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Living the HBCU Legacy Essay Posted on 07-06-2008
mhamilton
Raleigh, NC
The History, Importance and Relevance of HBCUs Since the turn of the millennium, widespread debates and discussions have been ignited regarding the state of historically black colleges and universities. Many still cherish and celebrate the rich legacies of HBCUs, while others highlight the recent decline in annual applicants to push the notion that HBCUs are no longer wanted, nor needed. I am among those who continue to support the great contributions and legacies of HBCUs. Historically black colleges and universities have made invaluable contributions to our nation’s wonderful history, particularly within the African-American community. HBCUs are institutions of higher education within the United States that were established before 1964 with the sole intention of serving the African-American community. Though one could note several reasons as to how HBCUs have contributed to American history, the institutions are most notable for educating blacks and awarding us degrees during a period when predominantly white institutions barred us from attending. By providing blacks with quality education, HBCUs marked a place in American history that cannot be replaced, undone, or belittled. Today, black students benefit from affirmative action and integration, which allow us to receive acceptances to and successfully matriculate many predominantly white institutions. Before those positive, yet controversial progressions in American history, many well-respected members of the black community were graduates of HBCUs. These great institutions have produced legacies that demand the respect of both black and white Americans. Shaw University, located in Raleigh, North Carolina, was the first American institution of higher learning that rewarded black students with medical degrees. James E. Shepard, a Shaw graduate, founded North Carolina Central University, another HBCU, which is located in Durham, North Carolina. All-male Morehouse College produced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was inarguably the greatest and most revered Civil Rights activist in U.S. history. Xavier University of Louisiana continues to award more medical degrees to black students than any other university in the country, including Duke University and Johns Hopkins University. Those are just some of the historic accomplishments made by a few historically black colleges and universities. Through these legacies, and those of other HBCUs, these great institutions have proven their continued relevance today. Those who support HBCUs cannot deny that the institutions are currently in a state of emergency regarding the reduced rate of yearly applicants, which is largely due to competition from predominantly white institutions (PWIs). However, that does not immediately equate to the dismissal of relevance. Historically black colleges and universities continue to provide an unforgettable experience for its students. Now, more than ever, students of other ethnicities and backgrounds are attending HBCUs at a rapidly growing rate. This indicates the cultural relevance and significance that HBCUs provide. Furthermore, they continue to educate African-American students about our history as a people, and that is knowledge that cannot be provided with as much depth and detail at any other type of institution. By acknowledging the mere existence of HBCUs, the major lesson we learn is not to take these great institutions for granted. The histories of historically black institutions are ignored too often, and that translates into a general lack of respect for HBCUs. We can also learn from the accomplishments of several elite figures in our history who name HBCUs as their alma maters. Oprah Winfrey, our nation’s wealthiest woman and African-American, is a graduate of Tennessee State University. Winfrey’s influence in America is unparalleled by no other major entertainment figure. Winfrey is also a marquee for the most essential lesson we can learn about HBCUs, and that is that one can still be successful in life with a degree from a historically black institution. Today, too many black students are discouraged from attending HBCUs because they are misled to believe that success isn’t associated with these institutions. These misconceptions have led partly to the deflation of HBCU applications because we’ve chosen to ignore our own institutions because we view others as superior. As Winfrey’s life and success indicate, these beliefs are false. They are mere myths, circulated by individuals who have neglected to educate and familiarize themselves with the histories of these institutions. HBCUs continue to serve as educational cornerstones that provide truly irreplaceable and unforgettable life experiences to its students by providing a better and clearer understanding of black culture.
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Home > Forums > Interest Groups > HBCU Specific Topics & Concerns > Scholarship Opportunities > Essay Submissions: Living the HBCU Legacy
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