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The Value of HBCUs

James Clingman

James Clingman

By James Clingman

With specific emphasis on Howard University, let’s consider a few solutions to the challenges HBCUs face.  There are some who say HBCUs are irrelevant and no longer necessary because we are living in a “post-racial” society, mainly because a Black man was elected president of the U.S.

You’ve heard it: He who defines you also controls you; he can set the height of the bar and raise it anytime he wants.  The relevancy and necessity of HBCUs, often promoted by those who have no stake in their existence, is a question that constituents of HBCUs should answer.  Do we value HBCUs?  Have they served us well?  Have they played an important role in American history?  Should we allow them to fade away because a few critics say they should?  Will we define ourselves, or let someone else to do it?

One look at the list of Howard University graduates made me think about the tremendous void in our society that would exist without their contributions and achievements.  There are similar alumni lists for other HBCU’s of Blacks who have contributed to this nation in virtually every category of service, business, media, research, entertainment, politics, education, science, engineering, medical, and legal, just to name a few.  Irrelevant?  Anachronism?  Outlived their usefulness?  Not by a long shot.

Roger Madison,, says, “We simply don’t have a history of reaching back to lift up our own and build our own institutions of thought leadership.  Our brightest have anchored themselves in mainstream institutions and have felt very little obligation to help raise the level of quality at our HBCUs.”  As I recall, Harold Cruse’s, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual drew a similar conclusion and, more recently, W.D. Wright’s, The Crisis of the Black Intellectual, continues that premise.

Since the critics invariably compare the top HBCUs to Harvard, here’s something to think about:  Hedge Fund Manager, Ken Griffin, recently gave $150 million to Harvard, a school that already has a $32 billion endowment.  I doubt we will see one or two Black super-wealthy individuals do that, but I know that through our collective action, we can meet a similar goal, that is, if we value our schools.

Yes, our HBCUs need money, just as every school does, but they also need other resources, many of which those of us who care can offer.  We can volunteer to teach a class as a guest lecturer, do an online presentation to a class, hold more of our meetings and conferences on HBCU campuses, and pay for their space rather than some other venue.

Current HBCU students could mount continuous PR and marketing campaigns that tell the fantastic stories of their HBCU.  Some do that already, but we need more.  With all of the social media available to students and their never-ending use of it, personal testimonies of how their HBCU helped them could replace many of the 140 character “tweets” they post daily.  No school is perfect; all have positives and negatives.  But we must tell our own stories about the value of HBCU’s and refuse to accept any contention that they are no longer necessary.

Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site,

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