Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been educating and cultivating the minds of Black students for well over a century, yet every year their relevancy is questioned. HBCUs only make up about 3% of America’s colleges and universities, yet they produce nearly 20% of all African American graduates, including notable leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Vice President Kamala Harris, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stacey Abrams, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and hundreds more.
At HBCUs, Black students are offered a deeper reflection into their rich history, which has been so often diluted to just a few Black leaders during Black History Month over the entire course of 12 years in school. During my time at Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, Florida, I was not only taught culture, but my professors instilled life lessons. In undergrad, mentors educated me on the future challenges of what it’s like to be Black in America. Unlike the concerns outside of school, the climate on campus felt safe and supportive. At FAMU, I was no longer the outsider, but instead I was a part of the majority, in an environment that wanted me to succeed. My HBCU professors didn’t feel like professors, they felt like family who on a weekly basis were pushing me and rooting for my highest level of success through tough love. My peers and classmates felt like brothers and sisters who were all pushing to succeed together through academics and the real-life struggle of being a college student.
The time I spent at FAMU laid the foundation for everything I have achieved. At any university, students are immersed in the culture, and what sets HBCUs apart is their strong foundation to community, faith and service. At a time when Blacks weren’t allowed to attend college, HBCUs became the pillar for education and equality. On campus and at the Black church is where the Civil Rights Movement began, where brave men and women risked their lives to fight for justice. Fast forward to today, we are reminded of how far we have come but how much work is still left to do.
Unlike many predominately white institutions (PWI) today, on average tuition rates at HBCUs are 30% less expensive. It’s values like these which help narrow the racial wealth gap and make higher education more affordable for low-income, first-generation students.
Personally, the importance of attending an HBCU becomes more meaningful everyday as a student who has attended both an HBCU and a PWI. The most notable difference has been the lifelong relationships I made at FAMU. I wanted an undergraduate experience that was supportive, and I wanted to become part of a legacy. The opportunity to develop a framework around the Black struggle and my role in addressing the portraits of all forms of oppression. Attending an HBCU taught me how to be selfless and how to serve, how to love and how to lead. The opportunity to meet people who looked just like me and to learn about one another, grow with one another and to fight against injustice with one another on behalf of Black humanity.
Other opportunities included gaining the confidence to attend a PWI for graduate school because I was intellectually grounded at an HBCU. So, whenever the question of are HBCUs important arises, the overwhelming response should be, “yes!” Their value is immeasurable. From building the Black community to providing a place for students to succeed. HBCUs are the foundation for cultivating young minds and inspiring generations.
Devon Davis is a public policy specialist at Bose Public Affairs Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.