HBCUs and the Current Administration

Yesterday the white house played host to presidents of historically black colleges and universities. You may have seen the picture. It is the one with our nation’s president at his desk, a smiling Amarosa at his side. The office is packed with black people in dresses and suits, and of course Mrs. Conway kneeling on the couch.main-bldg

I wasn’t there. I don’t really know what happened and I can only guess at why.

But Dr. Walter Kimbrough, the President of Dillard University was in that room and he wrote about it. Oddly enough just last week three freshman were in my office asking me questions about student support and I printed out two different peer reviewed articles written by Dr. Kimbrough to help them.

Here is what he said about yesterday, “…the goal was for officials from a number of Federal agencies (about 5 were there including OMB) and Secretary DeVos to hear about HBCUs. That all blew up when the decision was made to take the presidents to the Oval Office to see the President… there was very little listening to HBCU presidents today- we were only given about 2 minutes each, and that was cut to one minute, so only about 7 of maybe 15 or so speakers were given an opportunity today.”

Today is the last day of Black History Month. The image I saw online had the potential to communicate some hope for these institutions. Sadly, as is the precedent, it fell far short.

Then I saw the Education Secretary’s statement following their meeting.

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have done this since their founding. They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.

HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”front-gate

This is the kind of statement you make if you aren’t listening. But again, I wasn’t there so maybe she did listen, or maybe she didn’t get a chance to hear them, or maybe it is worse. Maybe she listened and then still chose to release the above.

It should be clear that Black colleges did not start because of too few choices, they were founded because of exclusion. There was a system in place that was working for white people, and those people fought hard to keep this benefit exclusive.

Once these schools were founded they did not represent an additional choice, or even an alternative, they represented the only option.

Had the Secretary chosen to listen to Dr. Kimbrough, the president of one of these lauded schools, here is what he would have said (which we know he would have said because he published it today),

“Fifty years ago a philosophy emerged suggesting education was no longer a public good, but a private one. Since then we’ve seen Federal and State divestment in education, making the idea of education as the path to the American dream more of a hallucination for the poor and disenfranchised.”

North Carolina A&T: and Woolworth

On February 1st, 1960, four freshman from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College College went to Woolworth in downtown Greensboro. They were all wearing slacks and dress shoes, two were wearing ties, one even wore his ROTC uniform.

They sat down at the lunch counter and waited; all day. Woolworth had a policy of not serving black people.woolworth

This “sit-in” which lasted till July of that year, spread throughout the South and resulted in the changing of Woolworth’s policy. The event, and these four, are now famous, but this wasn’t the first sit-in by any stretch of the imagination. But these four freshmen knew that. They were smart. They knew what they were doing. They were NC A&T students. fountain

The school was once housed together with Shaw in Raleigh, but in 1893 they moved to Greensboro. Jesse Jackson graduated in 1965. They became a state University in 1967.

Then there was 1969.student circle

In 1969 a neighboring high school, the black high school, held student elections. Claude Barnes, an honors student, won by a landslide but the administration refused to allow him to join the student council. He was too into Black Power. The students protested and were ignored. The students went and asked the neighboring black college, A&T, for help and BOOM! No more ignored.AKA

Picketing and rallying led to the eventual invasion of A&T’s dorms by the National Guard. Not figurative, but actual, invasion. In fear of the danger posed by unruly black college students troops invaded with tear gas and arrested 300 students. After ransacking the dormitory they eventually found 3 guns.

All in all several were hurt, one died. A young black man.

That was then.skater

When I visited there were no militia, no unrest, just some kids going to school. Black kids and white ones too. Today the school is not known for its activism but rather its engineers.  I traveled there  from Philly because their engineers are good enough to justify the trip.

Shaw: the Source of Those Pesky Agitators

In 1960 a student at Shaw University organized a conference to be held on campus.
main bldg

This student, Ella Baker, brought together 126 other students from other schools, people like Stokely Carmichael, Marion Berry, Julian Bond, and together they formed a group called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

This little group of students from mostly small HBCUs organized and helped engineer one of the greatest societal shake-ups America has ever experienced.

And they got started at Shaw.med school

Shaw itself got started when the civil war ended and a Northern Baptist loaded up his carpet bag and went to Raleigh. This minister, Dr. Henry Martin Tupper, founded the school in 1865 with a handful of emancipated students. Fast forward a few years and graduates from Shaw were sitting in the president’s chair of five other colleges.tower

Perhaps that number will rise. There are currently 2,800 students at Shaw. The campus is small, right downtown.  I found parking in record time, walked around campus in record time, and then broke a record for the chattiest counter clerk in the school bookstore. He was a White dude.carsIt was graduation weekend.

Moms, Dads, and lots of rowdy aunties were wandering around campus hugging everybody.

I didn’t stick around for commencement. Instead I wandered off contemplating Greyhound buses and Woolworth’s counters.



Cheyney University

The term HBCU stands for Historically Black College and University. Of all the schools that fall under this umbrella, Cheyney is arguably the most “historical”.


They themselves make that argument, but they arent arguing with me. I’m on their team.

Cheyney was founded in 1837. Lets look at 1837 just a little bit.

jimmy carter1837 is the year Queen Victoria assumed the throne in England. This is the same year Michigan became a state. The civil war was still decades away and Black people were not only not admitted to colleges… they were mostly held as slaves.

Then here comes Cheyney.

red thingIt was opened in Philadelphia as the African Institute but now sits on 275 quiet acres in Chester County, PA.

I have had people ask me why there are such things as “black colleges” these days. We can’t have white colleges. It is a double standard.


When Cheyney was founded there were such things as white colleges. They were officially called “every college in America”. And just so you know, all these white colleges eventually let black people in… and all these black colleges today, have ALWAYS let white people in.

They still do.


Magnolia trees and dogwood blossoms paint a grand southern picture, but sprinkle in some Spanish moss and that picture becomes a masterful portrait. In the heart of one such portrait sits Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, or FAMU.

FAMU is one of only a handful of historically black colleges or universities that are public institutions. This means they receive tax payer’s money. Recently they have also received a lot of publicity over a little hazing incident. The hazing was carried out not by the football team or even a fraternity… it was the band.

frat paaint

Now to be fair this isn’t just any band, it is arguably THE band when it comes to college marching bands. They aren’t limited to football games and local parades, they are more along the lines of presidential inaugurations and Superbowl half times. Some members of said band were dangerously foolish, but it would be foolish to forget how good these guys are.

wearing a jacket

Foolish to haze, foolish to forget, and it would also be foolish to assume that while history has proven that separate is inherently unequal, this does not mean that all black institutions hailing from the days of segregation were poor quality. The may have indeed been, and are, poor in funding, but not in product.



Headlines cry out about the education and performance gap between black and white, inspiring armies of experts to investigate why black folks lag. If these experts would rather look the other way, and find out why the black folks who succeed do so when so many others don’t, they would do well to look at FAMU.


Fisk University

America’s most influential social scientist, one of the smartest Americans ever, was educated at Fisk.front gate

W.E.B. Dubois was not Fisk’s first student, though probably its most notable.  Marion Berry went there too but that is another story and neither of these guys are the point. The point is Fisk.

Only six months after the end of the civil war, during that hopeful time of liberation, a school for freed black people was founded in Nashville. That school still stands and is now a well respected University.

jubilee hall quarter

Fisk has a partnership with Case Western, just in case you want to add a large research institution to your liberal arts degree. Sorry. I’m a father approaching middle age which means my souring sense of humor cannot resist poor punning.

But Fisk really is partnered with Case Western.

chapel inside

admin building


Spelman College

My Wife’s best friend went to Spelman. So did Whitley, Dwayne Wayne, and Marissa Tome’…. sorta.arch

It is the HBCU (historically black college or university) version of Wellesley, and also the inspiration for Cosby’s fictional Hilman College in the sitcom Its A Different World.chapel

Founded in 1881, a time when neither women nor Black people were encouraged to pursue higher education. This sort of one-off origin, the kind of historical consolation prize that would lead one to think less of a place, does not apply to Spelman. It lists among the top 50 producers of Fulbright Scholars, second in production of black bacheloriates who go on to med school, and is the Alma Mater of the Dean of Harvard.

It does not to need to prove its bone fides.AKA



morehouse sweatshirt

I Did Not Know it Was Homecoming: Howard University

I normally wander onto campus, attend my event, perhaps have a meeting or two. There is rarely fanfare or crowds.

Then there was Howard.

I stood out quite a bit when I visited Wellesley, I stuck out even more at Howard. No one cared, not even the checker when I purchased a Howard Alumni pennant. She smiled and took my money.

Howard University

Every news watching American should attend homecoming at an HBCU. There were thousands of people there of all ages and I did not see one stabbing, shooting, gang sign, or even any public sex. This was nothing like the Black world normally seen on TV.

I was there looking for S.T.E.M. students. They have them there. They also had a block party that I was not looking for but still took advantage of.


Matt Taylor, the Interview

Matt Taylor on the Morehouse campus

I have wondered where or how to start this story for quite some time now. There are so many ways and places but none seem quite right, so I will just go straight forward.

Matt Taylor is about 6’2”, maybe a buck fifty. He is blonde, as is his equally tall and slim wife. He is twenty eight, I did not ask how old his wife is, and the two of them live in Atlanta.

They live in Atlanta because Matt is a sophomore on the Morehouse College basketball team.

If you know of Morehouse this is the place where you do a double take and I answer again, yes, that Morehouse.

Morehouse is a historically Black college, founded in 1867, when little to no educational opportunities were open to African-Americans. Harvard hadn’t graduated any Black students, nor had many other schools for that matter, and with those ivory doors closed a population’s desire for learning and opportunity had to be created elsewhere. That is how schools like Morehouse, Fisk, or Howard began.

It is a story in American lore that in context makes sense, it can be understood, it fits in the times and time-lines.

It doesn’t explain Matt.

Matt grew up in Idaho Falls. If you haven’t been there, the place is whiter than the Winter Olympics. After high school Matt got right to work, he never planned on college. It wasn’t that he didn’t care for learning, he just didn’t see the value in it. What he did see value in was basketball.

We didn’t talk about it then, nor do I know for sure, but I don’t think the NBA was in his sights then or even now, but that’s the great thing about basketball; you don’t have to get paid to play it. So he played some ball. At the same time, even without a degree, Matt was smart enough to know it takes money to pay bills so he also got to work. He did all kinds of things, mostly working for himself. At his core, even more than being a ball player, Matt is an entrepreneur.

These two loves are how Matt found himself living out of a suitcase managing and promoting an “And 1” style exhibition basketball team. It was Hot Sauce, High Octane, Sik Wit It, all those video game style players. He went everywhere with the guys, as far as Hong Kong, learning along the way. He picked up a little business sense, some basketball skills, and something else he could have never planned on; perspective. He got to know the guys. At times he found himself couching it at their homes, doing what they did, eating what they ate. They also got to know him.

But you can’t live on someone’s couch, or in a Motel 8 forever, and Matt decided to sit still for a while. He hadn’t lived anywhere more than three months since high school (having also traveled to Argentina as a Mormon missionary), and finally unpacked his bags in Provo Utah. That’s where he met his wife.

Nice story right? So what?

Benjamin E. Mays on the Morehouse campus.

In another part of the country, on another basketball court, is a coach who is wishing his college hoops squad had a little more “maturity”. He finds out about a 27 year old kid who has a lived on his own for years without getting in trouble, can ball, and hadn’t used up any eligibility. Who cares if he is white?

The school didn’t care and even more importantly, Matt didn’t care either. He and the Mrs. headed off to Morehouse.

He’s been there a little over a year now, I found myself in the area, so I took the opportunity meet up with him. We arranged a time and when I asked where on campus to look for him he said, “just ask anybody where the white boy is and they will tell you.” He was only partly joking.

It was obvious right from the start that he loves it there at school, and that he loves to talk. He really, really loves to talk. In fact he talks enough that though I have never sat in a class with him, I am willing to bet that after two sessions White is no longer his defining feature, but rather it is his mouth. Now I share this same condition, both conditions now that I think of it, and I have learned through sad experience that a willingness to speak is dangerous if your mouth isn’t backed up by a brain. He is fine, I am often in trouble. Back to him loving school.

He is not the only White guy on campus, there are seven, but he is the only Mormon. He is probably also the only married sophomore. I was possibly projecting a little but I would think that this would make for a lonely existence, or at least an isolating one, but he never expressed that, he is part of the team. “You don’t make it four years on this campus if your being here has anything to do with your being White… you either make it here and are a brother of Morehouse or you are not, bottom line. We are a family here on campus.” I believe he believes that. As I walked, sat, and talked with him I was listening to a guy who questions everything, has an opinion on most things, and has no fear at all in speaking his mind. He is also a guy who has no question as to whether he belongs at this school. Better yet, and possibly more surprising, is that he not only believes he belongs, but he has also felt welcome. He says his classmates make him feel that he belongs.

I think that is what would surprise most people. It isn’t just that there is a White boy playing ball at a school historically and traditionally meant for Black men, but that the school and Black males at that school welcome the White boy. There is more to the story, and more to the moral of the story than I will get to here, I’m sure Matt will write a book. When he does I will read it and I hope others will read it as well. He is learning things most people don’t ever learn in school but should. He is crossing lines most Americans do not, and so far its working out well.