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Black College Tour Creates a Village

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Participants on the 25th annual Black College Tour. (Photo Courtesy: Irene Pinkard)

For Bedford and Irene Pinkard, the thought of sponsoring a black college tour started with the graduation of one of their cousins from Prairie View A&M University, a historical black college located near Houston, Texas. “As we thought about it,” said Irene, “we said that it would be a good thing for youngsters here to see a black college graduation.”

For their initial tour, they recruited some kids from their church. “We took six kids in all,” she said. “We rented a van and our cousin fed us breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While we were at Prairie View, one of the deans met with the kids to talk about admissions.”

The kids loved it. More important, they were amazed to learn that black colleges actually existed. As Irene explained: “When we saw the surprise and the pride the students had in seeing this, we said we need to do this because there’s definitely a need for them to see this.”

That was twenty-five years ago. Last April, the Pinkards and their chaperones took twenty-four prospective college students on their 25th annual tour. A small sample of colleges along their route included Texas Southern in Houston, Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, Grambling State University in Grambling (Louisiana), and Huston-Tillotson College in Austin.

Irene notes how news about these trips has gotten out. “It’s by word of mouth,” she said. “We even had two from North Carolina this year who connected with us in Houston.”

While the demand is great, the Pinkards have chosen to limit the number they take to twenty-five. That’s because their intention is to make this event very personal for the kids and their families. Irene calls it a village tour. “We want the youngsters to feel like it’s a family,” she said. “In a week, they become very close. In our travels we’re also connecting with other friends and family, so they can see what Southern hospitality is like.”

For black communities in Southern California, the exposure to black colleges and universities is minimal. “The closest thing to a black college here in Southern California is the Charles Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles,” said Irene.

It’s no surprise then that black families and their children grow up with an ethnic minority viewpoint. The black college tour seeks to educate families and their children about the abundant choices that exist among 140 historically black colleges in the Midwest, the East and the South.

“You find them everywhere in the South and East,” Irene noted. “Historically, they started there because most black slaves weren’t allowed to get an education. When the slaves were freed, they needed an education to sustain themselves. The establishment as well as the African-Americans in the community started the land grants for black colleges, and each one had their own special niche.”

For the kids on tour, the exposure to black education and culture within a black community can be a shock. “When you’ve been in the situation where you’ve been a minority, and you go to one where you’re the majority, it’s a different feeling all together,” said Irene. “They’re also exposed to their own history. And once you talk about a college, they are impressed that the college is actually in the community where the community lives and the community supports the college.”

Even more important, students come face-to-face with successful educators and business leaders who serve as role models in the black community. “They meet and listen to other black leaders who are successful,” Irene added, “and see that there are numerous opportunities for successful blacks in positions of power within black universities.”

For 15-year-old Louis Clark, a freshman at Santa Clara High School, getting to see how black students can be successful was a highlight of the tour. “I was impressed with how you could take a bunch of kids to some colleges to show us that we are going to go to college,” he said. “I learned that we can go to college and we will succeed in our lives.”

Furthermore, Clark was impressed with the communities where black colleges existed. “The colleges are very family oriented,” he said. “They stick together, have a good time, and still get their work done.”

17-year-old Mychael Hill, a junior at Channel Islands High School, was most taken by the abundant history and tradition of historical black colleges. “We had our eyes opened a lot about opportunities to go to historical black colleges,” said Hill.

One part of this tradition involved fraternity initiations at Texas Southern University in Houston. “We got to watch the fraternities when they initiated new members,” he explained. “It was impressive just seeing the whole school come out and support them.”

Sign-ups for next year’s tour have already started, but the main push begins in October, November and December. Prospective students or interested parents should contact Bedford or Irene Pinkard at (805) 988-2426. A $200 deposit is required to guarantee a spot. For more information about the black college tours, visit their website at www.blackcollegetour-pie.com.

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