HBCUs are Looking for Our Luke Cage

A superhero would be great right about now.

I just lost twelve hours of my life binge watching Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix — and I don’t regret a moment of it. Without knowing how many episodes there were in the show’s premiere season, and assuming that I would hate it, I confess: I am hooked.

When I finally tapped out in the midst of episode 12 near 3 a.m., I probably could have toughed it and the additional remaining episode out. But I didn’t want to.

I am usually put off by the show of graphic violence. Admittedly, I’m not really into comic book heroes or anything that unnecessarily raises my blood pressure. But let’s be real. It’s a violent world, and communities blighted by underdevelopment as well as high substance abuse, unemployment and crime rates face these painful realities everyday.

Those of us who grew up in communities that did not have to overcome most, or even many, of these socioeconomic challenges typically watched violence from afar. The universal use of social media changed all that. Images once reserved for lead stories in the nightly news now inundate us so often it seems black death is a ritual to which the nation is commonly extended a morbid invitation.

Far too many of us have now seen the events before, during, and/or after the real, violent, extrajudicial killings of black men, women, and children as they unfolded on our screens. We feel powerless to do anything about it.

The opposite is true when we watch Luke Cage. Cage upsets the natural order of unjust systems of governance, politics and policing. For the more than 50 minutes per episode, Luke Cage metes out justice for unjust violence and murder, a phenomenon virtually completely absent from the actual killings of far too many black folk.

Finally, we get a sense of the justice we justly seek.

Not only are Black folk finally getting justice while watching Luke Cage, we are getting it in a hoodie. It is nothing less than poetic justice for this superhero; a bulletproof Black man to get justice for his community while wearing a hoodie, when the system failed to do justice by teenage Trayvon Martin — a Black teenage boy whose killing was justified because he was wearing a hoodie.

Seriously, it hasn’t felt this good to be this unapologetically and imperfectly Black in America since I was an undergraduate on the yard at Fisk University during the first days of spring. That’s what got me to thinking about the precious nature of the opportunity to come of age on a historically black college campus. It is arguably the closest black people will come to experiencing the unconditional love and acceptance Cage (and everyone in Luke Cage’s fictionalized Harlem community) enjoyed in Pop’s Barber Shop.

Like Pop’s, HBCUs are safe harbor in a turbulent sea of anti-blackness. Cage maybe indestructible, but like Pop’s, HBCUs are not impenetrable fortresses with immunity to attacks on their very existence. Like Pop’s, they are respected not because they are perfect, but because they endure as testaments of the will of Black folk to make a way out of no way.

To whatever extent HBCUs are magical places, their magic is in the choice of campus communities to be caring, committed, courageous, and unselfish— and not bulletproof in immortality. Like Pop’s, they will die if we are not invested in passing them on as perpetual torches associated with our mandates as presidents, board members, faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

We need to root out apathy and replace it with rights and responsibilities. We need to be vigilant about agendas to gentrify our environs into places where we can no longer enjoy the beauty of blackity-black-blackness.

We often think that this transformation of head, heart and hand takes the work of a hero. But the heroic ideal should be enough for each of us to aspire in doing heroic things in our own right, to preserve the place that shields and rears heroes and heroines mindful of our glorious past and uncertain future.

The character Eddie Axton, a washed up former baseball great said something to Cage that blew my mind (lots of the show’s dialogue will do that by the way).

“Baseball is a game passed from father to son,” said Axton. “That’s why you don’t see that many n***** playing no more. Cause all of the fathers is gone.”

I wonder how different the world would be, if all our HBCUs are one day, gone. Where will we find our heroes then?