Bethune-Cookman, Beyoncé and saving HBCUs

Beyoncé

America is a beautiful country with a mysterious past. From general textbook ideologies and what most would call “common sense” standards, we have chosen to accept whatever is flashed in front of our eyes, despite what is written in stone.

In this country, the supposed land of the free, there was a time when a young scholar such as me would not be admitted to a state college or university. In fact, during our time in bondage, if one of us were to be caught reading, we’d be severely beaten.

We kept trying

Blacks being educated truly became a threat.  Therefore, we did what we always do as a people, always do: we overcame and we persevered! With the powers that be consistently and constantly attempting to erase and smudge our cultural history, this is one piece of our puzzle that cannot be disrespected: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

For an entire generation of Black students, it was the only choice they had, simply because they were Black – not because of their academic prowess, or lack thereof. We were not allowed to expand our minds and elevate our level of consciousness, because knowledge is the greatest weapon of all.

Instead, HBCUs were first established to provide higher education to emancipated Blacks, specifically because they were unwelcome at majority institutions as part of Jim Crow laws. (The U.S currently has 106 HBCUs, with one in the U.S. Virgin Islands.)

On April 27, global superstar Beyoncé released “Homecoming”, a stunning two-hour musical documentary which critics hailed as her magnum-opus. The concert documentary captured her preparing for her historic headlining set at last year’s Coachella concert (nicknamed “Beychella”) and was a true ode and homage to the culture, music and luscious history of HBCUs everywhere.

Serious lineup

Featuring an array of 65 dancers, a 30-piece marching band, a Black orchestra, and several dance tributes including a pep rally, drill calls and even a bit of “swag surfing,” the 23-time Grammy winner proved that she still has the ability to represent and expose our culture to the biggest platforms in the world.

While many in the initial audience were visibly confused and puzzled by all the unapologetic Blackness, folks like me who grew up hearing Bethune Cookman’s marching band practicing outside my window felt right at home.

In Daytona Beach, we have one of the world’s most prestigious and elite HBCUs. It’s time we truly do what we can to preserve its legacy. With countless attacks from media sources and upset former board members, the university’s business matters became public topics. With millions owed to investors and a public smear campaign fueled by the questionable antics board members, this hit comes at a time when HBCUs generally are under attack.

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made a public comment calling HBCUs “pioneers of free choice” and has pushed lobbying to defund such universities. Free choice? More like the only choice.  Once again attempting to rewrite history, despite what is already set in stone. Ironically, the same DeVos had spoken at B-CU’s commencement speech months earlier.

Comments like hers prove that while we have fought, conquered and truly transcended as a people, we will always face the most hate when we attempt to break the greatest barrier of all: education.

Time to get involved

With an enormous amount of attention being paid on the fight for HBCUs, we must utilize every resource in the arsenal. So far, an incredible amount of donations, support and enthusiasm has come from alumni as well as public figures. Saving our Black universities is not only a chance to educate the minds of the next generation, there’s also here to liberate and empower.

So no matter if you’re a Bethune-Cookman Wildcat or a FAMU Rattler, or if you attended any of the iconic HBCUs. Carry your head high and understand you are truly apart of the elevation of our race as a whole. An HBCU is more than just a Black school. It’s Black memories, Black moments and, ultimately Black history.


Rell Black is an award-winning activist, blogger and the founder of Community Healing Project Inc.

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