In 1904, Mary McLeod Bethune gave a new definition to the word determination. As one of 17 siblings born to former slaves, Bethune embraced the importance of education at a young age and understood it to be Black America’s ticket toward achieving overall racial advancement. After her many years of schooling, including two years spent at Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions right here in Chicago, Bethune returned to the South and embarked upon the profession that she deemed saved her life: a teacher. As an educator, she found herself to be a vessel to uplift Black youth who would otherwise become products of their environment, as the South, at the time, provided little to no room for growth for the African-American politically, socially, economically or mentally.
She sought to change that and vowed to make opportunities for social mobility through education that was widespread for the entire African-American community. With one dollar and fifty cents, she accomplished that goal. Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Girls was started underneath Bethune’s leadership, later merging with Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Fla., to bring about the institution that we now know as Bethune-Cookman University.
The timeline of Mary McLeod Bethune’s life holds critical importance to the overall discussion of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in present day. Although Bethune-Cookman was not the first HBCU to adorn our nation, it was amongst one of the first of the 20th century, which marked a distinct change in tides for government cooperation with the development and sustenance of institutions that were overtly clear in their message of aiming to achieve social advancement for the African American. We now know, as time has pressed forward, that government funding for our beloved institutions has become an even more integral thread to the fabric of their being. In a time when both federal and state funding has been reduced, our institutions have taken a hit.
In 1976, 18 percent of African-Americans were enrolled in degree-awarding institutions and in that time, HBCUs were responsible for 35 percent of all administered bachelor degrees. Starkly in 2014, only 8 percent of African Americans were enrolled in degree-awarding institutions, and HBCUs were only responsible for 15 percent of all administered bachelor degrees.
Even with the challenges HBCU face, the history of those schools cannot be forgotten, as they have produced some of the best and brightest contributors to society. Yet and still, the future of our beloved institutions is unknown. While some rest comfortably in their purpose, others challenge their existence consistently. Faith in them may waiver, but the results they generate debunk all preconceived notions about them.
When asking HBCU junior Makiah Lyons about her experience at Howard University thus far, she encompasses all of this by stating: “I think that all institutions lack some things. The public just chooses to pick at the inequities of HBCUs the most. In retrospect, however, we always deliver; contrary to what they want to occur obviously–but that’s why we were put here in the first place. To be defiant.”
HBCUs have always been notorious for their commitment to education of the poor, while simultaneously providing students with a thorough curriculum in an environment that celebrates African American culture. The Chicago Football Classic brings the culture of Black college football to mainstream arenas.