This I Believe

Berry - Orangebury, South Carolina
Entered on November 28, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65

Historically Black Colleges and Universities:

An American National Asset- Acres of Diamonds

During the thirty-ninth winter commencement of Winston-Salem State University (WSSU)—a public historically black university, I watched young Americans participate in the time-honored tradition of degree confirmation. I listened to the audience’s joyful cheers as the chancellor shook each graduate’s hand. With pride evident, he seemed to say, “I believe you are now prepared to play a significant role in this nation’s productivity.” While observing I found myself wishing, if only America could peel back this building’s roof they would witness the pride and joy of all present.

During a swearing-in ceremony of four commissioned Army officers, I recalled an interesting conversation with a North Carolina business executive. While discussing WSSU, where I was Director of Development, I mentioned the university’s centers of academic excellence and how we train students to become future leaders. The bombshell: he said that he was ashamed to admit, that although he lived in the area for over ten years he had not heard of WSSU.

I wished he had attended WSSU’s commencement. I believe he would have felt pride watching young Americans graduate from an American institution. He would have witnessed graduates being sworn in as U.S. Army officers. This event took on another dimension of pride as individuals in attendance recalled that this nation is at war in Iraq; thus, these young officers could be ordered to the Middle Eastern center of operations and placed in harms way.

HBCUs have been in existence primarily since the end of slavery, but are not widely recognized as playing a significant role in producing many of our best teachers, researchers, accountants, doctors, lawyers, nurses, and computer scientists. Comprising 105 institutions, HBCUs have been proudly producing young African-American military officers for years. The deceased Chappie James, the first African-American four-star general is a prime example.

The 21st century challenge of national security is an understandable concern; therefore, our great nation needs all of its human capital during this difficult epoch. HBCUs have produced more than a fair share of warriors, relative to the size of this country’s African-American population resulting in the call to service not being new for African-Americans who have sworn to serve and protect the United Sates with their lives.

My alma mater, Southern University and A&M College (Louisiana), produced several graduates who achieved the rank of general. The Southern University ROTC Program produced over eight Generals, with two achieving the rank of lieutenant general, including a female who retired as a major general. Southern University does not stand alone; South Carolina State University has produced 13 generals.

I challenge our nation to rethink its marginalization of the HBCU sector—a sector that has clearly done more with less, historically and presently, in supporting this nation’s global superpower dominance. Supporting HBCUs provides a public good that benefits this nation’s ability to remain the only global superpower. This may surprise many, but African-Americans are patriotic and love this country. Whenever called upon, they have and will continue to protect this great land with their lives.