HBCU Alumni Deserve More Credit for Serving Our Schools

Numbers never lie, and their truth is more convincing than we know.

Numbers never lie, and their truth is more convincing than we know.

Members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Rho Xi Omega Chapter hurriedly ushered parents and students into the dimly-lit Baltimore City Community College Fine Arts theater. Horns blared over the speakers as attendees of the chapter’s second annual ‘Think HBCU’ College Fair were greeted by a YouTube video of the Florida A&M University Marching 100’s halftime performance at the University of Miami earlier this month.

Members of the chapter’s organizing committee spoke about the value of the fair and of black colleges during the event.

Part of the sorority’s national focus on support for historically black colleges and universities, the fair is a regional subtext to the organization’s national educational enrichment initiative. Chapters throughout the country have adopted similar programming, ranging from fairs and tours, to fundraising lip sync battles, to large philanthropic gifts, like the sorority’s $250,000 donation to the United Negro College Fund made earlier this year.

AKA International President Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson discussed the initiative in a December 2014 interview.

But AKA is not alone in the effort. Black Greek-lettered organizations, alumni associations and churches have all increased efforts to recruit and retain black students at HBCUs nationally.

In the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan corridor, one of the most populous regions for affluent black professionals, their effort is a model for active HBCU advocacy.

One of the longest-running HBCU college tours in the country has been facilitated by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc’s Prince George’s County Chapter.

One of the largest HBCU college fairs in the country is held by the Alfred Street Baptist Church, which for 14 years has attracted HBCUs from around the nation looking to recruit high school students from Northern Virginia, DC and Maryland and this year helped to facilitate more than $2 million in scholarship offers to applicants.

FAMU’s Washington D.C. alumni chapter this year gave the largest gift in the history of the school’s National Alumni Association, contributing more than $266,000 to an endowed scholarship for students from the region.

And that’s just one small sample size of HBCU alumni work in one region of the country not named Atlanta, Nashville, Houston, Dallas, Chicago or Los Angeles, where millions of other HBCU alumni or benefactors live and work to improve the condition of black colleges through philanthropy and advocacy.

Spelman, Claflin, Southern, Shaw and North Carolina Central — all institutions to recently make headlines about the increasing investment of their alumni. But what if institutions took this advocacy to the next level in the area of recognition, and added to the quiet narrative about HBCU value in black communities?

What if we tracked and published those alumni who actually send students to HBCUs? Much in the way we bestow titles for levels of personal giving, what if we honored graduates whom have sent millions of dollars to HBCUs through tuition revenue, by way of student recruitment?

Imagine those rolls of the families whom have sent generations of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to HBCUs? Picture the HBCU graduates who, through annual college fairs or through their work as high school teachers and guidance counselors, have established pipelines to their HBCUs? Over the years, these alumni have directed, literally, millions of dollars to HBCUs with virtually no credit beyond the satisfaction of keeping the school open and positioned for growth.

What if all of the HBCU alumni in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Nigeria, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, China, Japan and the Phillipines were honored for boosting the international profile of HBCUs as working faculty, traveling scholars, and ambassadors? If we tallied all of their recruitment numbers amassed over the years, would we have a different perspective on the global relevance of HBCUs?

Imagine if we asked first-year students to list the person most responsible for their admission? What would that picture look like? Would it present a new narrative about HBCU philanthropy, about how much black college graduates “give back?”

HBCUs have an extraordinary share of challenges in leadership and resources, but it isn’t for a lack of alumni trying, or sharing the benefits of attendance with others. You can see it in most, if not all HBCU cities. But the how do we translate that effort, and its results, into a data-driven narrative that shows everyone that we’ve worked hard for what we have, and we deserve more investment from our own communities?