Constable: Traditional black colleges opening to all races
Established in an era when race limited a young person's options, our nation's collection of historically black colleges and universities will open the doors to students of all races during a unique spring break opportunity coming to Lake County.
Named in honor of the former Lake County coroner and Waukegan police chief and city clerk who died last year, "The Artis Yancey Historically Black Colleges and Universities Tour" kicks off Feb. 3 with a fundraiser in Waukegan in advance of the spring break college tour March 20-28. The trip, which is subsidized so that it costs each student $500, will take Lake County students for visits to a dozen campuses in Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, as well as attractions in Washington, D.C.
"We want to give an opportunity to students to visit and consider a historically black colleges and universities' education," says Cheryl Dunlap, special events manager for Waukegan Township, which is sponsoring the program.
Yancey was instrumental in starting the spring break tour program last year, Dunlap says. Yancey had advocated for the colleges since his days running track at Waukegan East High School under legendary coach Marvin Arrington, a graduate of Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi.
The next information meeting will be at 6 p.m. Feb. 10 at Park Place, 414 S. Lewis Ave., Waukegan. For information about the schools, the trip or the fundraiser, phone (847) 244-4900, visit waukegantownship.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally defined by The Higher Education Act of 1965 as "any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans," the 105 historically black colleges and universities are seeing more white, Hispanic and Asian students among the more than 300,000 undergraduate and graduate students spread across 20 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
At one of the colleges, Bluefield State College in Bluefield, West Virginia, just 199 of the 1,935 students enrolled in 2012 were black, a smaller percentage than at Harvard University, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. At St. Philip's College, located on Martin Luther King Drive in San Antonio, Texas, Hispanics made up 52 percent, whites accounted for 30 percent and blacks made up just 12 percent of the students in 2013.
A report by the Center for Minority Serving Institutions, located at the University of Pennsylvania, found that nationwide, about one in four students at a historically black college or university in 2011 wasn't black.
"These institutions continue to be important engines of economic growth and community service, and they are proven ladders of intergenerational advancement for men and women of all ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds, especially African-Americans," President Barack Obama said in 2010 while using an executive order to establish The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and provide special funding options.
"Historically, we couldn't go anywhere else," says Pearl Lawson, 49, who grew up in Waukegan and now works as a community volunteer specialist for the township and volunteers with Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.
A graduate of Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee, Lawson says she enjoyed the small classes, her Sigma Gamma Rho sorority and the support she got while getting her degree. Her son attended Alabama's Tuskegee University.
Those schools have produced "lots of great people who have done great things," Lawson says.
Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton graduated from Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. At Morehouse College in Atlanta, Samuel L. Jackson studied marine biology until he took an acting class and discovered his calling. Before he became a Hall-of-Fame NFL player and TV star, Michael Strahan followed in his father's footsteps by graduating from Texas Southern University. Oprah Winfrey won a scholarship to Tennessee State University. Sean "Diddy" Combs credits Howard University for much of his success. Spike Lee made his first film at Morehouse College, which, of course, is the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr.
While Yancey died days before last year's spring break tour of schools in Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, Dunlap says the event drew 21 students from high schools in Gurnee, Waukegan and Zion, and several of them did go on to one of the historically black colleges and universities, known collectively as HBCUs.
"When you go to an HBCU school," Lawson says, "it's an experience."