Learning about the Importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

FCS Middle School students may be several years away from college but they got a glimpse into the excitement of higher education on Wednesday, March, 10 thanks to an enticing presentation by several parents who are alumni of famous Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 
The panel discussion was inspired by students’ curiosity about HBCUs thanks to the historic election of Vice President Kamala Harris (a Howard University alum). Each speaker made it clear that a strong academic and community foundation like Harris experienced at Howard is a hallmark of an HBCU education and source of a lifelong commitment on the part of alumni to their alma maters. 

“HBCUs are a big part of our living history and getting students connected to that history is important,” said Jennie Claiborne, 8th grade FCS English teacher. Panelists included:  
  • Curtis Word, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
  • Audran Downing (mother to 3rd grader Aubree), Hampton University
  • Djenaba Kendrick (mother to 2nd grader Maasai), Spelman College
  • Evan and Melissa Bennett (parents to 5th grader Dylan and 1st grader Yale), Howard University
  • Earl Adams, Jr. (father to 3rd grader Avery and 4th grader Earl), Morehouse College

Each speaker shared an overview of what drew them to their university, some highlights from their experiences there, and unique historical features of the school.

Curtis Word, from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, noted that the school, founded in 1837, is the oldest of the HBCUs. Cheyney was founded and funded by the Quaker philanthropist Richard Humphreys and Curtis noted that Quakers continue to support the school today. 

“Howard is called ‘The Mecca’ of Black education because people come from all over the world to learn and teach there and as a student of the school you realize the great diversity within the diaspora. I would recommend my kids to go there. You meet lifelong friends and sometimes you meet your husband!” shared Melissa Bennett who did in fact meet Evan at Howard just a few weeks into their Freshman year. 

Audran Downing shared one of her best memories from Hampton: “Working with my favorite English professor. He was a James Baldwin expert who had actually interviewed Baldwin before he passed away. He was my thesis mentor and advisor and [being able] to study under someone who loved Baldwin even more than I did, that nurturing and support, [made him] a really great mentor and that was a phenomenal experience.”

Djenaba Kendrick explained that she wasn’t all that keen on going to a women’s college after attending an all-girls high school, but once she realized what Spelman could offer her there was no going back. “The support and nurturing you get from an HBCU, you can’t even put it in words. Seeing professors with PhDs that looked like me, I knew that I would see that on a day-to-day basis.”

After all panelists shared their personal experiences, 8th grader Kennedy Nix invited the audience to ask questions, which covered everything from school mascots to the origins of these institutions. 

One student asked about the ties between HBCUs and activism. Earl Adams Jr. explained, “A lot of civil rights activism began with college-age students. The tradition is strong within HBCUs and when you attend these schools it’s part of the discussion with regards to your obligations to the larger society. That is a tradition that is still very much alive today.” Panelists noted the famous leaders who graduated from their schools including Martin Luther King Jr. (Morehouse), Booker T. Washington (Hampton), and Marian Wright Edelman (Spelman). 

To a person, each panelist spoke to the ways in which attending their colleges changed their lives. “The 4-year experience I had at an institution (Morehouse) dedicated to educating and training African American men to go on to become leaders in our communities and around the world moves and directs me every single day of my life,” said Earl. “I’ve been working at my alma mater for 14 years,” said Curtis. “I love my school. Going to an HBCU will change your life forever.”

A big thank you to the FCS parents who helped to organize this event: Tamara Devieux-Adams and Earl Adams, Jr. (parents to 3rd grader Avery and 4th grader Earl), Andrea Hill (mother to 3rd grader DJ), Maisha Miles (mother to 3rd grader Brayden) and Tamara Sam (mother to 3rd grader Isaiah and Kindergartener Kennedy).
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Located in College Park, MD, Friends Community School is a progressive Quaker K-8 day school, founded on the belief that every child is a valued member of our community. We offer a challenging curriculum imbued with strong values of equality, integrity, community, environmental stewardship, simplicity and peaceful conflict resolution, rooted in our Quaker heritage.
Friends Community School
5901 Westchester Park Drive
College Park, Maryland 20740
301-441-2100