If you are Black like me, struggles and hardships have always been a part of your life. It is just never easy for us. That is why our achievements and accomplishments are so gratifying.
Hard work, determination, and resolve have been hallmarks of our lives. That is what the African American experience is and has always been.
We hear the term, “against all odds.” That longstanding and venerable expression belongs to us. While we didn’t coin the phrase, it certainly is a part of our life story.
Our pathway to greatness has been steeped and solidified in our core values. One of our long-held beliefs is the importance of education.
Having a good education has been an ancestral attribute. Black families understood early on the importance of “book learning.” They knew once we had it that it couldn’t be taken away from us.
My parents gave me a daily dose about the importance of education and how it could improve the quality of my life. Your possessions did not matter as much as that you possessed an education.
Old-school parents realized that possessions were fleeting but an education was permanent.
More African Americans are attending college today, yet the numbers must improve. According to reports, in 2021, there were around 2.7 million African Americans attending college. We made up 15.7% of those enrolled in higher education. We can do better, and we must do better.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as a specific basis for granting admission. Affirmative action as we know it has been sidelined and sidetracked.
Some would say that we have become even more marginalized when it comes to getting a higher education. Critics have weighed in, saying that our quest for higher education has been severely damaged. Even President Biden has decried the Court’s decision. “In case after case, including recently, just as a few years ago in 2016, the Court affirmed and reaffirmed this view: that colleges could use race not as a determinative factor for admission, but as one of the factors among many in deciding who to admit from an already qualified pool of applicants,” the President said in a speech. Now colleges are going to determine what to do about building diverse student bodies.
One strategy already being discussed is having applicants write more about their backgrounds in their college essays. There is great merit in that approach so we will see if it works.
As affirmative action is being discussed and debated, HBCUs have grown in popularity. These schools were established because African Americans could not attend white colleges.
I graduated from Johnson C. Smith University, an HBCU located in Charlotte, North Carolina. I have always valued and cherished my education there because my university gave me the confidence to aspire towards my goals. I suspect if you attended an HBCU, you would echo my sentiments.
With the Supreme Court’s ruling, I believe it will require a few strategic moves for African American students and HBCUs. First, African American students will need to be more intentional in looking for HBCUs to attend. They should visit campus and find out more about program offerings and campus life.
For HBCUs, it means developing new programs and enhancing existing ones. HBCUs are not just competing against themselves, but also against PWIs, or predominantly-white institutions.
Students of color should not have a woe as me mindset, but in a wow as me mindset because of the opportunities that await them.
The decision by the Supreme Court, while disheartening, will only be an educational detour, not an educational roadblock.
James B. Ewers Jr. Ed.D., is a youth advocate, consultant, author and president emeritus of the Teen Mentoring Committee (TMC) of Ohio.