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Strength of Purpose

HBCUs respond to a national need

Recently National Public Radio (NPR) reported that enrollment in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is on the rise. After a substantial decline since the 1970s, this year’s enrollment numbers have significantly increased. This is interesting when one considers the circumstances under which these institutions were established.

In 1937 when the Institute for Colored Youth, now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania was founded, the descendants of America’s enslaved population faced enormous challenges. Segregation was the law of the land. W.E.B. Dubois called for a “Talented Tenth” to lead America’s African American community to economic and social independence. The one hundred or so HBCUs that grew and blossomed from this cesspool of social injustice were reflective of DuBois’ observation.

In an earlier post entitles “Role of the HBCU,” I identified three characteristics of these institutions. The first was their empathetic understanding of the challenges faced by students of color. Yet they were willing to admit these youngsters and give them an opportunity to develop their intellect. I myself was one such student.

Tough Love was the second lesson distinguishing the HBCU from traditional institutions of higher education. Regardless of previous circumstances, enrollees were encouraged to take responsibility for their academic success. Academic expectations were established and excuses were unacceptable. Social and behavioral constraints were enforced. Such guidelines were viewed as a prerequisite for people struggling to achieve full participation in a segregated society.

As it was in the beginning…

One hundred three years ago the white citizens of Elaine, Arkansas were enraged by the efforts of Black farmers to unionize. Their anger resulted in the 1919 massacre in which over 200 Blacks were killed. In a 2021 Washington Post article, Gillian Brockell points out that Tulsa was not the only race massacre in United States history. This article identifies more than twenty such massacres fueled by avarice and envy of efforts by this group of socially and economically deprived citizens.

The Black Lives Matter movement, spawned by abusive behavior by a few law enforcement officers, echoes similar racial attitudes as those seen in participants in the massacres of Black citizens over the past one hundred years. Coupled with the legislative agenda of far-right conservatives, one sees as Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr was correct. In 1849 he wrote, “The more things change the more they stay the same.”

Utopia is in collaboration

I believe that this dark history has contributed to the selection of HBCUs by youngsters of color as their institutions of choice. The future of our nation requires our leaders to collaborate on issues germane to the well-being of our nation. Graduates of HBCUs are keenly aware of societal norms that have contributed to longitudinal injustice. Their balanced perspective is a

necessary and important component of our national leadership. Contributions by our newly elected Vice-President and several congressional legislators attest to this conjecture.

Contradictory to the strategy of the far right, our nation is converging on a unified understanding of equity and social justice. It was Alexander Hamilton who said, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”



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Qadir Abdus-Sabur, Ph.D.

Education Sociologist, Imam, Husband, Father, Grandfather and U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran.