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"Essay Submissions: Living the HBCU Legacy" Posted on 08-01-2008

Living My HBCU Legacy
It was spring 2006 and my senior year of high school was coming to an end. As my psychology class plunged into discussions about plans after graduation and what universities to attend, the relevance of HBCU’s entered the conversation. My teacher, a Caucasian male, made a disturbing comment about HBCU’s. He believes that HBCU’s disadvantage African American students because they have no contact or experience with other races or cultures. However, my personal experience proves his opinion to be far from the truth. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have produced and continue to produce some of the most influential and well rounded leaders in American History. It all began in 1837 when Cheney University, the first HBCU, was founded in Pennsylvania. One hundred and seventy one years later there are now over one hundred HBCU’s. During a time when African Americans were faced with the inequality of civil rights and segregation, HBCU’s gave them the opportunity to receive an education. Not only did the students receive a proper education but they were also given an institution that praised their skin color and welcomed them as equal individuals when they were living in a country that did not. Responsible for educating two remarkable men, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois, HBCU’s contribution to America lies in the success of their students. While having two different viewpoints, both men’s teachings on receiving a vocational and a liberal arts education are embraced not only in HBCU’s curriculum but schools around the country. As Washington and Du Bois continue to be role models, many graduates of HBCU’s are now following in their footsteps. These students are now serving America as doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians and even performers. Giving African Americans the strength and confidence that they were once unaware of, HBCU’s have helped to shape America into a country that all its citizens can be proud of. It would be wise to mention that HBCU’s graduate nearly one fourth of African Americans who earned undergraduate degrees. In addition to graduating seventy five percent more African Americans than other schools, more than fifty percent of the nations African American public school teachers and seventy percent of African American dentist earned degrees at HBCU’s. Also, some of the most famous people from the past and present attended HBCU’s such as James Weldon Johnson, Rosa Parks, Tom Joyner and Oprah Winfrey. These are just some of the many accomplishments given by the United Negro College Fund. Yet, I believe this essay would hold more truth if it were my truth. Like many others before me I am being molded into a proud alumnus of the illustrious institution of Clark Atlanta University. Founded in 1988 due to the consolidation of Clark College and Atlanta University, CAU has become one of the most prestigious HBCU’s in the country. Just recently CAU was ranked as one of the best southeastern colleges in the Princeton Review. Since I began my matriculation at CAU, my experience has been nothing short of spectacular. The moment a freshman steps onto the campus he/she is bombarded with a sense of pride, integrity and rich history. Making it mandatory that all first year students spend two semesters learning about the history of the university, CAU truly believes in knowing where one comes from in order for one to know where he/she is going. Offering numerous seminars, workshops, career fairs and culture events, CAU’s campus is one of unique diversity. Some may assume that all African Americans share the same background and culture. This assumption is completely false. Coming from all over America and some from other countries, the students at CAU each bring a very different story to tell especially those who are not of African descent. HBCU’s do not discriminate against other races. There has been a rise of admitting non Black students such as Latinos, Caucasians and even Asians to HBCU’s. HBCU’s are not only continuing but expanding their legacy with a more colorful face and they are just as relevant today as they were before integration. With its continued success of producing phenomenal leaders and businessmen and women, there is a need for HBCU’s in America. As the controversy over the relevance of HBCU’s grows it is important to think about the controversy that surrounds predominantly white universities. Unfortunately, there is no controversy. HBCU’s offer an option of higher learning that is just as good as any other school. However, they also offer culture and acceptance to African American students that cannot be found at any other school. The greatest lesson that can be learned can be summed up in the quote given by W.E.B. Du Bois that was recited to me during one of the many informative speeches at my school. He stated that, “had it not been for the Negro school and colleges, the Negro would to all intents and purposes, have been driven back to slavery.” When I receive my diploma May 2010 I will be walking way with the advice of my peers, the teachings of my professor, the history of my school and a piece of an everlasting legacy.
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