I received a minority scholarship from my alma mater — a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) — to partially fund my education and while grateful, I will never write the university a check. Each month I send money to my closest HBCU and you should, too.
PWI’s are in extreme debt to black people in America. While some understand the large role of slavery in building and sustaining them, few think about the tax dollars black families have and continue to pay to power them. Before we were allowed to enroll at the University of Mississippi, we were taxed to support it. James Meredith — one person — integrated the school in 1963 but blacks attended only in small numbers for some time after. All the while we paid taxes. Before 1963 many schools up north admitted blacks but only a token few, especially if they could play a sport. Still, we paid taxes. These schools denied opportunities to my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents and yes, even to many of our parents while gladly accepting their tax dollars. A generation or two of minority scholarships, targeted at a select number of black individuals, doesn’t begin to even the score for the exclusion of black masses.
Many of us benefited in some way from PWIs and that’s perfectly fine but we owe our PWIs nothing — they in fact still owe us. The assistance they provide to black students is not charity for which we are indebted; it represents a meager return on the labor and tax dollars our parents to great-great-great-great-great grandparents contributed to build those schools while being denied access to them.
Some black grads say they would like to give back to their PWI, specifically so other black students will have the same opportunity. I reject every bit of that logic. It is not incumbent upon those who descend from generations of the excluded to create opportunities for their seed at PWIs. Indeed, we have been and still are taxed for them. If the universities actually value the presence of black students on their campuses it is incumbent upon them to create opportunities for them. It is our job, as taxpayers (specific to public institutions), to push our states and state schools to prioritize the interests and recruitment of black students. That push must take our state institutions beyond the safe pursuit of “diversity” to a clear mandate addressing the opportunities denied my parents and their parents.
A great number of schools integrated only at gunpoint — literally. It is clear that PWI’s have made great strides since that time but the atmosphere on many campuses still leaves much to be desired. Just ask students at the University of Missouri or scour through all these recent events on campuses. Still, we are paying taxes. In some cases those taxes support public universities that have very healthy endowments. Texas A&M and the University of Michigan are the top two public universities, in this respect. The billions those universities have are far too often managed by investment teams or outside firms with little to no black presence. The universities crave our dollars and invest them in various places, including Africa, yet we have little say in the process.
Imagine if I were unemployed, broke and had few prospects. Imagine that I have an amazing woman who sticks with me, supports me while I try to get things on track and helps me realize my potential. Now imagine me on my feet, making money and desired by many women who wanted nothing to do with me just a few years ago. If I left my woman for another that only now desires me, what would you say? If my woman began to fall on hard times herself but I chose to ignore her and chase another who never wanted me before, what would you think of me? This is precisely our relationship to HBCUs today. When no one wanted us, they embraced us. When we had no other options, they sheltered us and made us great. Even now they outperform PWIs in vaulting the lowest income students into the top quintile as adults. They are still our best investment as a people and yet too many of us are eager to date the girl who wouldn’t even let us walk across her lawn a few years ago.
For some time I have wanted to write checks to HBCUs but just didn’t have the cash — or so I thought. I recently made the choice to start where I am and do something. I now live on the South Side of Chicago and to my surprise the closest HBCU is Harris Stowe State University, in St. Louis. I sent them a check and will continue to do so each month, so long as they are my closest HBCU. My first check was only $10 — it was all I felt comfortable giving. But if 500,000 black people in Chicago gave the same $10 each month it would change everything for that school.
I’m grateful for my degree and the strides my university has made to incorporate black students but that doesn’t mean I owe them anything. My ancestors paid my bill in full. Our HBCUs loved my grandparents when no one else would and for their sake I am writing these checks. I sincerely hope you will do the same.