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Ebony Baker (00:23): Hello! My name is Ebony Baker and I am the marketing coordinator for Taylor. On today's podcast, I will be discussing the importance of supporting historically black colleges and universities with United Negro College Funds, vice President of strategic partnerships and institutional programs, leader of the Institute for Capacity Building and fellow H B C U graduate Morehouse to be exact. Ed Smith- Lewis. Ed, thank you for joining me today.
Ed Smith- Lewis (00:58): Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Ebony Baker (01:00): Yes, same. You guys don't know this, but both Ed and myself are sporting our HBCU Perry. I am wearing mine, the illustrious Tennessee State University, and he is rocking St. Augustine University.
Ed Smith- Lewis (01:16): Hey, shout Morehouse man at heart and I love all of our HBCUs,
Ebony Baker (01:23): As do I, but of course we are biased
Ed Smith- Lewis (01:27):
Ebony Baker (01:27): To jump right into this conversation, I would like to begin with an article that you wrote in equity and learning titled Morehouse Mystique. Just one example of Black College Excellence. I have to say that this piece was such a great read and your story about the first time you were introduced to HBCU culture truly resonated with me. May you please share with our audience what inspired you to attend an HBCU and a little bit of your experience.
Ed Smith- Lewis (01:57): Yeah, absolutely. I'll tell you, it was luck that ultimately inspired me to attend an HBCU. I don't know who told me, but someone very wise once said, luck is where opportunity meets preparation. And I think that's ultimately where I was at a time in my life where I grew up on the west coast, Oakland, California, to be exact West Oakland, California. If we wanted to get super specific and I'm a first generation high school graduate and I was fortunate enough in my high school years to transfer from a public school to a private school, a fairly elite day school, and when it came time for college applications, It was the IVY’s or bust that was served as an approach to a person who had never attended college or had anyone in my family attend college. I was afraid of not getting into the IVY’s. I ended up applying to 37 institutions.
(02:52): I had a whole Excel spreadsheet. It was a whole thing. I'm a little neurotic in that way. I ended up only having one HBCU on that list and that was Morehouse. At the time, my college counselors were sort of not approving of HBCU applications. I was considering a few. I remember distinctly being in a college counselor's office and being told that those institutions aren't as great and you're likely to get more scholarships by going to these other institutions that were typically a top 100 institution. It was so interesting to not have that perspective. She didn't ask me about fit, she didn't ask me about representation. She didn't ask me about any of those things when she was deciding which college I should go to. You can’t knock Case Western Reserve, but that was her number one for me because I was analytically a good student and I liked sort of the science of engineering.
(03:47): I ended up being an econ major when I went to Morehouse, but Case Western Reserve, I don't know if you see this ponytail, but I'm not a Case Western Reserve student. So needless to say, I applied to 37 institutions. I got into 36 of them. Morehouse gave me a full ride. It was very exciting. And then I got a call from a pastor at Fifth st Baptist Church and the pastor said to me, “I heard you got into Morehouse, I want you to come to Sunday Church with me.” So I went to Sunday Church. I'm Linda Pugh listening to it because you know, get it offered by the pastor of Fifth Third Baptist Church. You go, I'm listening to the sermon and before I knew it, I said I think he's talking to me , I'm a member of this church. It resonated to me. Before I knew it, he called my name, gave me this plaque and said, if you go to Morehouse, you get a thousand dollars scholarship and a plaque.
(04:38): Now, a first generation student, I got excited, I said thousand dollars, I'm really excited about that. But that didn't sell me. It wasn't until I got another call from an alum of the institution saying there was an alumni picnic and they said I should attend. So I took my sister at the time, it was a couple years older than me, she hadn't attended college herself. We went to the picnic. It was great. By the end, they had all gotten us in a circle and they started to sing the Morehouse Hamm. You put the right hand over the left hand and they go through the whole hymn and there's a part where they get real low and they come back up in a crescendo. I looked over at my sister, she was crying and all excited and I was all confused and young. At that moment, I knew there was something special about this place called Morehouse College, and that sort of settled my deal.
(05:21): Within a couple weeks after that experience, I would say I had signed my commitment letter to Morehouse and I have to say the experience was even more enriching than that circle of men standing around me and a couple of other perspectives as they sang our school's hymn. For me, Morehouse was an experience like no other because it was the first time in my life as a high achieving and I'm using air quotes people as a high achieving black male, I was no longer in the minority and to remove the weight of being the high achieving black male in the circle, it really allowed me to come into my own and be myself in a way that I don't know if I will be where I am today without that burden being lifted and without those connections and that network to those other Morehouse men or men and Morehouse at the time and how they impacted my everyday life, both in terms of the career decisions I made, how I saw black people on the whole, my understanding of the diversity and the vibrancy of our community. I came into it with a narrow West Oakland lower income perspective and that was thrown out the window on day one. So it was a fascinating mix
Ebony Baker (06:34): Experience. Yes, I love that. The way you wrote and explained that first initial experience to HBCU culture and Morehouse for myself, my family went to Tennessee State University. For me, it was always an option. Never thought about anything else until I grew up. Once I graduated high school, I went off and I started at the Art Institute of Atlanta because I'm really big on fashion. I thought that is where I wanted to get my credentials. But after my first two semesters there, I said to myself, I'm not happy. Something about being here doesn't feel like home, doesn't feel like community. And that's when I realized, girl, go home.
Ed Smith- Lewis (07:24): Go home, come on home,
Ebony Baker (07:26): You got to go home. You got to go to where it feels like community and love and support and that is the land of golden sunshine. Yes. For me, as you said, being at Morehouse helps you to become more of yourself and really get to know you and you also spoke to learning about other black people. People don't realize how diverse HBCUs are. We all may be black, but I promise you we are not the same.
Ed Smith- Lewis (07:54): At all.
Ebony Baker (07:56): It's completely different, but there's one thing that we always, always connect with and that's a good crowd surf.
Ed Smith- Lewis (08:05): Yeah. Hey, I appreciate that.
Ebony Baker (08:08): Yes. So it's interesting that now there's been a rise in popularity with attending historically black colleges. And my next question is, with the rise popularity in attending HBCUs, how has this changed the demand in students wanting to attend and the potential funding to helping those students
Ed Smith- Lewis (08:30): Talk about funding!
Ebony Baker (08:31): Getting right into it.
Ed Smith- Lewis (08:32): Hey, look, you jump in the deep there perennial challenge and one that's getting worse, higher education and the cost of attending college, one of the highest sectors outside of the bubble burst of oh 7 0 8 in the housing market. And so if you look at the cost of higher education today versus 2, 3, 4 generations ago, you see a steep increase to say the least. What's unfortunate is you also see a dramatic increase in the number of lower income first generation students who are attending college. What that means is we're developing a business model that is putting a premium on higher education. When you have a set of students who are supporting enrollment growth in higher education that can't afford to foot the bill. Yes. And what the reality is today, the majority of students are picking a college based on how much they perceive they'll have to pay to go.
(09:35): Mm-hmm. Because at the end of the day, well, whether it's Faso or you've filled out a cf.org scholarship application, the cost to go to college and to meet the needs of a student real time is virtually impossible for the majority of students that are attempting to go to college today. And so most students end up picking that local community college where the cost is three, four, sometimes five x lower than the cost of the major state school or an H B C U for that matter. And while h BBCs on the whole cost less than their peers as historically resourced, have the dollars to actually pay students to attend, pay that student scholarship to essentially select attendance at that institution over our lower resource HBCUs. And so while we see a dramatic increase in applications and the untimely deaths of George Floyd, the big push by the Black Lives Matter movement, the recognition that even during a pandemic race still matters, we have seen a huge increase in applications to our institutions, but the reality is yield is not up overall.
(10:54): In the last 10 years, HBCUs have seen a modest decline, one to 2% decline in their overall enrollment and quite frankly, a loss of market share in terms of the number of black students attending these institutions. And at the end of the day, we believe it fundamentally comes down to finances. Yes. Most HBCUs are known for not giving out a lot of scholarships. For a person like me who could say, I got a full ride to Morehouse, I realized there's a lot of privilege in that statement because 75% of the community was struggling to make ends meet, and didn't have those institutional resources to close that gap. And that's a challenge. It's why UNCF is one of the largest scholarship providers, the largest scholarship provider outside the federal government, giving over 10,000 students grants every year. We know the importance of closing that financial gap for students.
(11:51): But the reality is, until a real reckoning for the historic wrongdoings of these institutions from a resource standpoint, HBCUs are going to continue to struggle to convert those students that would love to be on that campus but can't afford it. Look at the endowments of HBCUs compared to what I like to call the uber rich university, about a hundred or so institutions with over a billion dollars in endowment assets on their books. When you start talking about a billion dollars billion with a beat and you say, oh, if we are taking 5% off of that every year, giving it to our institution, you're giving your institution 50 million a year, 50 with an M. There are HBCUs with budgets less than 50 million on an annual basis, let alone free residual income. That's just been put into the institution every year, and I love the work of the Harvards and the Stanfords and most recently Emory, removing the need for students to take out meat-based loans.
(12:51): That's a point of privilege. Our endowments are 100 times less than the Uber rich university. Even more importantly, on an annual basis, those uber rich universities get about 250 million in annual gifts and contracts compared to an average of $2.5 million to HBCU. What happens is HBCU are primarily tuition dependent institutions. Yes. What that means is I need you to pay a full cost so I can give a scholarship to another student, but if you can't pay full cost, I can't give a scholarship to the other student. And so it becomes an interesting catch 22 where we allow a lot of students to be accepted, but those students don't choose to come because the financial burden is just too heavy and we're competing in a very tough market. As many more higher ed institutions struggle to diversify their student population. And so as a high achievement, I'm using air quotes again because we know that system's not made for everyone.
Ebony Baker (13:52): Right.
Ed Smith- Lewis (13:53): But as a high achieving black student, the world is your oyster today especially when it comes to receiving scholarships. And that's why you see some of these students graduating from high school with 10, 15, 20 million in scholarship offers because these institutions are actively courting those students in a way that HBCUs just can't compete.
Ebony Baker (14:16): Woo. When it comes to overall the lack of resources and all that you said, that's all that I thought about. It really comes down to how we can give HBCUs more resources, funding, helping those students to be able to get a college education and not have to be in debt once they leave.
Ed Smith- Lewis (14:41): Hey,
Ebony Baker (14:42): It's something that definitely has to be exposed because the truth of the matter is a lot of us, myself, you and those who are HBCU graduates besides the older generation like my mother who is not in debt for getting education because like you said, the tuition is paid out of pocket. Yes, she was. And could pay it out of pocket.
Ed Smith- Lewis (15:13): Yes.
Ebony Baker (15:14): That was not my case, especially with me having to pay out of state tuition. Something that we all need to consider and unite on when it comes to trying to get more students into college without having the stress of thinking about how they're going to pay for it or yes, how much debt they'll be in once they leave. Speaking of resources and lack thereof, you mentioned the pandemic. May you speak on how historically black colleges and university students have been affected by the pandemic,
Ed Smith- Lewis (15:56): But you know what they say when America gets a cold, black America gets pneumonia. It holds true. As we reflect on the pandemic as well, we know that within the black community, COVID has had devastating impacts, more deaths, more hospitalizations, fewer vaccines, fewer resources going into those communities. And more importantly, as we start to feel the economic downturn and the tail of that economic downturn, now that all the stimuli are stopping, we know that the real impact is yet to come. As institutions who enroll high numbers of those first generation low income students, those disproportionately impacted by this unprecedented pandemic, we're very concerned that many students will opt out of pursuing a college education to back to your earlier point, just meet their financial needs, their family's financial needs, their communities financial needs, because so many people don't see a way out that allows them to take on debt and experience the traumas that are coming out of this pandemic and do both end.
(17:11): And so that trade off is going to become real for many of our students. Do I secure resources now to stabilize my life? Or do I pull that off to improve it in my future? And in so many cases, this idea of firefighting, the planning for today to get through today has been the prevailing narrative for so many in the black community that we don't do that long-term planning. We don't do that long-term investment because we're just trying to make it through that next day. And I fundamentally believe that's where we are as a community today following this unprecedented pandemic. When I look at all of those things, I have to say that ultimately I was very excited by some wins that came out in the pandemic. I think we saw a set of HBCUs pivot so quickly to secure their students, their faculty, and their staff, health and public safety, and they talk about how inefficient or not effective our institutions could be.
(18:25): But boy oh boy, did our institutions galvanize around this crisis to ensure not only were there students in the individuals on their campus safe, but that their communities were safe. Yeah. HBCUs became spaces and places where people could get tested, get a vaccine, et cetera, and those became community destinations for black people to get the services that they need. Part one, part two, for the first time in a long time, dare I say, as long as I've been living when the pandemic hit, HBCUs received a disproportionately higher share of federal resources. And I have to thank the work of U N C F, our leader, Dr. Michael Lomax, as well as Rodriguez Murray, who leads our public policy and government affairs work for advocating on behalf of these very storied institutions that typically just look as far back as Katrina, get the short end of the stick when it comes to crisis response support.
(19:25): But this time HBCUs received a disproportionate number, and I have to say for the first time in a long time, these last two years saw H B C U balance sheets greatly improve because the resources they deserve were finally provided to them. Now again, I have real questions about what happens in the next year that's coming up in the year after that, because that was a short-term measure. But what it showed me, people within our sector of work driving H B C U improvement and transformation, that not only does the resourcing help, but when the resources come in, our institutions make decisions that benefit their students. So whether it was helping students get home, helping students stay on campus if they felt like on campus was a safer place to be, or reducing debt well before it's being one of the first institutions, not only is the first black private institution founded by black people in the state of Ohio in the country worldwide, the country at large, it was one of the first institutions that say, we're going to remove this devastating debt on their students.
(20:35): And as you can see, if our institutions had the resources, a lot of the policies that, again, I go back to these Uber rich universities would implement, are the same strategies we would provide to more low income first generation students. When I compare that enrollment at HBCUs and those low income first generation students, 75% low income, 60% of first generation respectively, you're talking about teens represented as uber rich. When you start talking about low income, first generation and black, you're talking about single digit figures represented on those campuses. When you talk about low income, it's been sub 20 for the last 2, 3, 4 decades. Why? Because it's a strategy there to continue to propagate for those that have, yes. Right. These are institutions where on an annual basis, they have all the resources that I do have to thank Harvard and the Yale’s of the world too, because they said we don't need those government resources.
(21:32): So that was an altruistic move that I really appreciated on their behalf. But why did they do that when the government could have said, you know what? There's a need curve here and we need to put the resources where the need is not just spread the wealth. I think sometimes America's push to ensure everybody eats at the Apple, this lift all votes strategy is most of the time detrimental to the communities that need it the most. And so I do appreciate that much of the public policy work that came out during that time really said, and where is the need? When that question was answered, we saw many more resources go to HBCUs. Now I say that many more resources, I would be remiss if I didn't say, and there's so many more that are still needed. The resources that have come to our institutions are temporary stop gap measures.
(22:24): For the most part, those resources have been expended. And there's real concern around the go forward strategy, especially as I said, the community most impacted continues to try to enroll in these institutions. And so we still need to resolve that. And some people will say, oh, but there's been so much philanthropic giving and you know, thank the Reed Hastings and Paddock Quills of the world, the Mackenzie Scotts of the world for forgiving substantive gifts to institutions. HBCUs specifically for the first time I did an analysis of the 10 largest gifts gone to PWIs versus HBCUs. And prior to Covid, the onslaught of gifts from Reed Hastings and Mackenzie Scott, among others, the largest single gift to an H B C U was just 30 million. Wow. The largest gift to a PWI 1.6 billion with A B, capital B, capital B, it's a whole B, all caps, BILLION, 1.6 billion.
(23:27): And Mike Bloomberg is a very rich man, but Johns Hopkins, the recipient of that, is also the number one institution in the country when it comes to annual contracts secured from the federal government. So again, it's a story of wealth. Wealth and a place where higher education isn't meeting the needs of this increasingly lower resource student population. And you just wonder what would happen if resources like that went to HBCUs where the need was greatest. And I also have to thank Mike Bloomberg, just to be fair, he just came out with his 750 million charter school push, as well as gave many resources to black medical programs during covid to reduce the debt of black medical doctors being produced by HBCUs. And so this is not an attack on Bloomberg as much, but it is a question to the rest of philanthropy. Are we putting the resources where the resources are needed in a way that really makes sense? And I think that's an open question that Covid and the onslaught of resources that have come from shows that when you put the resources in the communities that need it, the community does right by those resources and makes good on what the expectations objectives of those resources were and could be.
Ebony Baker (24:49): Yes. One point that I really want to highlight is the truth that when HBCUs are able to receive the resources, even have a piece of what these other institutions, society is shown, what HBCUs are really founded on, and that is community.
Ed Smith- Lewis(25:14): Yes.
Ebony Baker (25:15): Knowing that a lot of us, if not all of us, are in the heart of these cities going from class to class, I would look across the street and see local families, we're not ducked off, we're right there. So being able to be a part of that community, knowing that these institutions said to themselves, we now have a responsibility to not only take care of our students, but to take care of our community and those that surround our campus. That alone is something to be said when it comes to HBCUs and quite frankly is a reason that I feel people should really advocate for them because it goes beyond just money, even though we need it.
Ed Smith- Lewis (26:12): Yep.
Ebony Baker (26:13): It's about people
Ed Smith- Lewis (26:16): And more so than just advocate. It needs to be amplified, it needs to be doubled down on, it needs to be fully invested vested in a way that dramatically shifts these outcomes for the better. At the UNCF, Frederick D Patterson Research Institute released the social mobility report earlier this year. And when you look at the number of students from an access standpoint that HBCUs enroll, we have institutions that have a 99% Pell eligible population, and eligibility is a proxy for lower income. I have an institution that had 75% zero EFC students. Zero EFC means you have zero expected family contribution. That means you are all the way to the left of the poverty scale trying to go to college. Part one, part two, when you multiply that access rate by the, what we call success rate, graduating and then being employed, if you multiply that access by success, 88%, nearly 90% of all HBCUs end up in the 90th percentile on social mobility.
(27:32): What does that mean? That means that rural institution, Jarvis, Christian and Texas, that big institution, mortgage state just outside of Baltimore, the one in the heart of dc, Howard, the AU center here in Atlanta, these institutions are taking students from places of economic disadvantage and moving them up significantly along the quintiles of income. But when we think about outcomes and value in higher education, so much of the value is put on the input metrics. What was your average SAT score? What was your average declaration rate to lower your acceptance rate at an institution the higher you do in things like US News and World Report? And our question is how can we move from exclusivity as a measure of value and impact to inclusivity and results? If you start talking about inclusivity and results for those populations, HBCUs have been punching above their weight since their existence and doing so with a mindset of finding a way to make one because they get pennies on the dollar in terms of support for that work.
(28:47): And so we are really trying to push that within the group. I lead the Institute for Capacity Building. We're trying to figure out a way to bring to bear change management, continuous improvement practices, shared services, shared learnings in the H B C U space. Because historically when you're under a resourced institution, the first two things to go are professional development and deferred maintenance. Over time, when you're deferring maintenance and foregoing professional development, you get further and further away from that bleeding edge of innovation. And despite HBCUs having pockets of innovation throughout, right, because they're still overproducing, right? At some point, that lack of investment, that lack of free dollars to invest in tomorrow, because we're so busy paying the bills of today that we lose ground against the Harvards and the Yales and the Stanfords of the world because of those limited resources. And that find a way, make a way mentality becomes more difficult and more challenging, especially as the needs of our students continue to grow.
(29:57): When I think about why I went to Morehouse, and I didn't know it at the time, but now have been in this space for a while, for years now, I know it was the sense of belonging that institution gave me that allowed me to flourish. And now you see all of this work around cultures of belonging and belongingness and all of those kinds of things happening at institutions that historically excluded black students. Now trying to figure out how to cultivate that. Well guess who's cultivated in since their founding HBCUs, but they're not given the mantle of US institutions for which we can learn from because they are outcast, devalued, ostracized, because the system did not properly invest in them over their histories. And so the question for us becomes, what happens if we get away with finding a way, a mentality to do more with less?
(30:57): What would HBCUs do with more? And that's the question we're trying to push to the field. Suspend your belief, suspend your biases for a moment, and look at the data. The data are real, the data are factual. The data are showing us that these institutions are worthy of investment. The question is, can we invest in them? And that suspends our belief for a while because to do that kind of investment needs to have an equity orientation here within the institute for capacity building. We talk about racial justice equity, that you have to have a race-based approach that not only looks to future solutions but solves for past roles. If you're going to improve outcomes in communities that have historically marginalized, what that requires is investment and then some waiting because the expectation that you can go from under-resourced to well-resourced and pivot and change and do all of these things that get to the outcomes you know could achieve if you've had that historic runway is a fallacy of thinking.
(32:07): And we need to find a way to get the funding, community supporters, et cetera, to invest in these communities for what they do today as opposed to pushing them to do other things because their value today in and of itself is a cause for investment. The question then becomes how do we give those resources and suspend our belief on what we expect institutions to do with those resources While HBCUs pivot and UNCF through our Institute for Capacity building is very excited to lead that charge to understand how we say, how can HBCUs amplify their already outsize impact?
Ebony Baker (32:46): Yes. And speaking of the Institute for Capacity Building, what more can the general public do to assist in helping the ICB's mission?
Ed Smith- Lewis (32:56): Yeah. ICB and the Institute for Capacity Building was founded in 2006, the brainchild of our current president and CEO Dr. Michael Al Lomax. We've been on a long journey since our founding over 16 years ago. Today we've learned a lot about what it takes to support lower resource institutions as they attempt to innovate. And there are three things that we've landed on as critical to that work. Number one is a real understanding of the communities and spaces and places in which we're operating that you cannot expect to change without an authentic level of engagement with institutions and what their challenges are, where their opportunities are, where their assets exist. You can't just come in with their solution and expect these institutions to adopt them hog like to work with these institutions because there's knowledge there, there's capability there, and you have to cultivate that from that space as opposed to come in from the outside and try to solve that. We call that being authentic.
Ebony Baker (34:03): Yes.
Ed Smith- Lewis (34:03): Authentically engage with these institutions on their strategic vision and their strategic journey. Number two, be compassionate.
(34:16): Suspend this input output sort of logical approach to what you think you need to do to get to where you're going. These institutions are human at their core. We are people doing great work. We are students taking big leaps, taking big chances to improve our lives, and we operate within the complex system, some of them systematically oppressive to our institutions. And you need to have a little compassion that the people on these campuses are stressed, not just by the work that they have to do in their job description, but all the external pressures that are put on these institutions that really stifle innovation, growth, learning, et cetera. And then finally, you have to trust.
Ebony Baker (35:09): Yes,
Ed Smith- Lewis (35:10): You have to find a way because you're meeting these institutions where they are and being authentic in how they show up and how you show up because you're being compassionate that you can build a real trusting relationship to go the long distance. So many of the funding communities, supporters of our institutions want this immediate change to happen. And when they don't see it, they have a distrust for the institution not recognizing that there are a bunch of interdependencies to the one thing you might be interested in doing with an institution that could call it to fail or succeed. We have to trust that people are doing right by the mission and vision of those institutions and the work that you want to see done. And it may not be on your timetable, but that does not mean that it's not occurring. A lot of our work that we do with institutions today is grant funding.
(36:04): We are a 100% grant funded team, and a lot of our work has been partnering with these philanthropic organizations to say, slow down in terms of your expectations because to do the kind of change work you want is fundamentally human. And at least in our spaces and places, cultivating that community of those humans to do that work is not just about good policies and procedures. It's about behavioral changes and mindset changes and new beliefs that the world of the possible is possible for them. When I look at the field and I say, what could you do to support these institutions, our director of institutional support, Daryl and life, and let's say act. If you can show up authentically, compassionately, and really engage in trust building with these institutions, we can do anything.
Ebony Baker (36:58): If you really want to know about HBCU culture, you have to experience it. You have to understand it. You have to do your best to understand it. And one of the best ways to do that is attending homecoming. That's when we get to boast our true colors as a community. Everyone comes out from homecoming and it's something that we all look forward to throughout our year. I really appreciate ICB'S initiative and I love this concept of act, being authentic, being compassionate, and having trust for the process, trusting in the fact that you don't have to be a part of something to respect it,
Ed Smith- Lewis (37:43): Support It.
Ebony Baker (37:43): Support it and fund it,
Ed Smith- Lewis (37:48): All of that. Allyship is real. And I have to say that HBCUs would not be where they are today. Mm-hmm. Driving social mobility within the black community, fueling the black middle class without a litany of supporters. Mm-hmm. Across a bunch of different spectrums with a bunch of different perspectives, worldviews, purviews, et cetera. To do this work well will require that we unite in a way that we galvanize our energy behind these institutions regardless of whether or not you were fortunate enough to experience it
Ebony Baker (38:24): Yes.
Ed Smith- Lewis (38:25): And I think that that's true. And the best proxy to that that I always talk about is can we understand the significance of women's colleges? Do we understand the significance of tribal colleges and universities? If those don't exist, so goes a whole worldview that we need to cultivate. Yes. Diversity within the higher education system is, in my opinion, its number one asset, especially as the demographics of this country changes. We want community colleges and vocational schools. We want Hispanic serving institutions and rural institutions and urban serving institutions. We need that diversity and so much of higher education and the support is built around chasing the ivory tower. Everybody wants to be Harvard. When we don't need that in our country, we don't. Our students don't need that. That is not where we're going to solve for education and educational equity. And that's why that big push from exclusivity to inclusivity and success, how can we shift that? I would love to see the US news rankings that says the number one inclusive and results-oriented institution is X. And I'll tell you, there'll be some limiting factors for some of our number one, number two institutions today. And much of it has to do with who gets that opportunity.
(39:57): So many of our students on HBCU campuses, this was their opportunity. They took a shot on it and these institutions took a shot on that student as well. But without those resources to meet students where they are, to wrap those students and solve for those external variables that have increasingly become internal, gone are the days when an institution can say, well, I don't really care about your home life. It matters because it affects the productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency of the institution. But more importantly, it affects how a student can engage in his or her own learning journey. And if we're not solving for that, we're doing those students a disservice. But for the majority of higher education and especially nearly all HBCUs, we don't have the resources to solve that. And how do we start to pivot the conversation to that inclusivity and the need to put the resources where we're more inclusive versus exclusive.
Ebony Baker (40:59): One thing that I thought about was in having conversations with those that went to a PWI, the first thing they talk about is our housing. And it's understood simply because of how things differ from PWI schools and HBCUs. But of course, we already spoke about the simple lack of resources. I've been in a conversation about how HBCUs prepare students for the world.
(41:38): Of course for myself, I'm like, I'm here and I trust that all of the tools that I've learned while attending an HBCU, being in those classes and experiencing that feeling of adjusting, really meeting a certain expectation that quite frankly, I lacked while in high school. And even when I was at the Art Institute of Atlanta, attending Tennessee State, gave me an understanding as to what it means to have a work ethic and what it means to represent yourself and be a representation of your school. In that same breath, a representation of the black community. It's something that has helped me to understand my purpose. It gave me such a sense of pride and just knowing that I do in fact have what it takes to be great. So overall, I trust that with that sense of lineage of greatness to just want to be great because you surround yourself around a community that wants that for you. My question to you is, in what ways do you believe that HBCUs prepare students for the world?
Ed Smith- Lewis (43:03): I'm a fan of threes. Not only are they simple to remember, but they're also times just really comprehensive. So I'm going to give you three, and I haven't even thought of all three yet. But the first has to do with that sense of belonging. If we're really going to explore and cultivate the next generations of learners, doers, creators, believers in our society, you have to allow them to engage in a learning process where they can show up as their whole self to minimize one's being, and then force them to learn a different way of living without contextualizing their lived reality. And what they're learning will historically be a child, historically, presently, and in the future will be a challenge to the higher education system. Now, I love the work that's moving towards culturally relevant pedagogy and culturally relevant curriculum. Seeing oneself and what they're learning is critically important to every learner. We must invest in that capability and do that kind of work.
Ebony Baker (44:17): Yes.
Ed Smith- Lewis (44:18): And HBCUs provide that. Mm-hmm. Number two, and you hinted at it, you have to set high expectations for students. At Morehouse, we talk about putting a crown above every student's head and then getting tall enough to wear it. And we do that because if you're only entering environments where people are discounting your capabilities or assuming you are less than because of some metric on some page, or their perceptions are their own biases, you're limiting how much that student's going to grow. So you not only need to create an environment where they feel welcomed and a part of that culture, but then you need to challenge them to break the norms. Do more than you ever expected in life. And then number three, and perhaps the most important is you need to wrap people in networks of support that not only understand that lived reality and those high expectations, but it's a shoulder that you can cry on, a hand that you can reach out to, a question that you can ask.
(45:30): And that's what HBCUs do so well. I'm on a GroupMe chat with 170 of my 500 graduates in Morehouse College. We're still connected today. I talked to my freshman year roommate last night. I talked to my other roommate two nights ago. I'm working with a floor mate from Morehouse College. But that community, that network is so powerful. And as a first generation low income student, I look around at, and I'm going to use air quotes again, people in podcasts land at my successful friends. I have one running for mayor. I have one that's a partner in the firm, A CEO, a principal, a school teacher, you name it. My HBCU experience gave me a network now that I can draw upon 14 years later. I'm not going to say that. Just know I'm a geriatric millennial, where now I've transitioned, dare I say, shifted my life trajectory because now this first generation student has a network of people who are there to support him when he needs it.
(46:37): And one of the biggest challenges first generation low income students have is when they hit that wall at a former boss. Her name is Suzanne Walsh. She's currently the president of Bennett College in North Carolina. She used to talk about how for many students life is driving a car. And for poor students, when they get into an accident, everything falls apart because they don't have airbags around them to swoop them up and make sure they're safe. But for students with wealthy families, strong backgrounds, multiple generations that have graduated from college, it's like airbags are deployed. You're airlifted out of the car, you're put into another car and you're off sailing again. And for most low income students, they're back at the lot trying to negotiate a new car, and they just have to restart every time they hit a bump in the road. And as a first generation student who's been a trailblazer on his own for many different occasions, it happens even after you're successful, even after you graduate, after you get that first job, who's there guiding you on those next life milestones? For many students, they're continually the first in their family to do those things. And those airbags don't always deploy.
Ebony Baker (47:56): Right.
Ed Smith- Lewis (47:57): My airbags today come from my network, and the foundation of that network was born at Morehouse College. And that's what's really important. And when I think about what the value HBCUs provide, they give you that sense of belonging. So you can do your best. They give you high, they set high expectations for you. So you do more than you ever thought you could. And most importantly, they connect you with people who are there for you and to support you and are doing the best and more than they thought they could in their own right. And it's that web that I think is the value HBCs provide, not just their graduates, but to the communities and generations of students that flow out of that.
Ebony Baker (48:41): Wow. Yes. Everything that you said, it is truly felt and it makes you gain a sense of pride for yourself in saying, I know who I am, and I was able to really come into myself and establish that right safely while being encouraged by my peers and my teachers. That is, it's everything coming into my final questions for you. I would like to pivot back to the Institute for Capacity Building. And I'm wondering if you have anything new and exciting to report
Ed Smith- Lewis (49:25): Oh, well, we need to do a whole nother podcast on this. Cause we have so many things that are new and exciting to report. We are building communities of practice around HBCU improvement and transformation in a way that six years ago when we started this work in our career pathways initiatives, we could not have fathom how successful and energizing this work has been for UNCF and our institutional partners at both public and private HBCUs as well as PBIS or predominantly black institutions. We have an amazing new activity that we'll be launching to the public in a few weeks. I can't say it today because it's embargoed. If you catch me at South by Southwest on March 9th, I'll do a formal presentation as we hope to also release the press release that day as well on something that we think from a digital infrastructure, a technology integration perspective has an opportunity to really pivot what the future of an H B C U could and should perhaps look like.
(50:25): And then in addition to that work, we've done some great things around mental health for students. We had our unapologetically whole conference a few weeks ago where we've engaged over 500 students in really trying to remove the taboo nature of mental health and mental health needs. As we know within the black community, we're hard pressed right to reach out when it's a mental health issue. And so we really are understanding and trying to lean into that whole sense of belonging and making sure that we're tackling those student initiatives as well. And then there's a bunch of other things that I won't bore you with today, but do look at the launch of our new website. It is happening at the end of March where much of much of the work that we're doing will be displayed in a new way as we look to 2022 to really grow the influence and awareness of our Institute for Capacity building and the great work we're doing alongside some amazing institutions and institutional leaders.
Ebony Baker (51:25): Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that. We are looking forward to seeing all that ICB does and continues to do. Lastly, I would really like to end this conversation with speaking about the United Negro College Fund. And for those of you that are unaware, the United Negro College Fund is an organization founded in April 25th, 1944 by Frederick D Patterson, UNCF'S mission. To build a nationally recognized pipeline of taking underrepresented students and assisting them to become highly qualified college graduates has resulted in over 500,000 students receiving college degrees. Now, I know that one of the ways to support and get involved with U N C F is through volunteer work, but may you share other ways that the public can get involved and help continue to move UNCF'S mission forward.
Ed Smith- Lewis (52:18): Yes. There's so many ways you can get involved where obviously, as you said, a major scholarship provider, we take donations to support that scholarship program from individuals. And the reality is every dollar counts because collectively we're much stronger than we are individually. And so there are ways to give as well there really get engaged with your local UNCF office. UNCF has 22 offices across the US where you can do some of the local on the groundwork with our institutions, follow our public policy work on our website, cf.org. We really have to push the federal government to support our institutions with federal dollars, which is a major resource within the higher ed community. And we can't do that without the public's voice signing on and advocating for those missions and priorities. And then most importantly, talk about HBCUs with your friends, right? Promote these institutions.
(53:09): Get your sweatshirt whether or not you wear it, we have Nike sweatshirts out there and University of Tennessee sweatshirts out there that you wear just because you like the sport. How about you wear these institutions because you like the institution. So whether it's Saints or Tennessee State University, find your local HBCU, find the HBCU that your friend or your family member went to and rock their wares. Because the more people know about these institutions, the more they'll realize how valuable they are and ultimately it'll pivot their reputations in a way that this research conversation will be a thing of the past. Because we know if you truly understand HBCUs, the investments will flow.
Ebony Baker (53:49): Absolutely. That last sentence really hit the nail on the head. And speaking of ways to support UNCF, Taylor has been a proud supporter of the United New York College Fund and sponsor for several years. For the A Mind Is…Gala. The agency is very excited to participate in this year's gala that's happening next month. To learn more about UNCF, please visit their email@example.com and you can also learn more about Taylor's strategies, previous involvement with the organization and our diversity column on our website. Thank you so much, ed, for speaking with me about the importance of supporting historically black colleges and universities. Again, as a product of the Tennessee State University, I will always be an advocate for more students attending HBCUs and being a part of a culture that is truly like no other.
Ed Smith- Lewis (54:39): Well, thank you Ebony for having me. I am humbled by the invitation and thank you to Taylor for your continued support of UNCF and the work of HBCUs. I appreciate being here.
Ebony Baker (54:49): Yes, of course. And lastly, in light of the recent H B C U bomb threats, and for those who are unaware, 14 HBCUs have received bomb threats in the beginning of the earlier part of this year. Universities such as Kentucky States, Xavier University, Fort Valley, Spelman, Howard, just to name a few had to cancel classes temporarily and go on campus lockdown as a result of these threats. Unfortunately, this is not the first time something like this has happened. Any parent, guardian and child could possibly be deteriorated from attending a HBCU because of this. But I am very happy that we are having this conversation because I believe that conversations like these are what encourages and instills hope in those who are considering attending an HBCU. So again, I just really appreciate you joining me today.
Ed Smith- Lewis (55:47): Thank you. And just to the terrorist threats, yes, HBCUs are unbound and we will not let the misguided few dictate our collective future. And so we are going to keep on pushing on as we try to execute the mission, the historic and the present, one of the storied institutions. And so let's move forward together.
Ebony Baker (56:11): Absolutely. Thank you for tuning into another episode of the Shapers of Influence podcast. I am Ebony Baker, and I look forward to you tuning into our next episode.
Outro (56:21): Well, that wraps up this episode of Shapers of Possibility—a Taylor Podcast. To learn more about what we do at Taylor, you can find us at TaylorStrategy.com.
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