A Different World: Kamala, Stacey and Keisha epitomize the HBCU dream
What's happening right now seems like a storyline straight from the scripts by executive producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner -- "Whitley Gilbert goes to the White House."
Bill Cosby and his “Huxtable family” introduced television watchers to the wealthy/ upper-middle class Black American dream with the groundbreaking “Cosby Show,” and its spinoff, “A Different World,” gave Black youth visions of step shows, dating and dining hall hijinks — all in the name of higher education.
It was something that was, in large part, a reality for many African Americans who paved the way, but it had never been played out in proud Black fashion on televisions in the homes of everyday Americans. And it did something more, it gave Black youth a “live and in living color” dream to chase, motivating them more than just their parents’ “wise words” of encouragement.
What’s happening right now seems like a storyline straight from the scripts by executive producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner — “Whitley Gilbert goes to the White House.”
But instead of Jasmine Guy from the fictitious “Hillman University,” it’s AKA ‘Big Sister Almighty’ Kamala Harris from Howard University.
The former California Senator will soon be back in Washington DC, a stone’s throw from her alma mater, as she reports to work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as the new Vice President of the United States of America.
But where is her crew backing her up? Remember Dawnn Lewis, who played the sound-minded, force-to-be-reckoned-with character “Jaleesa Vinson -Taylor,” and Cree Summer, who played the “Power to the People Flower Child” character “Freddie Brooks?”
Oh, they were right beside her, helping to drive “souls to the polls” in a #BlackGirlMagic coalition of former Georgia House of Representatives Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, both graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and both on the shortlist of Biden’s pick for a running mate before Harris was chosen.
While they may not have been “college gal pals,” Harris, Abrams and Bottoms are forever bonded in history as HBCU alumnae who proved that you can get one hell of a foundation surrounded by Black folks, possibly even more than if you attended a Predominantly White Institution (PWI).
Let us stress.. we are proud of and SALUTING these other powerful women, saying, “you go girl,” because THEY have brought to LIFE the dreams shows like “A Different World” brought to us five days a week.
They prove that art can imitate life, and a strong black woman can change a nation.
Abrams, a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, is credited in large part for the unprecedented voter turnout in Georgia, registering 800,000 first-time voters over the past two years in the state through her organization Fair Fight.
Bottoms, a Florida A&M University graduate, was a very vocal supporter of the Biden campaign and has been a regular fixture on CNN and other news shows speaking out against civil and social unrest following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
And there are many other Black female HBCU leaders blazing trails across America.
Oprah Winfrey attended Tennessee State University. We need not mention, nor have the room to list, her global accolades.
Letitia James, first Black woman to hold statewide office in New York, graduated from Howard University, in addition to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, actress Taraji P. Henson, and famed Houstonians and multi-award winning performers Phylicia Rashad and her sister, Debbie Allen, who served as a director and co-producer for “A Different World.” In fact, it was because of Allen’s Howard University HBCU experience that she was able to turn the, at-first, “unrealistic” or “cookie cutter” sitcom around, credited with making it dynamic and “real,” with subject matter that accurately reflected the times.
Cori Bush, St. Louis’ Harris-Stowe State University alumna, became the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress.
Nikema Williams, who just won Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, graduated from Talladega College, and, like Harris, is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Emmy Award-winning writer and comedian Wanda Sykes graduated from Hampton University.
And let’s not forget women from Third Ward Houston’s beloved Texas Southern University. The “Reigning Queen of Gospel” Yolanda Adams and the late, great Barbara Jordan, the first African American woman from Texas elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, are TSU Tigers.
And the list goes on and on….
Despite all this #BlackExcellence, HBCU endowments lag behind PWIs by at least 70% within both public and private sectors, according to a recent report by the American Council on Education. Will they now get the help they need?
As noted on affordablecollegesonline.org, after the Civil War, HBCUs were created to meet the educational needs of black students who previously had negligible opportunities to attend college. These schools have humble beginnings, with the first HBCUs conducting classes in people’s homes, as well as church basements and old schoolhouses. The Morrill Act of 1890, which required states to provide land-grants for colleges to serve black students, allowed HBCUs to build their own campuses.
Many people are not aware that HBCUs were founded, not only for free and newly freed blacks, but also for low socioeconomic populations. These populations included whites not able to attend state supported schools. HBCU mission statements show their ability and desire to educate those that were denied higher education, both by law and by practice.
HBCUs provide a quality education at a reasonable price, which helps to lower the amount of money students need to take out in loans. Since 54 percent of African American graduates have student loan debt compared to 39 percent of white graduates, getting a degree from an HBCU can go a long way toward closing the wealth gap.
HBCUs often face criticism of not preparing students “for the real world” and get the “shorter end of the stick” when it comes to funding and other resources.
HBCUs award about 20% of African American STEM bachelor’s degrees, according to the United Negro College Fund, and a report released last year by the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions indicates that economic mobility is better for HBCU students than for students who attend other schools.
Data shows HBCUs enroll far more low-income students and nearly 70% of their students attain at least middle class incomes.
Earlier this year, HBCUs received an outpouring of financial pledges and philanthropic gifts following the George Floyd protests and calls for racial justice, but financial troubles persist.
So with Harris soon-to-be in the White House, will she and President-elect Joe Biden do more for HBCUs?
During their campaign, they pledged to “rectify the funding disparities” faced by HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions by investing over $70 billion.
That money is greatly needed, especially if HBCUs are going to keep producing the greatness we have seen thus far.
Sidenote: Keep strutting our dear sister Kamala, as this viral photo shows, little girls like Ruby Bridges paved the way for you, as you now are paving the way for other little girls honored to walk in your shadow.