• Kyra M. Robinson

HBCUs, Gem City Shine in Back-to-College Celebration for Students

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

"Nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream."

"Nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream." This African-American proverb reminds us that while dreams can be powerful motivators, one must awaken from his or her slumber and get to work to make any vision a reality.

The organizers of the first annual Dayton Area HBCU Send-Off, an event to cheer on local students attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), know this all too well, and they had a community and its storied history to look to for inspiration. Dayton, called the Gem City, and the surrounding Miami Valley region embody this adage. From the Wright Brothers and Paul Laurence Dunbar to its funk musical roots (think Ohio Players, Roger Troutman & Zapp, Heatwave, Lakeside, and many others), the area is known for its innovative, creative and resilient spirit.

So, it should come as no surprise that Angela Davis, a Central State University alumna and vice president of CSU's Greater Dayton Alumni Chapter, would chair this effort – another "first" for the area. It was held on the Central State University - Dayton Campus on July 11, 2021. Davis, her co-chair and Kentucky State University graduate Constance-Gabrielle Brown, and fellow committee members collaborated with event host the Dayton Inter-Alumni Council of the UNCF (DIAC-UNCF), one of 13 active nationwide chapters serving as volunteer advocacy arms of the UNCF, in bringing the Dayton Area HBCU Send-Off to life.

Dr. Robert Walker, current DIAC-UNCF president and Wiley College alumnus, is proud that it has been an active presence in the Dayton community since 2003. "One of our values is collaboration, and we need to be more engaging and intentional about this in our community. This event was a true model of collaboration and provided us an opportunity to come out of our silos and serve students. This was a powerful message. Getting into college isn't enough. We want to ensure students' success through college. There is a network supporting their educational commitment."

Walker has been a member and president of the DIAC-UNCF for 18 years. He believes firmly that "we must lift up HBCUs so that students and the community view them as a primary choice and not a secondary one." He has not forgotten his HBCU roots. "Had I not attended Wiley College, I wouldn't be talking to you today. My family didn't have the secure financial resources to send me and my siblings to college," he said. "Others, including those in the faith community, knew the importance of an education. They encouraged and championed my desire to go to college and be a leader."

The Northern Ohio (Cleveland) Inter-Alumni Council was the first UNCF Inter-Alumni Council to organize an HBCU Send-Off celebration and has been doing so for nine years. Davis was excited to follow their lead. "We wanted to do something like this in Dayton. Our students deserve this, especially after this past year with the Covid global pandemic. Given our strong HBCU presence in Dayton, this was a great opportunity to show them support and encouragement," she commented.

Both the Dayton and Northern Ohio (Cleveland) Inter-Alumni Councils are members of the UNCF National Alumni Council (NAC), an organization founded in 1946 by Fisk University alumnus James E. Stamps. The NAC website states that it "serves as the umbrella organization for Inter-Alumni Councils, the National Pre-Alumni Council, the UNCF National Alumni Associations and other organizations that subscribe to UNCF’s mission." Anthony H. Brown, NAC president, was ecstatic to see the DIAC-UNCF participate in its own Send-Off. The Northern Ohio HBCU Send-Off was his brainchild. "I thought it was important for alumni to make those connections with future generations of alumni, and for all local HBCU alumni chapters – no matter how large or small – to work collectively. It is a labor of love," stated Brown.

Brown, a Bethune-Cookman University alumnus, was excited to visit Dayton and didn't let the weather deter him. In heavy rain, he drove from Cleveland to see it unfold.

"I was like a proud father. My heart was full to be able to come to another community and see the love, camaraderie, and gratefulness of the students and parents," he shared. "This event met the five NAC goals of fundraising, advocacy, alumni engagement, student recruitment, and public awareness." Brown shared that Detroit's IAC will be hosting a similar affair soon. He hopes that other IACs will follow suit.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines HBCUs as "...any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary of [Education]."

Two of the approximately 100 plus esteemed HBCUs are in the backyard of this mid-sized Southwestern Ohio city. For well over a century, Wilberforce University (1856), the nation's oldest private HBCU, and Central State University (1887) have made significant contributions to Dayton and the surrounding community, and that influence remains present today.

According to the 2017 UNCF report HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Central State and Wilberforce combined (based on 2014 data) "generated $124 million in total economic impact and produced 1,234 jobs for the regional and local economies." Additionally, the 2019 UNCF companion report, HBCUs Punching Above Their Weight: A State-Level Analysis of Historically Black College and University Enrollment and Graduation, noted that while these two universities only make up two percent of the four-year institutions in Ohio, as of 2016, they enrolled "7 percent of all black undergraduates at public and private four-year institutions and awarded 7 percent of all bachelor's degrees earned by black students."

Given this impact, the Send-Off was another way to "pay it forward."

"We definitely believe we achieved our goals," said Davis. "We hoped to inspire these students, support their families, and provide dormitory supplies and book scholarships."

They did just that and made sure the event was student-centered, above all else. According to Davis, 100 students registered and represented 20 HBCUs. Registrants were eligible to receive various giveaways, including laptops, book scholarships, laundry baskets filled with residence hall necessities, gift cards and a mini refrigerator. Davis is grateful to the 13 corporate sponsors, numerous individual donors, and food truck vendors who helped to make this a success.

Although the emphasis was on new and returning HBCU students, there was a community focus as well. Six community partners had representatives on hand to discuss mental health awareness, encourage voter registration, and provide on-site Covid vaccinations. The celebration was open to the public, and organizers estimate that the overall attendance may have been close to 350 people. Not only is this community #DaytonStrong, but it is also #HBCUStrong.

This local HBCU imprint extends beyond city and state borders. Multiple HBCU alumni associations, numerous graduates and current students call Dayton and vicinity home. They are working, creating, and championing the causes and institutions dear to them. Many of them were present at the Send-Off as volunteers, community members, educators, and parents to advocate for all things HBCU.

Wilberforce University alumna Kortni Alston and her son, Jordan Young, a sophomore at Morehouse College and Dayton Area HBCU Send-Off ambassador, wouldn't have missed this occasion for anything. "We come from a family of HBCU alum, and we wanted to be with family today. There's nothing like supporting our schools. An HBCU education means family, sustenance, legacy and support," said Alston.

Jordan echoed his mother's sentiments. "HBCUs mean community and a family away from home, and they help you learn that not all African Americans are alike." Young attended his freshman year virtually, so this year will be his first on-campus HBCU experience.

HBCU Pride, as it is often dubbed, was on full display at the college fair too. Local alumni from 11 HBCUs manned tables representing their alma maters. Current students bonded with alumni and their newfound support system, and prospective students learned about these institutions and what they can offer them. Destiny Glenn, a high school senior, believes she received more than she gave. She was volunteering as part of Young Ladies Aspiring Greatness (YLAG), a nonprofit organization that empowers and uplifts young ladies of color through their involvement in community service and enrichment and educational activities.

"This experience allowed me to learn more about HBCUs. An HBCU education means so much to me because of the culture," Glenn said. "I've gone to predominantly white schools and never had an African-American teacher. To experience that and be around people who look like me means a lot."