Twenty-four year old powerhouse Dennis Richmond Jr. is trailblazing the path to HBCUs for the youth. Richmond is the founder and director of The New York–New Jersey HBCU Initiative and aims to lead by “beating the drum for HBCUs.”
The New York–New Jersey HBCU Initiative was generated out of Richmond having a deep passion for education, his community and students on the road to college. “My driving force is knowing that there are young adults that are in the position I was in (struggling to apply to colleges etc.). It encourages me, all of the people in my community inspire me,” said Richmond. The initiative serves as a way to educate students in high school about HBCUs, along with the opportunities and the educational gains granted to them.
The 4th annual, “An Intro to HBCUs” event will be held Feb. 2, running from noon to 5 p.m. in Yonkers, New York. The event will be a hub for HBCUs with a host of essential materials students would need like scholarship books, brochures, fee-waived HBCU applications and FAFSA guides all provided for free.
When compared to previous years of hosting the “An Intro to HBCUs” event, Richmond affirms that this will be the strongest thus far. “I am putting everything into this. I have spent every single day worrying about ‘the day.” Thirty days for five hours, it is not a college fair. It is an intro to HBCUs, it is more intimate,” Richmond explained. As of now 29 colleges have provided materials; names like Howard, Claflin, Spelman, Morehouse and FAMU will be available for students to converse with.
Although Richmond works as the heartbeat for HBCUs, he equally understands that college is not for everyone and that college is important to the Black community. “College is important in the Black community as it is important to eating food to survive, but college is still a privilege,” voiced Richmond.
College readiness does not mean “cradle to college” in Richmond’s view but from a more realistic standpoint, he believes that college should be spoken about in middle school and starting in 9th grade, students should work to develop a plan for college. Students should have the help of college counselors and mentors to make the process a bit easier. “I wish that a mentor was more open to supporting me in the college process, I wish my school supported the Black college experience a lot more. My parents and community were there, and I was able to flourish from their support,” said Richmond.
Born in Yonkers, Westchester County, New York, and graduate of Claflin University with a Bachelor of Arts in African and African American studies, Richmond’s college experience was not smooth at first. There were multiple occasions where he wanted to drop out. “I wasn’t used to it. It was different. It was cute the first two weeks,” Richmond said. It wasn’t until he went back home in 2013 when he noticed that within his community nothing and no one had changed, and he was the only one evolving. “Nothing has changed, and I needed to do something. The people in my community were asleep,” said Richmond. Attending an HBCU was the major personal growth push for Richmond; the experience brought to life something deeper within him. “When you realize that not only does your culture matter, but it matters more than you thought it did, is beautiful. When you see New York Black, Chicago Black, D.C Black shine, you see that Black is BEAUTIFUL,” Richmond beamed.
Working as a substitute teacher, Richmond wants to instill the best within the students he teaches. “What I tell all my students is to be a boss. Go in with the mentality that ‘I can do this’ and that ‘I can do this well,’” said Richmond. For his community he desires to see change in the form of hope. “I want people to know it gets better and to believe in themselves a bit more,” Richmond said.
He acknowledges that change takes time, but Richmond envisions the Black youth being informed about college and HBCUs specifically through more community events. “We need more events outside of the structure to get people together,” Richmond said. This is the key role of The New York–New Jersey HBCU Initiative and the “An Intro to HBCUs” event. As Richmond continues to grow and educate he stands by his definition of success as, “Being happy with the current circumstance that you’re in and if you were to stay in it, you wouldn’t mind.”