Throughout their history HBCUs worked collaboratively with under-resourced communities to address economic and social issues. During the Civil Rights Movement HBCUs including North Carolina A & T and Shaw University stood steadfast against segregated policies. Their bravery laid the foundation for future HBCU alumni, faculty and students who continue the tradition of fighting to change local, national and international issues. Combating systemic barriers is consistent with the mission of HBCUs, which were founded more than one hundred and fifty years ago. Since their inception thousands of students from predominantly low to moderate income families have made significant contributions to education, law, medicine, politics and social justice. Continuing the tradition of developing a cadre of socially conscious leaders focused on serving the local community is important. Fortunately several HBCUs including Fayetteville State University (FSU), Morgan State University (MSU) and Paul Quinn College (PQC) are fighting to change their local community.
Ensuring residents have access to healthy meals is critical. Unfortunately urban and rural communities are fighting to counter years of economic isolation. For instance, supermarkets, food pantries, farmer’s markets that offer fresh, healthy alternatives are a rarity. Today HBCUs are challenging antiquated models. For example, FSU was awarded a $5,000 grant from Campus Kitchen a national organization that has four components including: food recovery, meal preparation, meal delivery, empowerment and education.
Campus Kitchen provides grants to post-secondary institutions that develop comprehensive plans to serve the local community. Joel Cook, a student at Fayetteville State University, led the institutions successful effort to bring Campus Kitchen to neighbors in need. As a result, low-income families will receive meals that could close health disparities in the area. FSU’s efforts are vital to addressing historical inequities that continue in urban and rural communities throughout the nation.
A few years ago Paul Quinn College challenged conventional thinking and developed the We Over Me farm. Under the stewardship of President Michael Sorrell, PQC fought to provide healthy options for the local community located in a food desert. A food desert is an area without access to fruits, vegetables and other healthy options. As a result of President Sorrell’s efforts members of the Dallas community can purchase organically grown foods at a low cost. Paul Quinn’s fight to close the access gap mirrors the work of FSU and other HBCUs committed to investing in under-resourced neighborhoods.
Institutions including Morgan State University developed the Morgan Community Mile (MCM), which seeks to work collaboratively with stakeholders located within 12.2 miles of the campus. Developed by MSU President David Wilson the initiative has five goals including: promote health and safety, develop and support education and youth development, improve the environment, encourage living, working and spending in the community and strengthen university and community relationships. The university developed a document titled “Growing the Future, Leading the World” which is designed to transform the local community.
Similar to FSU and PQC, MSU works closely with community partners to invest in neighborhoods with untapped potential. Each institution has taken a proactive approach to examining and addressing issues that continue to hamper efforts in Baltimore, Fayetteville and Dallas. Revitalizing communities at the margins will require a coordinated effort from local and state organizations committed to closing education, health and workforce disparities.
It is important that HBCUs continue to partner with schools, community centers and non-profit organizations focused on improving conditions. Several HBCUs are located in urban and rural communities with limited political and social capital. For this reason, it is imperative that administrators, faculty, staff and students ensure that the gates to the university remain open. Community engagement is important for institutions with a long distinguished history fighting inequities. Developing secure relationships with local leaders could turn around under-resourced neighborhoods.