By Charles Hallman
Each registrant of the third annual HBCU College Fair held on the 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday received a “passport,” which had to be signed, stamped or initialed by school representatives.
“It is a great opportunity for young people to learn about the possibilities of colleges beyond what they traditionally would see here in the Midwest,” said AchieveMpls Career and College Center Director Arnise Roberson of the HBCU event held at St. Peter’s AME Church in South Minneapolis. AchieveMpls partnered with St. Peter’s AME Church and several other organizations in hosting the HBCU fair.
“One of the goals of AchieveMpls as a partner with the Minneapolis Public Schools is to make sure that every kid has the opportunity to plan for their future,” continued Roberson. “The next thing is for students to connect with their high schools, their career and college centers and [others] who can assist them in helping them make a decision and decide what the best fit is for them for college.”
AchieveMpls Community Engagement Director Marika Pfefferkorn said an estimated 500 local high school students were in attendance and 27 Black colleges and universities were represented. “We had alumni representatives and people who flew in from around the country to come and represent their schools,” she added.
“All throughout this country, there are familiar and wonderful historical Black colleges that all of you should give attention and consideration,” keynote speaker AME Bishop Gregory Ingram, a Wilberforce (Ohio) University graduate, told the audience of local high school students, parents and others. He reminded the audience that the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a HBCU graduate.
“You almost can’t name any Black leader who hadn’t attended a historic Black college,” added Ingram.
“All throughout this country, there are familiar and wonderful historical Black colleges that all of you should give attention and consideration,” Ingram pointed out. “I think some of you can help [HBCUs] stay abreast, alive and vibrant. Not all of you will go to a Big Ten school or an Ivy League school, but you ought to give some consideration to Spelman [College] or Tuskegee [University] or Bethune-Cookman [University], or Wilberforce or Morehouse [College]. These schools are some wonderful schools.”
“He has a master’s degree in education, and being a graduate of Wilberforce, I felt that he would be the perfect person to speak to the students about the importance not only on HBCUs but also education,” said St. Peter’s AME Pastor Toussaint Cheatom on Bishop Ingram.
South High senior Ajae Smith said she visited at least six school representatives, including Howard University, where she learned more about its science program. She also liked hearing how the schools’ professors “really help, and they make any way possible for you to get in touch with them.”
“Wiley is a small college, and the professors know you by name,” Wiley College alumnus Tiffanie Brooks said proudly. The students asked her lots of questions, said Brooks, a 1996 graduate of the Marshall, Texas school. “They wanted to know about tuition and what campus life is like. They wanted to know what majors and scholarships are available.”
She admitted that her mother wanted her to attend Wiley because they offered a full scholarship. “It wasn’t my first choice because I wanted to go to a larger historical [Black] university after going to an all-White high school,” recalls Brooks, now a teacher at Minneapolis South High School. She later became part of a contingent from Wiley who partnered with the University of Minnesota in training more Black teachers. “They sent a bunch of us up here on scholarships to get our master’s [degrees] and doctorates free of charge,” says Brooks.
HBCUs oftentimes offer students a second chance for classroom success, says Rev. Cheatom. “I graduated with a 1.25 [GPA] from high school. [School officials] were forgiving when I went to Wilberforce, and they pushed me to be the best student I possibly could be. While I was there, I maintained a 3.79 GPA.”
They also were very supportive as well, continues Cheatom, who was a young father at the time. “One of my professors baby-sited my [two] daughters when I went to class. There were times when I ran out of financial aid, and I didn’t have enough money — there were professors who actually brought money over to make sure and help[ed] me get a job in town so I could maintain and stay there,” says Cheatom.
Monday’s three-hour-plus event also included workshops for students and parents and performances by the Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School Step Team and Deliverance for Youth (DFY), a local gospel group.
“It was a real good turnout,” noted Pfefferkorn.
Attending the HBCU fair “encouraged me a lot,” surmised Smith.
Black colleges and universities should be supported, believes Ingram. “There is a systemic attempt to wipe out some of these Black schools. These schools historically had a role in the growth and development of our people, our neighborhoods and who we are.
“There are people who would not be — and this country would not be what it is today — without…Black schools.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.