By Austin R. Cooper Jr. | The Washington Informer | Word In Black

This post was originally published on The Washington Informer

(WIB) – Graduates from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are leaders in every field and include barrier-breaking politicians, doctors, business owners, scientists, artists, lawyers, engineers and educators, many of whom are public servants.

Today, for example, several HBCU graduates serve in senior roles in the Biden-Harris administration, including Vice President Kamala Harris — the first HBCU graduate ever to serve as vice president of the United States — and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan. Harris attended Howard University, and Regan, North Carolina A&T.

HBCUs Today

HBCUs were created to provide educational opportunities to Black people following the Civil War. According to a report titled, Basic Needs Insecurity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, “Today, there are more than 100 HBCUs in the United States. Collectively, these institutions serve roughly 300,000 students each year and serve 1 in 10 Black students throughout the country.”

Many students depend on HBCUs as a chance for education.

“HBCUs also enroll significantly more first-generation college students and students from low-income families than traditional colleges or universities,” according to the report. “Nationwide, 75 % of students at HBCUs are Pell Grant recipients.”

Even in their necessary role for offering access to higher education, HBCUs face challenges of their own.“Despite the important role they continue to play, many HBCUs struggle with a lack of investment, dwindling enrollment, and — most recently — fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Family Love of HBCUs

I am a proud HBCU graduate who represents a family lineage of the same. My father attended St. Augustine’s University and my mother, Bennett College. In addition, the overwhelming majority of my parent’s siblings are also HBCU graduates, including my uncle, Dr. Donald R. Hopkins, a world-renowned physician.

Growing up, my sisters Angela and Kimberly and I often discussed going to college with our parents. In these discussions, there was a spoken expectation that our parents would cover our undergraduate education and that all academic requirements would be met in four years. There was also an unspoken expectation that we would attend an HBCU. Angela and Kimberly respectively graduated from Howard and Hampton Universities.

My HBCU Choice

Morehouse College was my first choice. After initially receiving a rejection letter due to an incomplete application package, I was accepted. Unfortunately, campus housing was full, and all freshmen were required to reside on campus. I then applied and was accepted by Saint Augustine’s in Raleigh, North Carolina. My plan was to attend “St. Aug” for one semester, then transfer to Morehouse.

In transferring there, I wanted to ensure my exposure to the Black thought leaders of the time. I wanted to meet and hear from Benjamin Mays, Julian Bond, Dorothy Height, Jesse Jackson, Ben Chavis, Andrew Young, Coretta Scott King, and others. Unless I attended Morehouse, I did not believe that I would gain such exposure.

I was wrong. I met all of them and many more.

Austin R. Cooper Jr.
Austin R. Cooper Jr. is a graduate of St. Augustine, an HBCU in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Courtesy photo)

What I quickly learned at “St. Aug” was that these political giants visited my campus either on their way to Morehouse or having just left. I quickly fell in love with my alma mater and continued my matriculation there.

There, I saw men and women every day, who looked just like me, successfully running an institution of higher learning. As role models, they undergirded my belief in my ability as a Black man to fulfill their dreams.

St. Augustine has a long, powerful history — founded in 1867 by Episcopal clergy, dedicated for the education of African Americans, many of whom had recently gained freedom just a couple years before with the end of the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation.

While in college, longtime former president Dr. Prezell R. Robinson taught my father sociology. My professor for Western European Civilization, Dr. Elmer Schwertzman, also taught him that same class. There was a continuity and personal tradition in my education.

For several years, I served on the Board of Trustees of “St. Aug.” And today, I am active with the local alumni chapter.

HBCU Pride Never Leaves You

Whenever you speak to HBCU graduates, there is pride that will follow us for the rest of our lives.

“As a Bennett College graduate, I was fortunate to experience a community that supported me,” said Ama Asafu-Adjaye. “There was a special kind of understanding among my peers and teachers that continues to follow me nearly 25 years later.”

Or as Vice President Harris said in commencement remarks last year at Tennessee State University, another HBCU, “I stand before you today …. as a proud graduate of an HBCU to say: There is no limit to your capacity for greatness. There is no obstacle you cannot overcome. There is no barrier you cannot break.”

The post HBCU Pride: Historically Black Colleges and Universities Remain Important Today appeared first on The Washington Informer.