“You go to Howard University? That’s great! Well will you tell my daughter about the HBCU?” As I peered over this nice woman’s shoulder towards her daughter I saw the all-to-familiar look of aversion on the girl’s face. The girl was much like I was when I was a junior in high-school, she had long black braids in her hair and eyes that darted glances of disapproval towards her mother. I smiled and nodded in response but I never got to speak with her daughter about my experiences at Howard. Despite this, the incident has made me think about how historically black colleges and universities are generally perceived throughout America.
Many high school students, regardless of their race, remain unaware of the existence of HBCUs’ and if they are presented knowledge about HBCUs’ it is through someone questioning the relevance of such universities in our contemporary post-civil rights society. To more than a few people the thought of segregation and separation come to mind. The image of under-funded institutions and poorly educated students also is a common belief in regards to HBCUs’. Despite the phenomenal achievements that many alumni of universities such as Howard, Spelman, and Moorhouse accomplish, these beliefs are true. Historically Black Universities did play a role in furthering segregation among blacks and whites in American history, and like many other educational institutions designed for African-Americans many were under-funded and many of students who did not come educationally privileged backgrounds came ill-prepared for university work. However these aspects of the history of African-American universities are nothing but a portion of the grand and intricate history that lies behind the term HBCU.
The Black university in America has for many decades been the intellectual and social foundation for some of the major innovators of black history and thought throughout the world. Although HBCUs’ were in many cases created to separate, divide, and even subjugate the black community from the dominant, it was able to evolve into something much greater than it’s original prejudicial intent. In a century’s time these institutions have become the catalyst for radical social and political change. From inspiring students to create organizations of change that created an unstoppable movement in the 1960’s to evolving new ideas about what it means to be an African. The current HBCU does not stray far from it’s historical roots and continues to provide an environment where black people of the African Diaspora can meet educate one another, discuss issues of relevance, and empower themselves. Creating an atmosphere that can never be replicated at a predominately white institution.
I was not able to tell that high school girl about my experience at Howard. Yet if I was given the chance again, I would surely tell her about the rich history of the HBCU and of the incredible opportunities given in such a university. As the HBCU remains one of the only places in the world which truly values the African experience and reality.