Plight of historical and predominately Black institutions

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By Clenora Hudson-Withers [Weems]
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

Editor’s Note: The following article was written in 1983. This article’s writer, Clenora Hudson-Withers [Weems], will be the main speaker at the March to Save HBCUs this Saturday, August 14 at the MS State Capitol.

The 1980s is experiencing the most alarming educational problem of the century – the national demise of historically and predominantly Black institutions. This critical predicament of Black schools, of which both Black and white educators are acutely cognizant, is a pivoting issue today, for it is, indeed, at the core of the crisis of America’s largest group of oppressed people – the African Americans.

The Black institutions, whose original mission was to nurture and educate their youths, are rapidly losing their strength and turf every minute of the day, which translates into some very profound, provocative, and astounding dismal realities concerning the destiny of Black people.

“The mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Indeed, the mind of our youths, our leaders of tomorrow are, in fact, being wasted each day and will continue until we stop this atrocity by placing our youths back into the hands and guidance of Black controlled schools and mentors, who are totally committed to sharing the true rich Black heritage of which we all must be proud. This national crisis, indeed, shared by Blacks of the total diaspora, is consuming, and devouring Black people the world over, on every level of existence – academically, culturally, politically, philosophically, socially, and economically; for education, or “miseducation,” is the key to our survival or our doom and destiny.

In terms of the quality of education to which we wish to expose our students, we must first be in total, absolute, and uncompromising control of our centers where we not only structure the academic curriculum, but create the cultural, political and social milieu as well.

To begin with, we must understand that the plight of historically and predominantly Black institutions stem from the age-old problem of power struggle, wherein America’s great power brokers pose as dictators on every level of the educational system. The ultimate mission of the culprit is to dilute the knowledge, truth, and energy level – Black consciousness – that emerge from these power houses of invaluable information for change, mandatory, of course, for engendering true race pride from which true physical and spiritual freedom comes. We must, moreover, understand the true nature of this national conspiracy, which is designed to control, undermine, and undercut the positive Black family and student body of these institutions of higher learning. Their treacherous mission is made possible through their promoting and/or appointing the “yes men” to key positions as spokesmen and leaders for Black people. These traitors of Black schools in effect sell out their own school, their own people, and, thus, are sanctioned by the dominant culture and awarded with financial support and patronizing praise.

The result of this influence that the power brokers have on Black people and their schools today is devastating. First, on the student level, there is a radical reduction in the number of Blacks, not only on the white campuses, but on Black campuses, which reflects the reduction in the number of professionally prepared Black youths for future leadership. For example, Meharry Medical School and Howard Law School, both traditionally Black institutions, are now predominantly white. Observe the “kick me off my own turf syndrome” here where Black students are being replaced in huge numbers on their campuses by the much-welcomed white students who oft times experience more nurturing and guidance than the Black students could ever have hoped to receive. This is the other part of the “revolving door syndrome” which describes the plight of most Blacks at predominantly white campuses who are revolved out of the doors without degrees. Thus, the diminishing numbers of Blacks on both Black and white campuses appear obviously inevitable under the present system.

Next, on the faculty level, there is the game of the Black traitors’ and the culprits’ discrediting positive Black forces on the campuses whose design is to uphold the original mission of Back schools and teachers. The result, of course, is silencing the positive mentors, non-renewal of contracts, and even absolute blatant dismissal, which ultimately result in the replacement of those Black faculty with white [and or uncommitted Black] faculty in large numbers. Observe, for example, Cheyney State University where the white faculty out-numbers the Black faculty. Finally, on the administrative level, whites are replacing Blacks at an alarming rate, for the Board of Trustees, almost invariably predominantly white, too often do not vote the Blacks in. Observe how whites have key administrative positions at Black schools, a situation not likely to ever happen in the reverse at predominantly white schools. For example, the number of white Vice Presidents of Fiscal Affairs at Black schools, a very important position since institutions are virtually controlled by the monies, is escalating daily across the nation. Needless to say, one can continue incessantly citing the overthrow of Blacks at historically Black institutions, all the way down to the increased number of white staff members; however, enough said to make the point of our plight crystal clear.

The survival struggle of Black schools today makes it critical that some feasible ways to penetrate it, if indeed we hope to win this battle for the minds of our youths, be illuminated. Very succinctly, the following offers some strategies for addressing and possibly resolving this nationwide problem, lest our schools, our minds, our future perish or sink into uselessness or absolute oblivion: 1. Black academicians must be true to the original mission of Black schools – to nurture and educate their youths. 2. Black leadership must be sensitive to both the academic and cultural needs of Black students. 3. Black academicians must be accountable to Blacks, rather than to the power structure, notwithstanding some obvious sacrifices. 4. Black alumni must support their schools in order that they may protect their schools from having to succumb to pressure out of financial dependency. 5. Philanthropists must go back to their original spirit of giving – to support viable Black institutions, and not to integrate them out of existence, like state schools, such as Tennessee State and Jackson State Universities.

If proper attention to these areas is given, the wide-spread problems of the “miseducation” of our youths, of paranoia towards and fear for our schools, particularly in loosing its accreditation, like Cheyney State University, for example, and of threatening to merge and even shut down due to administrative and curriculum problems and insufficient funds, we may experience a topsy-turvy syndrome in our present predicament. Indeed, the historically and predominantly Black institutions could become as they were in the past – a strong and viable force in the Black community and in the society on the whole, producing a whole nation of positive, strong, and functional leaders of tomorrow. We must not fail again, for “A people who does not know its history is destined to repeat its mistakes.”