Page 1

May 2014

Volume 1, Issue 6

HBCU Digest

May 2014

Commencement: New Beginnings


Publisher Jarrett L. Carter, Sr. Editor Autumn A. Arnett Assistant Editor Kyle Yeldell Contributors Sam P.K. Collins Torrin Ellis Imani J. Jackson Christina Sturdivant

5 Letter from the Editor


A former high school dropout finds his way at Coppin State By Christina Sturdivant

10 MAMA, WE MADE IT! (...NOW WHAT?) A career counselor offers advice to recent graduates By Torin Ellis


HBCU grads launch businesses amid uncertain economies By Sam P.K. Collins


HBCU alumni return to classroom, pay it forward By Imani J. Jackson


Cover image courtesy of North Carolina Central University.

Changing the narrative around Black men in college By Autumn A. Arnett


HBCU Digest congratulates the class of 2014

HBCU Digest is published monthly by Carter Media Enterprises, LLC. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. HBCU Digest and the HBCU Digest logo are protected through registered trademark. For advertising and subscription information, contact


HOWARD UNIVERSITY Howard University, one of the nation’s leading research universities, is dedicated to educating students from diverse backgrounds at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels. Guided by our extraordinary cadre of faculty, students are immersed in cutting-edge scholarship and innovation, including nanotechnology, human genome research and atmospheric science, as well as the social sciences, arts and humanities on four campuses. Since its inception more than 145 years ago, Howard University has been at the forefront of preparing globally competent students for positions of leadership and social responsibility.

HBCU Digest

May 2014

Letter from the Editor Dear Reader, Commencement is always a time of great reflection, a sense of “we made it,” and is often heralded as the end of one chapter in life. We chose to theme this issue “Commencement: New Beginnings,” to remind us that graduation is as much about beginning a new chapter as it is about closing an old one. For some, it is a new chapter of education, as they move on to graduate and professional schools. For others, new careers, maybe even in new cities, await. For still others, a new feeling of “What now,” as they scramble to figure out what comes next in life after they have known nothing other than class schedules and exams and summer vacations for the last 16 years of their lives. In this issue, we sought to capture all of the emotions and feelings of triumph and uncertainty that accompany this tremendous time in every student’s life. We look at one student, who, though not yet near his graduation end-goal, is excited to have been given an opportunity that he did not think he would see this time last year. From entrepreneurship to returning to the teaching field to having absolutely no clue where to even start to submit a resume, our contributors look at the different paths awaiting recent HBCU graduates as they travel the road to “the real world.” From the 73 year-old graduate of Fayetteville State University who showed us all it is never too late, to the selfies on stage with the First Lady of the United States and the viral photo that became the unofficial symbol of one HBCU’s graduation exercise, we have captured some of the best moments in the 2014 commencement season. And we could not have done it without the responsiveness of our amazing readers, who submitted their photos. Here’s to new beginnings! Most sincerely,

Autumn A. Arnett Editor HBCU Digest


HBCU Digest

May 2014

Defying the Odds A former high school dropout finds his way at Coppin State By Christina Sturdivant 6

HBCU Digest


n cities across the country, high school dropout rates among teens remain unsettlingly high. In Washington, D.C., only 61 percent of high school students graduated on time in 2012. Those who completely drop out face years of third-tier jobs in service positions with low wages and minimal opportunities for advancement. But Coppin State University freshman Brandon Spriggs has managed to create an outcome unusual for a high school dropout—with the help of a few exceptional role models. “This was always the plan,” Spriggs said on move-in day in January, as he sat on his bed in his dorm room for the first time, taking everything in. “To go to college.” “I saw something in him so I was encouraging him right from the beginning,” said Darrell Williams, an education coordinator for Concerned Black Men National who assisted Spriggs with preparing for the GED and eventually guided him to Coppin State. “I said ‘I see something in you that’s different from a lot of young people who come here.’” Spriggs walked through the doors of the Mayfair Mansions community center in northeast Washington, D.C., where Williams was teaching GED classes, inquiring about taking the GED test. Students who pass the test receive a certificate equivalent to a high school diploma. The process to obtaining a GED, says Williams, is comprised of in-class instruction, at-home studying, an appraisal and pre-test, all before actually taking the standard exam. From the practice test, Williams saw that Spriggs would be a standout student. His scores accelerated him to the highest-level class. “So I wanted him to commit himself to coming in, being on time and studying hard because I said ‘I think I can get you in a quicker pace of time,’” says Williams. Spriggs, who says he sees Williams as not just a GED instructor, but “like a mentor,” took that advice, and more. “Not only was he doing what I asked him to do but he was extending himself with other students. He has done some good work without us having to ask him, which is why I really enjoyed having him around,” says Williams. “A lot of the stuff that he helped me with helped me get here. I wouldn’t be here if is wasn’t for Mr. Williams,” Spriggs says. Academically, the biggest challenge for Spriggs was honing his writing abilities for the essay portion of the exam. To improve his literary skills, he researched techniques out of class, an approach that most students don’t take. His personal drive was complemented by the support of Williams and others around him. “We just kept on motivating and pressing him to do the right thing—he was just a perfect guy and he wanted it bad, that’s the thing,” says Williams. Within 30 days, Spriggs was ready for the official GED test and scored off the charts, earning 27.80 on a test that requires at least 22.50 to pass. “We were all just ecstatic that he passed it and he did it within a one post-test period, which is unbelievable,” says Williams. “In so many cases, some students do that but not at

May 2014

the level that Brandon did it.” After obtaining his GED, Spriggs was encouraged to take his education further. He went on to score a 1380 on his first attempt at the SAT, 120 points off from the national average, with only self-study at home to prepare himself for the test. With college as the next step, he turned to family for guidance. “My sister went [to Coppin State University] and she told me it was a good school, so I applied and I got in,” he says. “She told me to just try to get through my classes and that [going to Coppin] would help me out when I graduate, getting a good job. She liked it here so I figured I might as well give it a try too.” Not too far from home, but with enough space to experience independence, Spriggs moved to campus in Baltimore in January 2014. On his move-in day, he was accompanied by individuals who pushed him over the past several months, including Williams. “It was such a delightful experience—we were just having fun and remembering when we were in college for the first year and so we were sharing our experiences with him. When we were leaving, my supervisor and I stood in the door, turned around and looked back at him like we were leaving our son,” says Williams. While the two are still connected, Spriggs is now adjusting to college life. “College has so much more freedom. It’s my first time living on my own without my mom and I feel like I don’t have to check in with anybody,” he says. “When I first got here, I didn’t really know anybody and everybody had already met their group of friends because I started in the middle of the school year. Then I saw a few of my boys from high school and around my neighborhood and I started hanging with them again. It was cool to see somebody I actually knew.” While he has yet to decide on a major, he says he is leaning towards psychology. “I’m thinking about doing psychology but we’ll see,” he says. “I talked to my sister and she thought I’d be good at it because I’m real good at listening to people’s problems so she thought it would be a good fit.” He’s also taken to a couple of other subjects, largely because of his professors. “It’s not dry like in high school when you were just listening to teachers go on and on about nothing really,” he says. “[My public speaking professor] is a preacher and one time he did his whole class about Meek Mill’s song ‘Dreams and Nightmares,’ and he remixed the lyrics. He was like ‘hold up wait a minute, y’all thought God was finished.’ It was tight though to be in class and relating to stuff that we actually care about it.” “He sits up front, participates, and is polite and friendly,” says Dr. Roger Davidson, History program coordinator at Coppin, and Spriggs’ favorite teacher. “It makes it a warmer atmosphere in the classroom and it helps the professor because just like performing in front of an audience, at times you have to know that you’re connecting, and him being there allows me to know that I’m at least connecting with someone and


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it helps me to teach better.” While his grades fare average in class, Davidson says, “he has a lot of potential—it’s what he makes of it. The more he puts into it, the better it will be and I do think he can and will do well.” “I’ve been in this position for two years and I’ve been teaching for twelve working with a lot of at-risk programs around the city,” says Williams. For Spriggs, being able to relate to Davidson and other professors has been a huge factor in helping him to make the adjustment and find a place on campus. And it doesn’t hurt that he and Davidson, literally, come from the same place. “He’s from D.C.,” notes Spriggs. The two also have traveled similar paths; Davidson dropped out of school in the seventh grade and eventually obtained his GED and went to college. “I always try to instill in all the students that you are better than your environment,” he says. For Williams, Spriggs is proof. “So many people can learn from his story because his story would say that if you’re motivated to want to do better, you will do better but its up to you—if you’re willing to change your mindset from what you’re used to,” he says. Williams also stresses the importance of forging a community of support for youth. “He has a lot of motivation, his sister did well at Coppin State and he’s following in her footsteps,” says Williams. “Young people have to be around people who really care about them and who are going to encourage them to take the next level in getting their education and take the next level to be better than who they are right now… I know [Spriggs] is going to be successful in his educational experience.” Now at the end of his first semester, Spriggs has been able to settle in and establish himself on campus. “I’ve got a little crew now,” he says referencing the new friends he has made and those he has reconnected with since his arrival. “A year ago, I wanted to get my GED, and, like, this was the plan: to get my GED and hopefully go to college, but I didn’t think that in a year I’d [have achieved my goal],” Spriggs said on his January move-in day. “It’s kind of unbelievable.”

May 2014

Spriggs with his sister, Sharron at her 2014 master’s graduation from Columbia University. Sharron completed her undergraduate studies at Coppin State University and encouraged her brother to do the same, challenging him to maintain her legacy of excellence at her alma mater—Sharron graduated from CSU summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA.


Robert Poole, M.F.A. ’02 Filmmaker

Crystal de Gregory, Ph.D. ’03 Founder & Executive Editor HBCUStory, Inc.

Anna Wilkins Presidential Scholar Political Science Major


Brooke Davies SGA President Chemistry Honors Student


“Cultivating Scholars & Leaders One by One”


John Rigeuer, Ph.D. ’03 Scientist, Commissariat a L’Energie et aux Energies Alternative (CEA) Grenoble, FRANCE

HBCU Digest

May 2014

Mama, We Made It! (...Now, What?) A career counselor offers advice to new graduates By Torin Ellis

Name notwithstanding, commencement, convocation or invocation, the result will be pretty much the same. A memorable display of accomplished young men and women from around the country, donning graduation caps and gowns, prepared to celebrate and take plenty of Instagram-worthy pictures. There is no doubt that thousands upon thousands of social media feeds will be in a buzz and rightfully so. The euphoria of completing this educational journey will last well into the evening and for the next several days, no doubt. For some, additional congratulations may be in order, because you, perhaps, are one of the few that secured a new job. For many others, the days will be filled with searching tons of websites, filling out applications and going on interviews. There’s a good chance you may hear one of the following phrases: • “The position has been filled internally.” • “We’ve decided to go in a different direction.” • “Call me in a few weeks, and we’ll talk some more.” In an age of university dropout-billionaires, underemployment and unemployment a reality for millions, some ask, “Is higher education worth the sacrifice?” Panelists at the World Economic Forum in Davos weighed in on that question in February 2014: It was asked if it was worth it to be a part of the $1 trillion dollars in student loans or one of the more than 300k university graduates in 2013 working for minimum wage? While the numbers are startling, there is no time to sit on your hands and panic. Let’s put that educational experience to good use and develop a solid job search strategy. The objective is to be categorized as a star candidate by human resource professionals and applicant tracking systems. Below are a few valuable resources that will help you identify your character type, craft an interview strategy and clean up your social media footprint: • DevQ Score • Rip the Resume • Social Assurity

No, this is not a silver bullet, but it is a solid strategy for those looking to shorten their job search. For many candidates, an extended job search has more to do with their approach versus their “lack of effort.” These three resources provide the foundation of a quality strategy. The activities involved require much more than sitting at a computer and firing off resumes using the enter button on some silver colored keyboard. A quality job search is a full contact sport. Full contact means attending varied events, making calls, leveraging social media and seeking out referral sources. Referrals still serve as the top source for landing a new role. The vast majority of available jobs are in the “hidden” job market. With unfamiliar networking you’ll hear about that hidden job market and have a chance to market your potential, not your past. It makes a difference, so consider the following: • Allocate a small reserve for monthly networking, seminar and/or training events. • Use Vistaprint (or some other cost effective resource) to print a batch of business cards. • Attend unfamiliar events that cater to your degree of study or industry of interest. Do this with passion and do this as often as resources and time will allow. Evaluate the quality of each event with a tally of attendance, subject matter presented, personal connections made, and quality of the conversations. In the words of Judith Glasner, “you can tell a lot about an organization by the quality of the conversation.” Networking can become an expensive proposition, do guard your time as you plan to get out more often. There is NO one right way to conduct a job search. The better positioned are those who deliver a more consistent strike, create an optimized social profile, draft a compelling resume story and expand their business networks. These steps provide the average candidate with a tested formula for faster results. A job search is all about targeted varied activity. Do this and your results will change immediately. Immediately: a word that many appreciate.


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May 2014

Weathering the Storm HBCU Grads Launch Businesses Amid Uncertain Economies By Sam P.K. Collins


his summer, Justin Miles will capture precious moments across the country and around the world with the snap of his Canon 70D camera. “I plan on traveling wherever life takes me and setting up studios,” said Miles, 23. “I will produce a lot of content.” JusJam Photography, the recent Howard University (HU) graduate’s small business, has amassed quite a following among students and alumni since its inception in the summer of 2013. Every week, students from universities in the D.C. metropolitan area visit JusJam Photography’s Instagram page and look at hundreds of photos from recent social gatherings. Miles recently included video production as one of JusJam Photography’s offerings.

Miles has put forth plans to expand his business and says that his efforts could turn JusJam Photography into a multifaceted, full-time venture. “I found that there was a demand for photos and videos so I capitalized on it,” said Miles. “As a business owner, I am always building my network so it turns into opportunities for future work. People will always come back as long as you’re professional and produce timely products. Eventually, I want to own a studio where I produce my own content and nurture the talent of others.” Miles counts among a growing number of intrepid college graduates bypassing employment and generating their own source of income. A study conducted by the Ewing Marion


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Kauffman Foundation found that 35 percent of millennials launched independent ventures in 2013. Experts consider the increase in business ownership among young people a response to a job market that has employed 30,000 less people than expected this year, according to the Department of Labor. More than 70 percent of American workers polled in the Kauffman Foundation study said they did not like their current job situation. While other millennials jumped into their projects head first, Xavier Brown helped build a nonprofit while holding down a full-time job. As head horticulturalist of The Green Scheme, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that introduces urban farming to low-income communities, he guides residents of various ages along the process of growing and harvesting an array of fruits and vegetables. “We thought that there was a void in the local environmentalist community,” said Brown, a 2009 graduate of North Carolina A&T University (NCA&T) in Greensboro, N.C. “We wanted to give the young people something cool that would help them keep their dignity. No one is doing what we’re doing.” Brown and two friends launched The Green Scheme in the fall of 2010 after his graduate program at NCA&T went defunct. Since its inception, the nonprofit has helped residents in three D.C. communities start their own gardens, one of which has a fruit orchard, and formed partnerships with community organizations and government agencies. Brown, who plans to give his full attention to The Green Scheme within the next year, considered building the nonprofit a labor of love and warned budding entrepreneurs and nonprofit managers to not take lightly the responsibility of growing and maintaining their independent ventures. “You have to love the things that you do,” said Brown. “There are no limits to your creativity when you’re in it for yourself. Some days get hard but I love growing crops. Food tells a story. There is no culture without agriculture.” Seasoned insurance agent Reginald Wright can also attest to the merits of business ownership. The Wright Agency, a North Carolina-based provider of insurance and financial services, attracted a customer base that includes athletes, entertainers, industry magnates, and clergy. It yields more than $6 million in annual revenue. Wright launched his business in 1994 after turning down numerous career advancement opportunities at insurance company AllState, choosing instead to branch out on his own and combine the best practices of 20 agencies he had previously managed. Today, the Wright Agency has three locations in North Carolina and Wright expanded his services to California, Georgia and New Jersey. Nearly 20 years later after starting his journey, Wright still espouses the value of entrepreneurship, calling it a means of true economic security. “I definitely believe that ownership is a better way to go,” said Wright, 56, a 1980 graduate of North Carolina Central University. “I knew that if AllState decided to let go of a manger, they would a give them a check but owners could always pass ownership. I saw it as an opportunity for security and wealth enhancement,” said Wright. Government consultant Byron Stewart and lawyers Nick

May 2014

Austin and William Jolley did not start The ASJ Group, a motivational speaking company, out of a need for financial security. Rather, they wanted to equip youth with the skills and confidence needed to advance professionally. The trio, each with more than a decade of public speaking experience, combined their efforts in 2012 after realizing each of them frequently spoke before audiences. The name of their company derives from the first letter of their last names. Through The ASJ Group, Stewart, Austin, and Jolley developed a specialized curriculum that outlines the steps of building a small business and navigating the transition from high school to college. They cater their services to high school and college students and young professionals across the D.C. metropolitan area. They often host panel discussions that feature professionals that work in various career fields. Stewart said that he hopes to make ASJ a full-time venture and create a pipeline within the organization that allows high school students to serve as mentors once they reach college. “You’re really trying to find your mark in your 20s and do something that satisfies you,” said Stewart, 29, a 2006 graduate of Howard University. “It made sense for us to start this business. After putting in many hours, we always see the direct benefits of our work. You may not see that when you’re working for a large company. Independence is amazing. As we grow as professionals, our business also grows.” Educator and music lover Simon “Kilo Vibes” Moore also knows a thing or two about reaping the benefits of his work. Moore decided to follow his passion for deejaying in 2008 when he launched Vybez Flexx Entertainment, an all-age entertainment company based in Silver Spring, Md. At a time when go-go music dominated the local party scene, Moore threw parties for teens reggae listeners. Three years later, he took on deejaying and party planning full time, forming a team of deejays, promoters, and photographers and purchasing state-ofthe-art equipment. Moore’s business savvy has made him a household name among local reggae listeners as well as young hip-hop and gogo music fans. Today, he often splits his time between school proms, football games, young adult gatherings, and corporate events. Moore, a former deejay at WBSURadio 90.5, credits Bowie State University (BSU) with providing him with the tools and network needed to build a sustainable business. “I wanted to dominate a market that has never been tapped before,” said Moore, 35, a 2005 graduate of BSU. “I turned my love of playing music into a business using drive, organization and discipline. I gained my radio experience at my historically black university. I’m still called on to do gigs from people I know in that network,” said Moore. For more information on any of these ventures, contact them directly: The ASJ Group | The Green Scheme | JusJam Photography | @jusjam Vybez Flexx Entertainment | The Wright Agency | html


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May 2014

HBCU Digest

February May 2014

Reach, Teach, Lead HBCU Alumni Return to the Classroom, Pay it Forward By Imani J. Jackson


ecent graduates have a fresh start. Admittedly, many confront mixed messages about the future. Others will transition into the next phase of their plan. Graduates should, as elders often say, walk into their blessings. Media reports are reminders of struggle. People struggle widely, cyclically and often disparately. Unemployment hovers at better than 6.5 percent. Hundreds of thousands of college graduates take service jobs, historically reserved for the uneducated and undereducated. Objective numbers can breed subjective doubt. Yet, wisdom also reminds people that education is transformative. Knowledge is something they, whether the “they” are individuals, institutions, or society, cannot take from graduates. What graduates do with themselves, their degrees and their networks results largely from free will. The good news is that pedagogy, practicality and paychecks combine for some HBCU alumni. Teaching positions graduates to enrich classrooms and personify mission statements many heard in first-year convocations, lectures and office hours in college. Just ask Tennessee State summa cum laude English graduate Tiffany Williams. Williams holds a master’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University, owns a successful production company, and teaches part time, principles of advertising, at Prairie View A&M University. For the young, multi-hyphenate professor, teaching was a beneficial move. “Along the way” she “fell in love” with the profession, but did not initially envision herself leading this way. Williams also “can relate on deeper level” with students because she “did not have the greatest upbringing”, graduated relatively recently, and is “able to meet them where they are.” Meeting students where they are in order to get them where they need to be was a recurring notion with other teachers who graduated from HBCUs. FAMU summa cum laude music education graduate Jamaal Nicholas teaches middle school band. Nicholas found himself outside of his lesson plan, and doing additional personalized teaching, when an exuberant student presented a musical arrangement of Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy.” The student did the arrangement of his own volition and worked on the arrangement for five weeks before presenting it to Nicholas. Nicholas laughingly mentioned structural errors, but honed in on the student’s excitement. The student reminded Nicholas of himself as a child because passion also led Nicholas to

self-designate music assignments. Of this student, Nicholas said, “That fire has been lit.” FAMU music education graduate and Barry University education leadership graduate student Moneq Scott teaches music to students from kindergarten through seventh grade at a K-8 in south Florida. Scott’s students come to her with varying skills. She makes plans based on what they know. Some students can handle instruments. Others need to learn rhythms. She teaches others to read music. Then, there are life lessons that Scott believes her students, all who are black or Latino, need. In light of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis’ killings in central and north Florida, Scott told the students, “Your lives are not being valued.” She took a few days to give them other lessons. She spoke of the prison industrial complex and proper decision-making. Teaching, according to Scott, is a position of trust. As a result, teachers are called to share necessary messages with students, and to do so in delicate ways. This spring, some HBCU students will graduate and join the teaching profession. Others will choose different paths. Regardless of graduates’ individual choices to become an educator or simply to use their education elsewhere, American education is big business. It is also a business seeking diverse leaders, as the nation’s population increasingly includes citizens of color. President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper Initiative” was created to help students similar to those in Williams, Nicholas and Scott’s classrooms. The president also opened this year’s State of the Union address with the statement, “Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.” The trickle down effect from constituents to the White House to black schools is real. Contemporary students have increased academic options. Graduates have to do what is best for them. As New Jersey senator Cory Booker challenged Hampton University graduates, “Swear your oath not with your hand over your heart, but your hand outstretched to give, to serve, to do.” Those hands and oaths touch students, graduates, teachers and all who support knowledge-based liberation.


HBCU Digest

May 2014

A New Normal Changing the narrative around Black men in college By Autumn A. Arnett 16

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here are approximately 841,000* Black men in prison, and just under 1.4 million** in college. And, at HBCUs, Black men make up 31** percent of the population (the ratio is not the 12:1 or 7:1 or other absurdly high number:1 we are fed at freshman orientation). But the story that is often told is that there are no good Black men, that they’re all in jail or doing nothing with their lives. Dr. Bryant Marks, Executive Director of the Morehouse Research Institute and Director of the Morehouse Male Initiative at Morehouse College, says the more negative narrative is more profitable. “Deficit sells,” Marks says. “When you look at African-American males from a deficit perspective … it has shock value.” Dr. Brian K. Bridges, executive director of UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute says, “I believe perpetuating those negative images serves certain individuals while Black men continue to be demonized further in the media.” Marks does not believe that all of the “selling” is maliciously intended, however. Acknowledging “there are some who make a living peddling deficit,” he also admits that selling deficit stories is to the benefit of researchers and others trying to attract funding to remedy the problems facing the Black male population. “There also is an undercurrent of well-meaning people who will exaggerate the negativity in order to solve a legitimate problem,” Marks says. But he does not let these people off the hook, calling on researchers and sociologists to “have some integrity when it comes to reporting the data, to have some balance” in the stories they tell. “It begins with integrity, where folks can look at the data and say ‘it isn’t as bad as we thought, but it’s still bad,’” Marks says. Bridges agrees. “We have to change the narrative from a deficit model to an affirmative model of Black male success,” he says. “Black men are an easy target to blame for all their own ills, because of historical fears about them. However, this only serves to marginalize them.” “There are examples of high-achieving Black males that can serve as models for some of the work that these folks are doing,” he says. “We’ve just accepted some of the negative

May 2014

statistics as normal. … So when we hear something that is positive, it sounds strange.” Understanding the Issues It is true that there are some challenges Black male students face on the road to a college degree. There is the lack of preparedness coming from schools that remain of lower educational quality than those of some of their white counterparts. As the nation is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision, many across the nation are lamenting a “re-segregation” and return to separate and unequal classrooms and resource allocations. Offerings in AP classes at predominately-Black schools remain non-existent. As Lawyers Committee Executive Director Barbara Arnwine said at a recent panel examining “the Mixed Legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education 60 Years Later,” “to the extent that the achievement gap has narrowed, it has done so, so slowly.” There are contributing societal factors—George Mason University Dr. Rodney Hopson said during the same panel, “Gentrification of our neighborhoods has led to a re-segregation of our schools,” and Marks notes the “low expectations of teachers, the allure and seduction of fast money and a different set of social expectations”—and persisting historical setbacks. American University’s Lia Epperson noted at the event, “the racial tension that was baked into the fabric of this nation did not just go away with Brown,” and it is a reality that Black students, both male and female, still face in their pursuit of higher education. “Black men suffer from the same challenges that Black women do: too many of them are academically underprepared attending poor schools and too many come from low-income families,” Bridges says. “However, there are other challenges facing Black men, such as the ‘cool pose’ orientation where too many don’t maximize their educational opportunities. Too many come from communities where they have to deal with trauma, which hinders their ability to succeed.” Another issue that has been discussed at length is the effect of a shortage of teachers that look like them, or teachers they

“If anyone exemplifies the American dream, it is the Black male who graduated from college.” —Dr. Bryant Marks


HBCU Digest

can relate to, in general. “One thing that’s very important is for Black males to have a very positive relationship with their teachers,” says Dr. Ivory Toldson, deputy executive director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs. “And that positivity is defined mostly by the sense that their teachers respect them for who they are.” Toldson says for a lot of teachers of different backgrounds, the idea of respecting the students is sometimes a foreign concept. “The whole notion of respect is a little elusive to them,” he says. “They don’t understand why they can’t just do their jobs and be straightforward and direct. … They don’t understand why it’s necessary to go above and beyond to respect who the person is, where they came from and different things like that.” Building a New Narrative At HBCUs, where there is a history and noted culture of nurturing and caring for the whole student, there is a responsibility to better serve these students and help them make it through to graduation. “About one-fifth of all Black males attending a four-year college attend an HBCU, so these institutions should play a significant role in Black male success,” Bridges says. “HBCUs can meet these students where they are and provide a campus experience that is aligned more closely with their home experiences. The nurturing environment at HBCUs can cultivate Black male success, many of whom have not had authority figures care about them significantly.” Marks says that it is the responsibility of professors at HBCUs to put in the extra effort to meet students where they are and engage them in the process of learning. “Professors need to modernize their teaching styles,” he says. “They need to understand the psychology of millenials and their attention spans and learning styles. … They’re so interactive, they’re so social, that 45 minutes of sitting in a lecture, they’ll zone out.” Marks suggests that instead, professors should consider strategies like “teach[ing] for maybe 10 minutes, then doing something interactive.” “The professor has to be willing to be the student, the professor has to be open to continuing to learn,” he says. Toldson agrees, saying “it is important for [Black males] to be able to relate to the material that they are learning in a way that means something to them and to be able to connect it to their future.” Marks says that identity also plays a role in the success of Black students. “When Black people are comfortable as Black people, they perform better,” he says. Referencing research that says that Black students with strong Black identities perform better in school, Marks says HBCUs have a unique opportunity to better serve Black stu-

May 2014

dents, but many are missing the mark. “It’s very interesting to me that at some HBCUs, some faculty are uncomfortable talking about the history and culture of Black people. … They’re not comfortable talking about the history and culture of Black people, so they diminish its importance,” Marks says. He argues that at an HBCU, every subject should be taught from a definitively Black perspective. “Bring in our history and culture into the classroom and don’t run from it,” he says. “This is what they came for.” Marks says the impetus to change does not fall solely on professors. “The provost has to be aware and give faculty time to innovate,” he says. “Apply for new grants for faculty development and allow faculty to bide out their time to re-develop courses.” Another suggestion he has found to work is living-learning communities, which surround students with like-minded individuals who will support each other in their educational pursuits. These cohorts also serve as new acceptance clusters. Feeling accepted, included and a sense of belonging are as important as a need to feel respected to the success of Black male students, Marks says. As HBCU faculty and administration continue to work towards the goal of graduating even more Black students— and particularly Black male students—it is important that society as a whole recognizes the strides these institutions have made in changing the narrative around Black males. While their majority counterparts have certainly played a role in helping to produce an educated Black populace, it is the very mission of the historically Black college and university to take both the best and the brightest and those who may have struggled in their earlier educational careers and arm them with quality educations. “While Black male performance in college definitely deserves attention, the Black community has to consistently confront these falsehoods,” Bridges says. The falsehoods have been damning to the overall mission of advancement, and it is time a different story is told. With the history and trajectory Black males face, and the definition of American dream being “about merit-based achievement, working hard, putting in the effort, and you can achieve anything,” Marks says, “Black males are the archetype of the American dream. … If anyone exemplifies the American dream, it is the Black male who graduated from college.”

Perpetuating negative images serves certain individuals while Black men continue to be demonized further in the media. —Dr. Brian Bridges

* Data from 2009 Department of Justice estimate on prison populations ** 2011 data from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics Database


HBCU Digest

May 2014

May 10 unofficially kicked off the graduation season around HBCU nation. Clockwise from top left: Dillard University Senior Class President Nicole Angela Tinson poses with First Lady Michelle Obama; Sean “Diddy” Combs received an honorary doctorate from Howard University, where he once attended, and gave the keynote address during HU’s commencement exercises; Grace N. Myrick, 73, proved it is never too late as she received her bachelor’s degree from Fayetteville State University; students from North Carolina Central University prepare to receive their degrees.


Class of 2014!


HBCU Digest

May 2014

At Southern University : Students take a “selfie” before getting in line for their graduation ceremony (above); Below: Christine Baker, Southern University’s Chief Student Marshal, (the spring 2014 grad with the highest GPA) leads in nearly 600 students into the graduation ceremony. Baker graduated with a degree in Social and Behavioral Science. — photos by John Oubre, Southern University Media Relations.

Top right: Makenzee M. Brown stands with JSU president Dr. Carolyn W. Meyers. Below: New Morgan State University graduate Alicia Hynson embraces her father after the ceremony May 17. Hynson, who is the first college graduate in her family, said of her father, “Security couldn’t really keep him back. He ran on the field!” 20

HBCU Digest


Clockwise, from top left: Hynson and fellow organic chemistry classmates pose with Morgan State University organic chemistry professor, Dr. Roosevelt Shaw. “He made us work hard but we appreciate him,” Hynson said. Top right: Morehouse College graduates Gary Pope (left), Matthew Ellis and Tyrone Edwards; New Morgan State Alumna Camille Preston smiles after her May 17 ceremony; After this picture of Grambling State University graduate Robert Coleman lifting his girlfriend, reigning Miss Grambling State University Ambra Brice, into the air went viral, it became the unofficial symbol of GSU’s commencement season. The shot garnered over 10,000 likes, retweets, shares and comments over a variety of social networks.


HBCU Digest

May 2014

Bowie State University Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates Amirah Lockhart, Jasmine Moore and Rebecca Gilley celebrate their graduation. â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Photos by Robert Eubanks.

Above: A North Carolina Central University student triumphantly walks across the stage May 10 (left); Thomas McMillen, secretary of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, and John Word, president of the Bowie State University National Alumni Association, share a laugh during the commencement (right). Below: Dillard University students huddle before their May 10 ceremony (left); A Prairie View A&M graduate salutes her accomplishment.


HBCU Digest

January 2014

You’re sitting in your first class. After initial introductions, you learn that right in front of you is a veteran who has served his country for decades abroad. To your right is a shy young man on his first extended stay since leaving his hometown of Laurel, Mississippi. To your left is an extroverted evangelist and physics major from Nigeria who’s doing research you’ll never be able to pronounce. Finally, just behind you is a biology major from Chicago whose sole passion is to quickly get the foundation from which she someday will return to her neighborhood as a doctor. And you? Well, you immediately realize that you, too, are special. You are an Alabama A&M University student with a powerful mixture of dream, potential and the drive to make it all happen. You are A&M. Nestled in the final stretches of the Appalachians, this hillside campus boasts a location within one of the most liveable cities in the world. Its academics are bolstered by a gifted faculty with a thirst for research and learning. And, diverse undergraduate and graduate degrees offer the more than 5,000 students curricula leading toward Ph.D. degrees in several areas. Join us. Make your first class first-class. From community and regional planning to apparel, merchanising and design to food science and physics--AAMU brings together the world and its views, handing both to you one classroom at a time. Experience Engagement ... Fulfillment ... Celebration!


May 2014  
May 2014  

Commencement: New Beginnings