to be one of divine order.
“This is a ministry for me. It’s not a job. It’s developed into that, and I have a passion for our kids.”
The 37th annual IBAC HBCU College Fair will be held on Sept. 22 from 6–9 p.m. at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School, located at 1140 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. The fair will host dozens of Black colleges from all over the country, information on scholarships and an interactive aviation exhibit presented by Elizabeth City State University. Pre-registration for the event is highly encouraged. For more information or to register, visit ibacindy.com.
Number of students reached through Distance Recruitment Network — 330*
Number of HBCUs represented at program — 69*
College Fair attendees — 1,392*
Scholarship dollars awarded to date — $4.3 million
*Data reflects 2015 College Fair