Tag: hbcu

beychella

Beyoncé’s performance at Coachella was historic, epic and unrivaled. Beyoncé was the first woman of color to headline Coachella and did so in a way that spotlighted the beauty of black culture for all the world to see. Her performance also spotlighted our most precious black institutions — historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The problem with the performance is that while it did shine a light on HBCUs, it did not empower them. Black entertainers must begin using their celebrity to build black institutions, not simply spotlight them for white audiences.

Most of the commentary on “Beychella” has been around the genius of Queen B incorporating the tradition of HBCU bands into her performance. Apparently the 125 member band she used at Coachella was comprised of HBCU band alumni and some current members. Now, because of the celebrity and genius of Bey, the entire world is talking about HBCUs. But HBCUs — which graduate more poor black students than white universities — still have paltry endowments relative to PWIs and scarcely have the funds to recruit deserving black students. In many cases HBCUs are struggling to keep their doors open. By way of comparison, last year Coachella grossed $114 million — nearly twice the endowment of Clark Atlanta University. Bey’s performance will undoubtedly take this year’s gross beyond $114 million, evidence that her celebrity has the power to actually help build and empower HBCUs across the country, not simply borrow from their creativity.

This is not just about black colleges. For far too long black celebrities have failed to discern their true power. They jump at the chance to endorse products made by white companies and break their necks to make money for them — all the while they complain about the lack of racial justice in our world. Black entertainers determine what brands consumers buy. Unfortunately, they are overwhelmingly choosing to make kings of Gucci, Louis Vuitton and other brands that have no stake in the freedom of black people. They have cashed in the power of their celebrity to build white institutions when all along they’ve possessed the power to build black businesses, banks, schools and culture at large. Black celebs have not only done a disservice to the culture but unbeknownst to them, they have cheated themselves.

Magic Johnson said he made the biggest mistake of his life when he turned down a deal to endorse Nike. Nike was sort of a startup at the time and could not offer Magic the cash Converse could. Instead, Nike offered Magic stock — ownership — to endorse the brand. Had Magic taken the deal he would still be profiting from every Nike sale today. Ownership is permanent, cash is temporary. This is a lesson our black celebs need to learn and quickly. Mary J Blige was reportedly paid $2 million to appear in a Burger King ad. Burger King was never going to pay her one cent more. Diddy, on the other hand, inked a deal with a little known vodka brand that was selling 40,000 cases annually and now sells millions, purely based on his celebrity. What makes Diddy’s deal with Ciroc unique is that in exchange for his celebrity (which is driving sales), Diddy shares a 50/50 profit split with the vodka brand. That’s knowing your value and getting your worth.

Diddy’s deal is great but would be better if it benefited a black owned startup. Clearly Diddy, Queen B, LeBron and so many others have the power to drive demand. They are kingmakers and their celebrity is enriching quite a few people who are indifferent to black suffering. Why not for the benefit of our own institutions? Why should they continue to enrich entities that have no commitment to black freedom and in the end have no ownership? If Diddy can take Ciroc from 40,000 cases annually to millions, even a B-list rapper could take an ownership stake in Garner’s Garden and make it a household name. Rappers are driving sales for fashion brands worldwide so why not become part owners of black owned brands and build them up? If Bey can help Coachella gross well over $100 million and raise over $44 million for Hurricane Harvey relief with other black stars, that same celebrity could build black institutions 365 days a year.

 

After publishing it was announced that Bey is helping to award $100,000 in scholarships to students at Xavier, Wilberforce, Tuskegee and Bethune-Cookman, all Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). One student from each school will win a $25,000 scholarship for next school year. This is a great gesture and a nice step. We should stay focused, however, on the larger argument. Black entertainers have the power to go beyond charity with respect to black people and institutions. The celebrity of black people actually empowers and enriches white companies and other institutions regularly. We must now love ourselves to prioritize empowering ourselves, first and foremost. 

a-different-world

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.