By Karen Stokes
Nearly 200 high school aged students and their parents convened at Rufus King International High School for the first Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Roundtable Discussion.
The conference organizers Zachary Pegues and Nicholas Stokes envisioned an event to give students an opportunity to network with HBCU alumni, to hear real life stories and receive information on scholarships.
“Our main goal is to raise awareness for HBCUs and why students should attend,” said Pegues. “Our second goal is to show the kind of success you can have and how HBCUs can set you up for life.”
Pegues graduated from Hampton University in 2016, summa cum laude with a BS in marketing. He is currently working as a Federal Government Consultant at Accenture Consulting Management Firm in Washington D.C.
The event began with refreshments and an opportunity for students to visit the college fair with HBCU alumni representing 20 colleges. Hampton University, Morehouse College, Howard University, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta and Tuskegee University were a few of the schools represented. The schools showcased academic programs, extracurricular activities and campus life.
“We had no official representatives from the colleges that are paid to recruit students,” Pegues said. “We utilized our Milwaukee area HBCU alumni to explain their stories firsthand.”
After the students visited the college booths they assembled in the auditorium for a round table panel discussion.
Senator Lena Taylor began the discussion by offering information on scholarship opportunities and sharing her thoughts on attending an HBCU.
“I didn’t go to an HBCU but the advantage of going to or sending your child to an HBCU is a true sense of nurturing that you don’t get in a lot of universities,” Taylor said.
Morehouse 2016 graduate Nic Stokes agrees with the fact that an HBCU offers a nurturing experience. Stokes graduated cum laude and earned a BA in business with a concentration in fi nance and is employed at Associated Bank as a credit analyst.
“I got a nurturing experience that prepared me for the real world,” said Stokes.
“The experience at Morehouse made me a Jedi Knight and my degree and life lessons learned will serve as my light saber.”
Many attendees questioned the difference between attending an HBCU to a Predominately White Institution.
Although HBCUs were originally founded to educate Black students, they have historically enrolled students other than Black Americans. This diversity has increased over time. In 2014, non-Black students made up 21 percent of enrollment at HBCUs, compared with 15 percent in 1976. Overall enrollment at HBCUs in 2000 was about 15 million and has increased to over 20 million in 2016. There are 100 HBCUs in the United States and the Virgin Islands according to the National Center for Education.
“I chose an HBCU over a Predominately White Institution because I wanted to be around people who looked like me but also shared some common goals,” Pegues said. “The main thing I want to express is attending a Black school isn’t a “Black” thing, it’s a cultural experience that’s opened up to African American, Hispanic, white and Asian.
Stokes added, “The advantage a black student has at an HBCU is that the school’s mission is to ensure the students that attend the institution, (predominantly students of color) are successful and prepared to navigate the real world whether it be in the private and public sectors.”
The present social climate in the country and the racial tensions occurring on some predominantly white college campuses and in Black communities have led some Black students to opt to attend an HBCU.
The Washington Post published a statement from Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, a private, historically black liberal arts college.
“Many colleges and universities find themselves with heightened sensitivity around issues of race. Led by the unrest last year at the University of Missouri, dozens of campuses from coast to coast saw protests as students of color, particularly black students, reached a collective breaking point.
Simply put, as we see young black people chant “Black Lives Matter” in the streets, their actions clearly indicate that black colleges matter as well.”
Christopher Malone 16, a student who attended the event said, “The fair hosted a large amount of schools and I got information to make an informed decision. I need to start making decisions.”
“This is going to be one of the biggest decisions in your life,” Pegues said. “Going to an HBCU is something you have to decide that you really want to do. I never regretted going to Hampton.”