Tomorrow, Bethune-Cookman University will cut the ribbon on its latest capital project, the Thomas and Joyce Hanks Moorehead Residential Life Center. The facility, which will serve 600 BCU students, is named for two HBCU products who through success in the legal and automotive industries, have become nationally respected philanthropists and advocates for HBCU sustainability.
The building name is a testament to their support of the university, but its benefactors and the core purpose of the building represent so much more. From a release:
The event theme, “Welcome Back to Midway: Today, Tomorrow, Forever” speaks to the importance of the continuous relationship with B-CU and Midway, now known as Midtown. In the early 1900’s Midway was economically sound, African-American community that surrounded the college and several businesses including restaurants, a movie theater, a hospital and bus line. Midway lost its momentum when the urban renewal (regeneration) took place and demolished its homes and businesses. The community has since struggled to gain that power back.
President Jackson, the sixth leader of B-CU, is committed to doing all that he can to revive the Midtown community. “Bethune-Cookman University is proud to be the ‘Heart of Midtown’. If we grow and progress, so will those around us. It is important that people understand the significance of Midway to the City of Daytona Beach,” says President Jackson. “We want to make sure that Midtown thrives, once again.”
HBCUs are becoming more strategic about community development through real estate and job creation. For generations, black colleges have been among the nation’s largest employers of black workforce — giving opportunity to a lion’s share of the country’s black faculty and creating countless opportunities for students and community members to get work experience or careers in service and higher ed administration.
It’s easy to forget this simple truth in the conversations about black college relevance and value — if they didn’t exist, thousands of people not only would be out of school, but hundreds of communities around the country would be dead without the heart of their economic profiles. It is as true today as it was post-emancipation, during reconstruction, and throughout the Civil Rights movement, and real estate development is just the most obvious opportunity for HBCUs to make themselves immovable from their communities.
Enrollment is key to schools developing businesses, housing, and stifling gentrification, even though it is now easier to predict in the digital age. The more students a school attracts, the more revenue a school has to attract municipal bond funding and to invest in community development. It is all part of a black economic ecosystem that we’ve ignored for the better part of 25 years, but appears to be on the rebound with increasing strength of the Black Lives Matter movement and shifting definitions of diversity.
Local governments no longer care if a town is predominantly black, so long as revenue trends match the hue of its residents. Which mean that cities like Daytona Beach, Orangeburg, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Tallahassee, Durham and Richmond have tremendous opportunities to partner with the HBCUs in these cities which can show growth.
But they can only grow if we are contributing as alumni by giving and sending our students to attend.
HBCUs will not survive on the principle that black institutions matter to black lives. But they can survive on the economic principle that large businesses attract residents and smaller businesses to create a universe of earning, spending and tax base. Bethune-Cookman visualizes a future where faculty, staff and students help to revitalize a once-bustling black economy in Daytona Beach; other HBCUs have the exact same opportunity if they realize their role in making it happen.