“I’ll Find A Way or Make One”

NASA names headquarters after pioneering Hampton alumna; Fisk Jubilee Singers turn 150; former Morgan State student donates $20 million; and other HBCU news

Clark Atlanta University—the first historically Black college or university in the American south—likely has the best motto of any college in the country:

I’ll Find A Way or Make One

This is the ethos and existential requirement of Black colleges—and Black people—in America. 

Writing in The Atlantic, UNCF President Michael Lomax outlines the outsized role historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) play in advancing Black people in America:

The honor roll of Black Americans who graduated from HBCUs is without parallel in all of postsecondary education…

Yet more important than their famous alumni is the Black middle and upper-middle class, which HBCUs have almost single-handedly created. HBCUs have produced more than 80 percent of Black judges, 40 percent of Black Congress members, and roughly half of Black public-school teachers. More than 70 percent of Black doctors and dentists earn their bachelor’s degree at HBCUs.

And while the share of Black undergraduates enrolling in HBCUs has declined to less than 10%, Lomax notes that HBCUs produce 20% of Black college graduates and 25% of Black STEM graduates (see: Bethune-Cookman University almuna becomes University of South Florida’s first Black woman to earn PhD in computer science).

All of this, despite the structural headwinds working against Black colleges and their alumni.

As a college education is no longer a ticket to the middle class, and as higher education in general undergoes a great transformation only accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, the outlook for HBCUs is full of promise and fraught with peril.

This issue of The Dossier samples some recent HBCU news. The future is already here. And the past has never left.


NASA Celebrates ‘Hidden Figure’ Mary W. Jackson With Building Naming Ceremony

“On Friday, NASA celebrated the agency’s first African American female engineer, Mary W. Jackson, with a ceremony to formally name the agency’s headquarters building in Washington in her honor… In 1942, she received a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and physical science from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University)... For nearly two decades during her engineering career, she authored or co-authored numerous research reports, most of which focused on the behavior of the boundary layer of air around airplanes.” - NASA

How to Launch the Next Great Era of Black Prosperity

“No institution has been a brighter beacon for upward mobility for Black Americans. And no institution is currently better positioned to bring about a new age of Black achievement… Unlike most predominantly white institutions of higher education, HBCUs face systemic discrimination—from state and federal governments, from philanthropists, from lenders, and from school accreditors. The problem is not merely one of benign neglect. In many cases, HBCUs and their students face active hostility… It’s time, at this moment of racial reckoning, to finally elevate HBCUs and enable them to compete fairly with predominantly white institutions for students, professors, research grants, government funding, and endowment dollars.” - Michael Lomax in The Atlantic

Maryland Senate passes $577M settlement for HBCU lawsuit

“The General Assembly approved the legislation last year. It was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan, who cited the fiscal toll of the coronavirus pandemic…. The lawsuit from 2006 alleged the state had underfunded the institutions while developing programs at traditionally white schools… In 2013, a federal judge found that the state had maintained ‘a dual and segregated education system’ that violated the Constitution.” - Associated Press

He Had to Drop Out of College. Then He Gave It $20 Million.

“With no way of paying tuition, Calvin E. Tyler Jr. dropped out of college in his hometown, Baltimore, in 1963 before becoming a truck driver for UPS… Nearly 60 years after he was forced to abandon his schooling, Mr. Tyler and his wife, Tina Tyler, have pledged $20 million to endow scholarships for financially needy students at the college he left, now known as Morgan State University.” - Stephanie Saul, New York Times

The trials and triumph of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, one of America’s great musical institutions

“The creation, rise and endurance of the Fisk Jubilee Singers is a true American triumph. When Fisk treasurer George Leonard White assembled the group in 1871 and booked a tour to raise money for the struggling school, it introduced the world to ‘slave songs’ or ‘negro spirituals’ — music Black Americans made for themselves… A century and a half later, the group still survives, rejuvenating itself with new student members each year.” - Dave Paulson, Nashville Tennessean

Bank of America Funds New Training Centers for Black Entrepreneurs at Spelman and Morehouse

“The center is anchored by a two-year $10 million anchor grant from Bank of America, the nation’s second-largest bank… Along with direct teaching for HBCU students, the center will include online courses to make parts of the curriculum accessible to offer upskilling training to a broader adult audience. CBE will provide certifications in project management, data science, coding, and cybersecurity.” - Jeffrey McKinney, Black Enterprise

New Morehouse College Program Encourages Black Men To Complete Unfinished Degrees

“More than 2 million Black men who pursued a higher education never finished their degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The reasons range from college affordability to family responsibilities to military service… Starting this August, the historically Black men's college in Atlanta is offering an online program with reduced tuition for men who already have some college credits.” - Ari Shapiro and Emma Bowman, NPR

Marriott family donates $20 million to Howard University for hospitality leadership center

“The Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership will honor Arne M. Sorenson, the Marriott International president and chief executive who died last week after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The center, which will be housed in Howard’s business school, will establish a pipeline of Black professionals to an industry in which executives of color are underrepresented, officials said… While the hotel industry is largely staffed by people of color, minorities are rarely represented in leadership and executive positions, according to an NAACP report. The civil rights group cited data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and noted that, industry-wide, top management positions were getting Whiter.” - Lauren Lumpkin, Washington Post

Hilton and Morris Brown partner on $30 million hotel, training program

“Morris Brown College will partner with Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. to develop a $30 million hotel on the campus of the historically Black college… The project comes as Morris Brown tries to rebound from accreditation issues and as U.S. companies and philanthropic groups inject more money into schools within the Atlanta University Center to increase racial equity.”- Crystal Edmonson, Atlanta Business Chronicle