Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are having a moment. This happens every so often, usually after some period of social unrest where racial divisions divide and the desire for safe spaces becomes not only a need, but a must. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department and the ever blinding light of inequities in the criminal justice system, HBCUs like Howard University, Spelman College and North Carolina A&T State University (among others) saw record numbers of applications for admission into their programs. But it’s not all doom and gloom; after Kamala Harris was elected to the vice presidency of the United States of America, her alma mater—Howard University—became even more popular than it already is as one of the flagship Black colleges.
Money has poured in from billionaires and corporations to various schools. Top high school athletic recruits have eschewed the bright lights of blue blood universities to suit up for Black colleges in various sports, betting on themselves and their community in ways that seemed foreign even five years ago. After dealing with a ridiculous tenure situation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur Fellow Nikole Hannah-Jones rebuffed North Carolina (and all of the predominantly white institutions) to set up shop at Howard University and brought New York Times best-selling author (and former Howard University student) Ta-Nehisi Coates with her. Oh, they also brought a tremendous amount of money.
Again, HBCUs are having a moment. To discuss the moment and what it means for the present and for the legacies of various HBCUs, I—an alumnus of Morehouse College —was joined by Andrea Jackson Gavin, Spelman College alumna and current director of engagement and scholarship at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, and Dr. Jelani M. Favors, the Henry E. Frye Distinguished Professor of History at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University; he is also a graduate of the institution.
What is driving the moment and is it sustainable? Is the current largesse being spread evenly? How can HBCUs capitalize on all of the goodwill and positive momentum? And mostly, how did Beyoncé factor into the conversation? All of these questions are addressed and more. Thanks to Andrea and Jelani who shared wise words and perspective, even if Jelani wrongly thinks that calling your homecoming the “Greatest Homecoming on Earth” makes it so.
For this and more in-depth conversations, visit us here, and share your thoughts with us online in social media by following the hashtag #RootInstitute.