HBCU DIGEST: HBCUs made $8 million through grants and giving this week. Why that's a really good thing.

There is a real fear that the nation’s changing political tides and waning financial abundance may soon limit dollars for historically Black colleges coming from public coffers. 

But some public agencies, private donors, and foundations have continued to prioritize HBCU investment in significant ways. In recent weeks, several institutions have announced major gifts for academic and community development initiatives, an encouraging sign of active engagement among HBCU leaders, and public confidence in Black institutions’ capacity to deliver on their promises. 

Howard University received a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development to establish a research center exploring the intersections of race, economics, education, and social systems in the government’s approach to housing insolvency. Howard will lead the center, researching with four other public and private Black universities. 

Six HBCUs will partner under a $2.5 million initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build digital learning infrastructure at Black institutions. This project also includes public and private HBCUs that will develop and pilot innovative recruitment, advising, and learning infrastructure through online models. 

The Houston Astros gave Texas Southern University $500,000 to develop sports management career pipelines. North Carolina A&T State University is part of a $10 million initiative and will create systems that increase educational outcomes for adult learners. Florida A&M University signs a $750,000, multi-year deal with a Tallahassee-based manufacturer to finance scholarship and research access for engineering students.

More than a dozen HBCUs are receiving more than $8 million in cumulative commitments to research, development, and career training — all announced this week. 

There are many reasons why this small sample size of HBCU excellence is a positive sign. First, it suggests that funders have a conscience for change beyond the urgency of a global pandemic response and nearly two years after the murder of George Floyd. While those events were catalytic in the great awakening on race in America, many wondered how friendly political and corporate communities would remain to these causes when emotions began to temper.

Years later, a heightened awareness of police violence and a slow-moving public reception to vaccines haven’t canceled HBCUs as philanthropic targets. 

The second reason is that the needs of communities of color and the issues they face are emerging as concerns for corporate America. The 2020 Census showed that there is no workforce development, no national defense strategy, no community development plan that exists without considering and supporting the country’s growing minority population. 

It would be easy to say that specific groups — Hispanic and Latino communities, Asian Americans, and citizens who claim two or more races deserve more attention. But the issues of these groups remain inextricably linked to the progress of Black people; as African Americans fare in our political and economic development, so goes the story of other communities with far less representation in political systems and corporate constructs. 

HBCUs aren’t safe by any means, but when white men who run companies, foundations, and the country at large recognize that their fortunes are more vital in partnership with HBCUs, it’s a stronger proposition than life without such enlightenment. 

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