Over 100 years ago, the intellectual giant W.E.B. Du Bois hailed the development of a select group of African-American men and women, the “Talented Tenth,” who would lead their people through education assuming their roles as doctors, nurses, preachers, teachers, lawyers, engineers and other positions of leadership all requiring formal, academic training.
Initially, most of these students would matriculate at what would eventually be included within the pantheon of schools known as HBCUs — Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Others, taking advantage of slowly-emerging opportunities which appeared as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, took their chances, despite overwhelming hardship and prejudice, at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). But some would survive to earn their diplomas and become fledgling members of the “Talented Tenth” — paving the way for others to follow.
Two Black college graduates, both completing requirements for a B.A. from the University of Michigan [U of M], before later receiving advanced degrees — one at another PWI and the other from two HBCUs — shared their thoughts with The Washington Informer about their experiences and the role that race played.
“At U of M, people were more invested in my success — I believe due to my being a minority student — with several specifically-developed programs like the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, specialized departmental support and designated administrators and campus leaders all of which and whom I utilized to the fullest,” said Jasmine Brooks, 30 who earned a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in African-American Studies in 2012 and recently (Dec. 10) received a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Wayne State University [WSU] in Detroit.
“But with my master’s program, even though it was another PWI, I had to be significantly more self-driven and self-motivated,” she said. “If I needed something, I had to seek out the resources. Of course, I received emails from groups like the Black Student Union and invitations from other minority-support groups but I didn’t need any of that. My advisor was cool but the help provided was superficial — asking me about the status of my graduation and making sure I was passing my classes, which naturally I was.”
“I was balancing life as a high school educator, a wife and a mother so my grind was going to school, taking care of business and finishing my program. I’ve never attended an HBCU but my mother, all five of my grandparents and many friends have. Sometimes you’re invited into a circle — other times you need to intentionally create a community of support — especially when you’re in the throes of studying, attending classes, taking exams and fulfilling other requirements. It helps to have some type of community, wherever it exists, on which you can lean,” said Brooks who lives in Harper Woods, a suburb east of Detroit and has just embarked in the establishing of a private counseling business geared at college-bound students and their families.
Dr. Ural Hill, a licensed professional counselor and college professor whose practice provides mental health services specifically targeting African-American males and their families, says he witnessed two extremes of support and care during his matriculation at a PWI before pursuing advanced degrees at two HBCUs.
“There was a clear difference between the concern other folks gave to me at U of M and the care I received from my own people when I attended Clark and ITC (both HBCUs in Atlanta) — it boiled down to the obvious differences between Eurocentric and Afrocentric cultures,” Hill said.
“I entered U of M shortly after the historic BAM strike so the Administration was compelled to accept Blacks but they really didn’t want us there. We had to stick together particularly given the size of the school but no one cared if you came to class.”
“Things were different at the two HBCUs I attended. If I missed a class or two, someone was knocking on my door — students usually but sometimes even my professors. Students respected their instructors and never called them by their first names unlike at U of M. Everyone was your brother or sister and we were instructed in the etiquette of being Black. The spirit you feel on an HBCU campus is vastly different for a Black student than what you experience on a PWI.”
“Institutionalized racism is real and remains very much alive. Just because we’ve had a Black president in America hasn’t changed things very much. White boys are lining up behind Donald Trump. Just like after the Civil War, things got better for Blacks, briefly, during Reconstruction. But then, we were introduced to Jim Crow. We’re facing a new-age version of Jim Crow today. This is the last stand for white dominance,” Hill said.
Editor’s Note: Being totally transparent, Jasmine Brooks was born McNeir and is my oldest child. However, the words we shared following her recent graduation convinced me to move them beyond a private Daddy-Daughter moment and include them in this feature as a means of encouraging other young women to get as much education as they can — taking advantage of programs that may assist them in their academic pursuits while also seeking or creating support systems where none readily or visibly exist.