As October rolls around, we are nearing a very popular time in the African-American community — homecoming season. From Howard to FAMU to Spelman and Morehouse, it’s consistently been known as one of the most epic experiences for HBCU students, alum and visitors. But what happens during these weekend celebrations isn’t always the case for the remainder of the school year.
For nearly 200 hundred years, HBCUs have been a mainstay in the African-American community, providing educational opportunities when blacks were banned from attending predominately white institutions (PWIs).
But attending homecoming festivities every year without providing any financial contributions to one’s alma mater is the equivalent to buying a plant and refusing to water it. There’s a lot piling on top, but one can’t ignore some of the failing infrastructures of HBCUs — evidenced by several closures over the years — and if we don’t soon do something about it, we could eventually see them collapse.
It’s why Sean “Diddy” Combs’ recent $1 million donation to Howard University was so important. To be more specific, the donation was designed to specifically reach “anybody that can’t pay off his or her financial aid.” That’s a really popular move.
When someone of that celebratory status makes this kind of statement, it reminds us that we can make a difference within our own communities by retaining our own wealth. But we need more celebrities to step up to the challenge. Or equally as important — anybody who’s been a fan of, borrowed from or finds themselves immersed in black culture.
Despite many challenges, enrollment continues to increase at many HBCUs. HBCU Digest reports an enrollment increase in as many as 9 HBCUs, including South Carolina State University, where enrollment is up by 40 percent and Harris Stowe State University, which just welcomed its largest freshman class in school history.
Whether you or your kids decide to attend an HBCU or not, they’re the solution to many of the challenges our communities are facing. Education is a major pillar towards economic wealth and restoration in African-American communities. Attend an HBCU, graduate, get hired by those within your community, donate, start businesses in our communities, rebuild our local school systems that are often underfunded and neglected. Eventually, we will develop a system of restoration. And although I’m aware this has been done before with Black Wall Street, nearly 100 years later, we must rebuild.
Cheyney University in Pennslyvania is the oldest HBCU, dating back to 1837. It’s birthed such notable alumni as Robert Bogle, President/CEO of The Philadelphia Tribune, the oldest black newspaper in circulation today. There’s also Oprah Winfrey, a graduate of Tennessee State University; Toni Morrison, a Howard University alumna; DJ Envy, a graduate of Hampton University; and the late Bill Nunn, Morehouse class of ’76. The list of notable alumni goes on, but unfortunately, not the funding.
A Forbes article reports the top 10 HBCU endowments range from $38 million to $586 million, while the top 10 PWI endowments range from $6 billion to $32 billion. A $1 million donation by Diddy is a significant chunk of one of the top 10 HBCU endowments. And while enrollment is up significantly at many schools, without the proper funding and support in a time where budget cuts are higher than ever, we must make sure we take care of our own.
To be clear, it’s possible to both protest and make progress at the same time. It’s also possible to not be tied to any specific HBCU because of attendance,but rather out of obligation to your community. African-Americans are one of the few cultures who have historically, over the past few centuries, had very little direct ties to their ancestry. And although classrooms have intentionally wiped our history from textbooks, ignoring how slavers forcefully brought the majority of our people over unwillingly, there’s still so much to be done. The same call to action we’ve seen with the increase of investment into our black banks must also be contributed to our HBCUs.
It may be some time before we can compete with Dr. Dre’s $50 million donation, but if Diddy is any example of the progress we can make, anything’s possible. Imagine a world where financially contributing to our culture was just as cool as it is to profit from it.
Jay Z, Beyonce, Kanye, Kim, black athletes, actors and entrepreneurs… where ya’ll at?