HBCUs: Get Your Sh!t Together

~So let me say this: I have thought long and hard about this piece.  I knew that this would probably get me in a world of trouble. But at this point, I really can’t care.  We are in a state of emergency and I need people to move.

 Last Thursday, I was sitting here watching the news, and shaking my head at yet another senseless killing of a Black teen by some trigger happy Klansmen with badges in St. Louis. 16 shots they put in this brother. For holding a gun. Or sandwich. You know how that shit goes.  My first reaction was to walk up to SGA (I happen to be on campus today) and ask the student leaders what the next move was. As a 2x alum fully engaged in the conversations critical to the forward advancement of Black people,  I am always willing to lend my hand, voice, resources, talents, etc. to doing what I can to help students engage in larger discussions impacting Black people. So imagine my {lack of surprise} when I walked up the stairs and saw all but two student leaders in their office.

Hands Up: Howard Edition

“What’s the move?” I asked.

“About what?” They pondered.

“Ferguson. The Governor’s race.  What’s the plan moving forward?”

~Blank Stares~ from every corner of the room.

“Yall have two days,” I warned them, “48 hours to come up with a response to how FAMU is going to address all of these senseless killings of Black people.”

“What are we supposed to do?” They asked.

“Organize!” I told them. “You have 48 hours before I start calling yall out, tho,” I (halfway but not really) joked.

It’s been 5 days.

So let me go ahead and say this:

HBCU students, get your shit together.

I am going to have to assume that most students do not know the long and storied history of HBCUs fighting for social justice.  FAMU students in particular have stood at the forefront of such national movements since before the first brick was laid on this campus over 127 years ago.
The main barrier to student awareness is ignorance; most students don’t know the history of social activism on their campus, nor do you take the time to do so. Understand why you are here.  Go to your campus library; or museum. Speak with the curators. Read old issues of your school’s newspaper/magazine/publications/yearbooks.  Find out what your school was doing in the 50’s.  60’s. 70’s. Find out what moved them to action. Find out who the Civil Rights champs were on your campus. EVERY Black college has some Civil Rights champs.  (FAMU has a slew of them).  Attending an HBCU is a privilege that comes with a social responsibility to move the people forward.

Take this as a calls to arms.  If you mad, and I mean this with all seriousness,  that’s really an issue I can’t be bothered with. Get, and Stay mad.   But move some shit.

It’s in your blood. This is what you’ve been called to do.  If you came here to party and bullshit, HBCU’s are not for you.   Pack it up, get your transfer papers and find a PWI to bullshit at.

Because this ain’t it for you.

Hands Up: FAMU Edition

It’s homecoming season: How are we going to use that to our advantage? Every HBCU should  be working to register at least 10,000 people the week of homecoming.   How many events will be centered around raising awareness for police brutality in our neighborhoods? I’m sorry to say, but  HBCU homecomings have become the biggest waste of good money since HBCU presidential inaugurations. And coronations. And Bar-B-ques. And all this other foolishness. Fact: If your homecoming is costing the university $250,000, and its not netting the school AT LEAST 10 times that in fundraising (2.5 MILL), cancel homecoming. GASP! You’ll live.  But if you have 100,000 people coming into town, and you’re spending 250,000, some money need to be made.

And I won’t even begin to talk about all of these  rappers who are charging these Black schools and an arm and leg when it was the Black School who put you on. If it wasn’t for HBCU’s do you know how many of these “artists” would still be shaking it down in the parking lot of Popeyes? So to return to our schools, aka HOME, with a high 5-figure/six-figure price tag is a concept that escapes me.  But they do it because we accept it and we accept it because we don’t know that we are so much more than we’ve allowed ourselves to be.

Be better.
Do better.
Know better.

And Black Greek Letter Organizations?  The “Divine 9?” I’d rather not.  And even in all of that nonsense that, even after all the deaths, law suits, and all around bullshit, I would be confident in assuming that there are still Black greeks on campus risking their freedom and their university’s well-being by still engaging in senseless acts of hazing and rituals that ain’t got shit to do with solidarity or brotherhood. Like clockwork, some of you will come for me based on this paragraph alone; most of you only move when your BGLO is under attack. At least you moved, though right?  You can come for me; the front door was purposely left unlocked for you. For some of you, you understand that your organizations are not doing enough. But I must ask, what are you doing to change that? How can you wield your considerable influence to move your campuses to action?

HBCU Administration: Get your shit together.

Yes, the six-figure club has a responsibility to get their shit together, too.  I must say this: The days of 40-year reigns in administrative positions at HBCUs must come to an end. If Jimmy Carter was president when you received your current position,  it’s time to move on. And do not come at me with the “experience” argument.  If “experience” was the key to solve the crisis facing our schools right now, as long as some of these Negroes have been in positions, none of our schools would be facing extinction.

The art of letting go is knowing when to let go.  Every sunrise has its sunset; many of us who are hungry and ready to take our universities to the next level are often torn between respecting elder-hood, and doing what’s necessary.  I’ve come to realize that respect, regardless of who is on the other side of it, is a two-way street.  And, as someone who was reared mostly by his grandparents, I get it. Believe me I do.  But I can no longer sit idly by and watch Our schools decline while the ego of some of our elders will not allow them to move on.  Your service  is much appreciated and you have been an asset. But, you have to trust that you have trained us well.   We’re facing new threats that call for new ways of addressing these threats.
 (You can find a great article on how to deal with the HBCU old guard here).

FAMU students sitting in the Governor’s Mansion, 2006

The key isn’t always experience; it’s a piece but not the whole.  The key is innovation.  Lets try some things that haven’t been done before. Let’s COLLABORATE with each other. Let’s build bridges and cooperative programs with one another. Let’s SHARE resources.  During the Great Depression, FAMC’s president Lee would send truckloads of food and supplies to Bethune’s college. Let’s do things that are completely foreign to us and start making moves in the opposite direction. Yes, keep the things that work; but ask ourselves “how can we improve this?” as opposed to, “why should I change?”Because change works. Change is good.

Don’t dare preach the relevance of the HBCU and preserving Black culture and your African American Studies/Humanities/History department is underfunded, understaffed, and under utilized.  Your African Americans Studies department should be as well-funded as any other program.”But those don’t lead to jobs!” Well…lead them to jobs.  Or lead a job to them. I don’t give a damn what you do. Fund these departments and stop shafting students of an authentic experience.  If there is no support for those programs, keep the hypocrisy to yourself. HBCU’s have a responsibility to teach, train, and empower students to organize.  If you are requiring freshmen to take some bullshit ass college success class that teaches them nothing but how to bullshit a class, get it together.
 When you attend an HBCU, you don’t have the luxury of just “existing.” No.  You have to do some shit.  EVERY Black College in the nation was enthralled in the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement.  Most Black Colleges at some point, faced the threat of merger from their state legislature. You know what they did? They MOVED.

So move.

 Don’t waste time preaching the need to give back, and you have done nothing to cultivate a spirit of giving in the  6,7,8 or how ever many years some of these schools are keeping students to graduate. If you treat a student terrible for 4 years,  lose paperwork, drop them from classes, constantly change their curriculum without their consent/knowledge, advise them wrong, fail to return emails, phone calls, meetings, mail them a bill for an absurd amount of money years after they’ve graduated, then it should be no surprise that the thought of giving back turns the stomachs of most students.  But again, students allow these things to happen.  So administration keeps doing them.  My mother once said to me, “you are having the same problems at FAMU that I had at Valley 20 years ago.” She laughed. I didn’t. Because that’s a problem and I didn’t stand for it. And neither should you.

If your HBCU business school is STILL teaching Black students to chase corporate jobs, we’ve failed before we’ve even left the blocks.  We should be cultivating entrepreneurship and cooperative economics.  Everyone is starting to catch on to the biggest joke ever played on us: a college degree does not guarantee upward mobility, nor does it guarantee a ticket out of poverty.  All types of studies show that Black people, regardless of education attainment, will still make less than other folks. Every HBCU should have a School of Entrepreneurship. Every HBCU should have a School of Entrepreneurship.  Did I mention that every HBCU should have a School of Entrepreneurship? Because every HBCU should have a School of Entrepreneurship.  Every HBCU should have their own Black Walstreet running down the middle of campus. Black barbershops and Black restaurants.  Black bookstores and Black daycares. Black auto mechanics and Black seamstresses. HBCUs should be showcasing student owned and operated businesses. Lets be better than we’ve been.  But in order to be better than we’ve been, you have to know what we’ve been…then be better than that.

FAMU student Patricia Stephens paying police officers no mind.

Oh…HBCU young alumni: Get your shit together, too.

As you head back to your alma maters for homecoming, somewhere between the obnoxious day parties, and hundreds of dollars you’re going to spend on everything and everybody but your school, find the time to connect with some students, find a mentee, step it up, and do your part.  Everybody’s got a role. For the more “affluent” young alumnus,  Don’t ask me to come see your movie, or watch your show, or read your book, or wear your shirt,  and have all of these HBCU students pushing your products to number one and you can’t write a check with six zeroes. And if you can’t, at least ask a friend who can. You should be active in your local alumni chapter.  We are the future of our schools; the real work begins once we get those degrees, establish ourselves, and make some things happen in defense of our universities. There are  levels to this.

Let me put into perspective for you and, what it looks like for us. In the past year, we’ve lost Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee, and Nelson Mandela.  Angela Davis is 70. Aretha is 72. Jessee Jackson is 73. Bobby Seale is 77. Bill Cosby is 77. Frederick Humphries is 79. Diahnn Carrol is 79. Louis Farrakhan is 81.  Toni Morrison is 83. Sidney Pointer is 87. Harry Belafonte is 87. Joesph Lowery is 93. Our titans, our elders, our freedom fighters are passing on and many are winding down.  These brothers and sisters have put in work.  It’s time for us to tell them “job well done,” and keep on pushing. Because you chose an HBCU, you do not have the luxury of sitting on the sideline and waiting for the next Stokely Carmichael to lead your army. Build an ARMY of Stokely’s. You are the product of an HBCU; get up, get out, and get it done.

ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE! – Stokely Carmichael

Her’s what you should know about HBCU’s; they are not your party schools, nor will I allow you to reduce my alma mater or any Black school to a  live homecoming. HBCU’s are not your “back up” plans or “last resorts”  because some overrated PWI  wasn’t fcukin with your GPA.
HBCU’s are not just about the bands. Do not relegate my school to a tuba and a snare drum.
You do not have to prove your Black school’s relevance in the TIED ass “HBCU vs PWI” social media debate. You prove its relevance by propelling it forward through action. And besides, If you haven’t been to both an HBCU and PWI,  You should not be speaking on the subject. Shush your mouth. Nobody is calling your name. You cannot compare apples to oranges when you’ve only had apples. HBCU students need to understand that the goal was get Black students into PWIs; that was the plan all along. However,  Black students who attend PWIs need to understand that it was because of HBCU students and the work they were doing, that allows you to attend these institutions. Once both sides understand this, they’d realize that they have more in common.  I welcome every Black Student Union, Latino Student Union, Black Graduate Student Union, and any other space for People of Color to join HBCUs in this fight. Your skill set is valued and we need you. Lets cut the bullshit, work together, and get it done.

ORGANIZE! ORGANIZE! ORGANIZE!

HBCU students, you have a responsibility to hold your school accountable.  You do NOT have to sleep in rooms with mold; especially if you’ve told administration about it.  Shake some shit up.  Call the local news. Put that shit on front street.  You do not have to be treated any kind of way.You do

Stokely Carmichael addressing FAMU students in October of 1967.

NOT have to put up with terrible customer service in financial aid, or the registrar, or the cafe.  Politely take their name and report them to their department head as well as the university’s president. Write an email and cc every administrator who’s name you can get a hold of.  We have got to stop accepting mediocrity as a standard and hold ourselves up to a standard of excellence that burns within each and every one of us.  Know your value, know your worth, and know what you bring to the table. And for all of those “we shouldn’t be airing our dirty laundry to the world.” Listen…we’re long past dirty laundry; We are burying bodies in the basement and it’s just a matter of time before the neighbors start asking why your house smell like rotten flesh.

Get your shit together.

Stokely told you what time it was. #Howard.  Medgar told you what time it was. #Alcorn.  Rosa told you what time it was. #AlabamaState  Booker T. Washington told you what time it was. #Tuskegee. DuBois told you what time it was. #Fisk  Martin told you what time it was. #Morehouse. Phillip Agnew told  told you what time it was. #FAMU. Jesse Jackson told you what time it was #NCAT.  ( Regardless of how you feel him, he’s 70 and is still marching; no excuses why this elder is working as hard as he is simply because we won’t step up). Debbie Allen and crew showed us how to do it.  So do it.

Do you know what FAMC students did in 1921 when the Florida legislature unjustly removed President Nathan B. Young? They burned the campus to the ground. Now, I’m not saying go and light Lee Hall a blaze; what I am saying is this: students MOVED.  Their actions were bold, and swift, and drastic; And here we are, 100 years later, talking about what those students did.  (Do not burn down Lee Hall, folks).

Listen, I am not one of these people that tell you what’s wrong and give no insight on how to fix the problems facing our schools;  we’ll go there.  I’ll discuss the difference between activism vs advocacy, understanding the difference between a cause, an issue, and a problem and going about putting a plan of implementation in place and then executing.  Rome wasn’t built in a day; but we’re {Re}-building Kemet; so it’s going to take us a little longer. It’s going to take an effort from everybody, across every major and discipline; every pay grade and every position.  For us to collectively get ourselves in order, it’s going to take…..work.

I love my alma mater and I love the HBCU.  This is coming from a place of unconditional love. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you to get your shit together.

FAMU,  you are a national leader in social justice activism; you were born to do this because, this is what you do.  What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for this to happen to one of our very own?

Jonathan Ferrell, FAMU graduate killed in 2013 by North Carolina patrolman. 

Too late.

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