When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos used historically black colleges and universities as emblematic of her whole “school choice” concept, many people, and not just black people, found that as amusing as they did frustrating. What she failed to grasp was that these schools were created due to the lack of choice available to black students.
The achievements that HBCUs have carved out are nothing short of mind-blowing.
HBCUs are what helped many families make their way into the middle class after generations of being forced into labor jobs. It was the opportunities afforded by HBCUs that made it possible for men and women to get the education that it took to become things like lawyers and dentists.
For many thousands of black families, and for generations, HBCUs were the only options available when it came to getting a higher education. It is these schools that have powered black progress, taking people from the years of enslavement to some of the highest levels of employment in the country.
For over a hundred years HBCUs have been vital to social movements that have shaped the United States. The legal challenge to school segregation and the sit-in movement began in black colleges and universities. It was in these schools that students were able to speak freely about issues that affected the black community, debate different approaches and develop the strategies that would go on to address them.
Some of the most important voices to come out of the last many generations have come from HBCUs. Voices like those of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Rev. William Barber, from Mary McLeod Bethune to Diane Nash, from Thurgood Marshall to Senator Kamala Harris—all of them attended these schools.
The mistakes the Trump administration has made have helped put HBCUs in the national spotlight, showing how misunderstood these schools are and how little people understand of their history. These missteps have also exposed the difficult position the administrators find themselves in.
Hopefully, the time has come to learn about the importance of HBCUs and how much better off our country is for having them and the students they produce. That is why “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities,” was created and why you should watch it.