By R.L. Witter
There’s been much talk about Critical Race Theory (CRT) in politics lately. I chuckle because CRT is only taught at the college level and above so much of the discussion and pearl clutching are nothing more than manufactured outrage and cheap dramatics. Thankfully, I know this because I attended an HBCU (Historically Black College or University), as have many of my friends and family members. My dad graduated Morehouse in 1956; my two brothers followed in his footsteps in 1987 and 1993 respectively. Six women in our family arrive on Howard’s campus in the last 35 years; my niece is the most recent graduate as part of the class of 2021.
Thankfully, in addition to the CRT talk, some positive portrayals of HBCUs in recent media. On Blackish, Anthony Anderson’s character graduated from Howard and his son, Junior enrolled but dropped out. On This Is Us, serial overachiever Randall desperately wanted to attend Howard University, but upon the family patriarch’s untimely death, he opted to remain closer to home. The Cosby Show and A Different World focused on the fictional HBCU Hillman College, but many of us attending real HBCUs at the time watched, laughed at, andidentified with their situations and its realistic depiction of the camaraderie and nurturing often found on such campuses. Also, many heralded Black actors and performers attended HBCUs. Anthony Anderson, Taraji P. Henson, Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, and Chadwick Boseman all graduated from Howard. Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington, Guru, and Bill Nunn all graduated from Morehouse.
Of course, everyone’s HBCUexperience is different. Mine was a much-needed opportunity to study and socialize with people who looked like me and identified with experiences I had as often the only Black student in my honors and AP high school courses. There were two other Black students in my AP French class, one of them was also in my Italian class, and the other was in my AP English class. Finally, I was the norm rather than the outlier or exception. I was exposed to new and different culture (NJ Black is not the same as Atlanta Black or DC Black) and began to find and understand my place in American society and the world.
Politics and government are also well represented by HBCU grads. Vice President Kamala Harris; Rep. Elijah Cummings; Mayor David Dinkins; Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; Ambassador, Congressman, Mayor and Civil Rights Activist Andrew Young; Newark Mayor Ras Baraka; and NY Attorney General Letitia James all graduated from Howard University. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Director of Homeland Security and Counsel for DoD Jeh Johnson, Federal Judge Julien Neals, Senator Raphael Warnock, and many other notable politicians and legal minds attended Morehouse College.
There are currently 78 HBCUs in America and I’ve only listed a few well-known names from two. HBCUs offer a familiarity and sense of family one might not find at other colleges and universities. And they also offer the academic challenges and prestige of predominantly white schools. Why HBCUs? We’ll continue to explore the question and its answers in upcoming issues.