THE HBCU IMPACT

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Senator Kamala Harris is a history-making vice-presidential nominee. The first Black woman, the first Asian American woman and the first child of two immigrants to serve on a major party presidential ticket. But that isn’t the only milestone for Harris in this race: she’ll be the first HBCU graduate to join a major party ticket.

Harris is a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C. When speaking on experiences at her alma mater in her book, she said, “Every signal told students that we could be anything, that we were young gifted and black and we shouldn’t let anything get in the way of our success.”

Harris being selected as Joe Biden’s running mate will undoubtedly have a significant impact on HBCU grads and high school seniors across the country. As a Howard alumnus myself, I share immense pride in Joe Biden’s decision. For me, like many other HBCU graduates, election day is no longer just an election. It’s a cause.

Very few aspects of American life are left untouched by HBCUs. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., politician Stacey Abrams and the late Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman are just a few impactful graduates. While HBCUs represent only three percent of American universities, they have produced 80 percent of the nation’s Black judges and 50 percent of its Black doctors.

Kamala Harris’ placement on the ticket represents a fulfillment in the mission of Black institutions of higher education. Many HBCUs, like Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, were founded before the Civil War, when Black people were banned from enrolling at white institutions.

The spotlight from the Harris announcement on HBCUs coulda not have come at a better time. While many marque institutions with larger endowments like Howard University and Spelman face common challenges, some HBCUs are dealing with larger financial threats to their futures. Both Democrats and President Trump have committed to avoiding future budget cuts.

Across the country, HBCUs are faced with stiff competition for Black students. Predominately white colleges are beginning to recognize the power of diversity and are offering larger financial aid packages and newer facilities than many Black institutions can afford.

In recent years, HBCUs have faced questions of their relevancy. But Kamala Harris serves as a testament to the power of an HBCU education. Harris’s educational background is not accidental to her achievement, but it served as a dominant driver. In a recent CNN interview, Harris said, “My first office that I ever ran for was freshman class representative of the liberal arts student council.”

At Howard University, everyone knows that Black students’ presence on campus is unrelated to an athletic scholarship or an affirmative action goal. Students are wanted for their minds, not the money they can bring in.

Kamala Harris’ rise to prominence as a prosecutor, attorney general, U.S. senator, presidential candidate and presidential running mate serves as an inspiration to all of us. It widens our sense of what is possible in a world where opportunity is not equal, and appreciation or even justice isn’t always guaranteed for marginalized peoples.

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