James B. Ewers Jr. Ed.D. Education Consultant and Youth Advocate
If you are Black like me, struggles and hardships have always been a part of our lives. 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 that 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. It didn’t matter about your possessions, it mattered more 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 2,717,000 African Americans attending college. We made up 15.7 percent of those enrolled in higher education. We can do better, and we must do better. Recently, the United States Supreme Court said, “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. He said, “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.” 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 and economic means 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, HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) have grown in popularity. These schools were established because we could not attend White colleges. I graduated from Johnson C. Smith University, an HBCU located in Charlotte NC. I have always valued and cherished my education there because JCSU gave me the confidence to aspire towards my goals. I suspect if you attended an HBCU, you would echo my sentiments. In HBCU’s, we saw the inspiration that gave us the aspiration to succeed and to achieve our goals.
I believe with the Supreme Court’s ruling, it will mean a few strategic moves for African American students and HBCU’s First, African American students will begin to be more intentional in looking at HBCU’s, to attend. They will make campus visits and find out more about their program offerings and campus life. For Historically Black Colleges and Universities, it will mean developing new programs and enhancing existing programs. HBCU’s are just not competing against themselves, they are also competing against PWI’s (Predominantly White Institutions). These are my opinions.
Students of color should not be in a woe as me mindset, but in a wow as me mindset because of the opportunities that await them. The decision by the Court, while disheartening, will only be an educational detour, not an educational roadblock.
This column is dedicated to Mrs. Myrna Angelain who served the City of New Orleans for over 40 years in a variety of positions.