‘Emancipation Conversations’ focuses on state of education, role of HBCUs
Moderator ReShonda Tate (left), TSU's President Lesia Crumpton-Young and Dr. Rod Paige (right). Photo by Aswad Walker.

As part of the Emancipation Park Juneteenth 150 Celebration, commemorating Emancipation Park’s Sesquicentennial (1872 – 2022), the Emancipation Conservancy hosted “Emancipation Conversations: The State of Education and the Role and Importance of HBCUs.”

The event, which was part of the Emancipation Conversations Lecture Series, featured panelists Dr. Roderick Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education and Texas Southern University’s President Lesia Crumpton-Young.

The conversation between these two education experts was moderated by ReShonda Tate, managing editor of the Defender Network and award-winning and best-selling author of 53 books, several of which have been made into movies.

Here are excerpts from this recent conversation which took place, aptly, at Emancipation Park (3018 Emancipation Ave. Houston, TX 77004):

THE VALUE OF A COLLEGE EDUCATION

DR. CRUMPTON-YOUNG: What I say to people who say you don’t need a degree to be successful is, your college degree is more than just about money. It is about your investment in yourself… When we talk about loans and debt, we go into debt to buy furniture. We go into debt to buy a television. We go into debt to buy cars, to buy homes. We go into debt to buy clothes. We go into debt with our credit cards to buy all types of things. Why do we all of sudden have a big conversation about debt when it’s related to higher education? When higher education, we know, is our platform for elevation. So, I say to everyone else, let’s stop buying into the rhetoric that mainstream America is pushing, because maybe that’s the conspiracy to keep us from being educated. I know everybody’s like, “She talking about conspiracy theories.” I believe that’s what it is. So, we shouldn’t buy into that hype.

ON BLACK & BROWN STUDENTS FALLING BEHIND EDUCATIONALLY

DR. PAIGE: First of all, that is a dangerous situation we’re facing. I’m not sure we’re putting enough emphasis on dealing with that dangerous situation, especially going through the transition that we’re going through as a population. We can’t afford to lose the gains that we as the second largest population in the United States, becoming third largest population in the United States. That transition is going to be a major difference in how we are perceived. So, one of the advantages that education brings to us, we can’t lose that because that would be a dangerous situation for us as we move forward. We’ve had spectacular leadership. I’m really proud of the leadership we’ve had in the Black community. We’ve had tremendous leaders who were courageous people who really went out and fought to help us get where we are now. But, that’s kind of going away. And we’re going into a new transition, with different problem than we had before. And we need to try to find a way to create new leaders who can face the current problems that we have now. And that maybe an issue that my age has cause me to look at a little bit. But what I see in front of me is a need for new leaders who are not showing up and meeting this difficult challenge. And one of the major advantages that we have, that we’ve got to build on is education. We’ve got to prop that up.

NEED FOR HBCU ADVOCACY

DR. CRUMPTON-YOUNG: We have to have more advocacy. Our communities have to advocate more for us to get equitable funding. Yesterday we had the Commission for Higher Education on our campus. One of the things he says is that he likes to be an advocate for education. Well, I was happy to hear that because we said to him, what we need at Texas Southern is advocacy. We already know we have outstanding graduates. We already know that we do an excellent job of ensuring that students are nurtured, and that they move through the system well. And I’m not just saying Texas Southern. My son went to Prairie View. So, Prairie View does a good job, as well. Tennessee State does a good job. Morgan State does a good job.

DR. PAIGE: And Jackson State.

DR. CRUMPTON-YOUNG: And Jackson State. You know, there are many HBCUs doing great jobs. I want to make sure we’re having an inclusive conversation about HBCUs and our environment. So, we’re doing a good job, but we need the advocacy. We need the money. As I said to the commissioner yesterday, “I have outstanding students at Texas Southern. There are (also) outstanding students at the University of Houston. But why does the University of Houston get $3,000 more in their funding per student than I get?” So, we have to be able to have those courageous conversations. I need you all <speaking to attendees> to help me have those courageous conversations so that people are aware that we need equitable funding. We’re not asking for a handout. We educate our students the same way they educate theirs. We’re asking for the funding to do an excellent job of it, as well.

‘Emancipation Conversations’ focuses on state of education, role of HBCUs

WHAT CAN COMMUNITY DO TO HELP WITH EQUITABLE PIECE OF FUNDING PIE

DR. PAIGE: The first thing the community can do is stay involved in the leadership at HISD and other school districts, as well. I don’t think we pay enough attention to that. But the people who sit around the table and make the decisions are people who have been chosen by us to be leaders there, because we voted for them or didn’t vote for them. And I think we pay it too little attention. It’s a major decision when you’re deciding who’s going to be one of the nine board members at HISD, or who’s going to be one of the members of the board of any school district in our area. Because those people make important decisions. And these decisions are very important determinants of the success or failure of the institution. So, we just need to pay more attention to that and get people more involved in the selection of leadership. If one thing is important, and I know it is for us as a Black people in this country, it is making sure that we have the right leadership. And we’re failing if we don’t get that done.

IMPACT OF BLACK LIVES MATTER

DR. CRUMPTON-YOUNG: I’ve seen the continued interest in HBCUs. And I’m a person that believes in student choice. If you look at my background, I didn’t attend an HBCU. I believe in student choice. And so, what I’m seeing as part of that movement, is that the applications are up. Students are saying we want to attend HBCUs. And for those that are making their choice, I’m excited to see that our applications are up. The admissions are up on campus. Remember, at one time in the country we’d say go to an HBCU for your undergraduate degree and then go to a majority institution for your advanced degrees. We’re also seeing that students who start out at some HBCUs, they want to remain at another HBCU for a graduate degree. I think that’s also a sign of the times changing, as well. And I’m excited about that. I’m really also interested because you’re seeing a lot faculty now saying that they want to be at an HBCU. So, you’re seeing this diversity among faculty, and everyone saying, “We want to be in that environment. We want to create that sense of community.” And I’m excited about that. And then for us, we’re also seeing corporate partners, more corporate partners come to us and more organizations and agencies. Today (Thursday, June 2), we signed an MOU with NASA, for example. I think you all saw on the news, we signed one with Southwest Airlines. We signed one with United Airlines. And every week we’ve been signing partnership agreements. If there’s anything that you can say is the beauty of the Black Lives Matter movement, because most of it has been difficult for our community, but the one advantage I see, the beauty out of that is, we are seeing industry partners responding, saying they want to help. We’re seeing more students say “We’re happy to be here. We’re proud to be here.” I think that’s an example of the aftermath of that movement.

PARENTS WITH NO K-12 CHILDREN, SHOULD THEY REMAIN ACTIVE IN SCHOOLS

DR. PAIGE: Absolutely they should remain active, because it’s not just about the quality of education for their child, the quality of schooling impacts the quality of the economic and social environment that they live in. It’s important that they be active because we need to make sure that they progress that they help to make, we need to make sure that it can go farther. That’s a big mistake that we make, to have people just concerned about their individual child and their individual school. The school is there not just for their individual child, but for the community. For example, Yates High School is not only for the students who attend Yates High School, but it impacts the environment where Yates is. So, we just need to be more concerned about education completely. Not just about the education of a particular child. By the way, I want to congratulate parents and say, we want you to have a lot of emphasis on your particular child. But you also need to spread that emphasis across the complete community.

All photos by Aswad Walker