Livingstone College president, student share why HBCUs are critical for student success and equity

Livingstone College was founded in 1879 as the Zion Wesley Institute
Livingstone College was founded as the Zion Wesley Institute by a group of African Methodist Episcopal ministers in 1879.
Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 7:28 PM EST
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SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - Historically Black Colleges and Universities aren’t just a space for education, but the birthplace of the ongoing efforts for equity for the Black community.

In the mid 1800′s, HBCUs opened their doors -- providing education and safe space for Black people when they weren’t welcomed in White institutions.

There are 11 HBCUs in North Carolina.

Most recently, many of these institutions received more money from the government to upgrade their campuses, update research programs, provide essential materials to students, but students and staff say money won’t fix the deeper disparities Black people still face to this day.

Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy Jenkins reminisces on his time at his Alma mater Elizabeth City State University in the early 1960′s.

“My HBCU experience was great because of the fact that I was able to be taught by people who looked like me,” Jenkins said.

It was the self-representation and support he says inspired his career in education and let him know he could do the same.

At a time when colleges and universities were slowly integrating, life outside of school was still an uphill battle for equity and fair treatment.

“It was during the time where we were trying to integrate the lunch counters. We were trying to integrate the theaters and restaurants and we were doing a lot of marching,” Jenkins says as he reflects on his college years between 1961 and 1965.

Livingstone College senior Justin Wade says the fight for equity --in and out of the classroom -- is far from over.

“Integration has not eradicated the race problem. Integration has not eradicated the issues that we are still wrestling with when it comes down to representation and gentrification when it comes down to the cost of colleges and student loan debt. HBCUs have been the institutions that have addressed those issues to the best of their ability,” Wade said.

Livingstone College was founded as the Zion Wesley Institute by a group of African Methodist Episcopal ministers in 1879. Thousands of students have earned degrees and flourished in many career fields.

Dr. Jenkins says make no mistake - HBCUs are producing highly competitive leaders - and says disparities should not stop them from achieving their goals.

“We make them understand them to understand that that’s the challenge before them not the challenge of their intellectual capabilities but the challenge is to be able to persevere, to fight,” Jenkins said.

A fight that’s long from over - Wade says there’s more work that needs to be done to protect and promote HBCUs and the fight for equity and social justice continues.

“We can’t just close the institutions that are doing the work of addressing real issues as it pertains to race relations in America for the incoming generations,” Wade said.

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