Ask anyone who went to an HBCU about their experiences, and they are likely to share with you the sense of connection and family that they had…and still have. They call it ‘Homecoming’ for a reason, after all.
It is something, however, that perhaps many New York Tri-State Area kids may not have been exposed to, but the Shawn Carter Foundation, through its HBCU Bus Tour is working to change that, introducing its scholars not only to the magic of HBCUs but also to the magic of community through HBCUs and through its own organization.
“A lot of them don’t even know about HBCUs. And until you expose them to it, they think about just being in the space that they are in,” Gloria Carter, the president of the Shawn Carter Foundation,told ESSENCE at a private dinner with the scholars at Busboys and Poets in Southeast Washington D.C. on Thursday evening. “So, when you expose them to this (HBCUs) and they reach for it, they become all that they could be. For me, that’s an amazing experience.”
The dinner event came after some 27 high school juniors and seniors got a chance to tour the city’s historic Howard University with student ambassadors from the university, as well as members of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
The Bus Tour, presented by Toyota, spans across 7 days and gives students the opportunities to explore 11 HBCUs from Pennsylvania to Georgia. Thanks to Toyota’s sponsorship, the Foundation was able to expand its reach to more students and families.
Toyota has long been in the game supporting HBCUs, making monetary donations exceeding $2 million over the past decade. The importance of funding HBCUs is something that Jessica Taylor, who works with Toyota’s Diversity and Inclusion Team, stressed to the listening students.
“What keeps HBCUs going is funding,” Taylor said. “That’s what keeps HBCUs open, that’s what keeps education going forward, that is what ensures that your children and your children’s children have somewhere to go to school. If we don’t give back and support our own institutions, there will be nowhere for us to go. We won’t have a legacy to continue to lead with.”
At the event, HBCU Bus Tour alumna, Carmin Wong, a recent Howard graduate and graduating SCF scholar Lisa Martinez, Howard Class of 2019, spoke about how the tour changed their lives.
“Anyone interested in going to an HBCU, go after it,” Wong encouraged the listening students. “We [often] don’t have people who look like us educating us and we don’t have people who look like us telling us that we can have a voice. But I sit in this room with you today [and] I have a voice. And I’m telling you that you have permission to have a voice outside of this room. Whatever college you go to, whatever your process is like, you’re not alone just because you have someone sitting next to you right now.”
“I didn’t know anything about HBCUs until I came on the Shawn Carter Foundation tour, and that’s what exposed me to more historically black colleges,” Martinez told ESSENCE after the event. “On the tour, I committed to Howard. Learning more through workshops and doing the interview process and applying, it was like the extra push. Today, I wouldn’t be able to say that I would be here without them.”
The program to get into the tour is fairly rigorous, though completely open. The foundation starts by reaching out to several high schools across the tri-state area to get the attention of students, and then conduct monthly sessions to prep and guide students through the actual college application process, including ACT/SAT preparation, college essay and academic resume work and more.
“For seven months, these students participate monthly in different sessions where they’re going through the actual college application process. The foundation meets, we set up how we’re going to run each of these sessions, we have people come in,” Andrea Toussaint, an SCF HBCU Chaperone since 2007, and the current Assistant Principal at Medgar Evers College Prep told ESSENCE. “Through that process, what happens is that we’ll start up with maybe 125 students, and they tend to whittle down as we go. We have an interview process. We look at their attendance, the academics; because it’s more holistic, we’re not going to omit a student if they don’t have the necessary GPA. Everyone has the opportunity because that’s what the foundation is about. By the end, the students who meet all the criteria, they’ve attended all the workshop sessions, they participated, they’re accepted into this part of the tour.”
The preparation is part of what the Foundation wants students to remember about their experience…well, that and the fact that they have their own little family behind of them, regardless of what kind of institution they decide to attend in the end.
“We’re about building, network support and we’re about giving back,” Carolyn Archer, an SCF Founding Board Member and the head of the HBCU Tour told ESSENCE. “We’re about follow through and being all that you can be, being comfortable in your own skin, so that when you’re out there, whether you’re going to an HBCU or a PWI, that you can stand in your own space and know that you have a family; have a tribe behind you that supports you, that you can reach back to you, when you’re having issues regardless of what your background is, because we do serve a population that is considered high risk.”
And the students definitely feel that sense of support and that sense of edification.
“The bus tour experience has been very insightful and very informative. It taught me a lot about HBCUs. I wasn’t really feeling HBCUs when I first started this tour but the more I went to different colleges, [the more] I learned about the diversity of my own people,” David Osaigbovo, a 17-year-old high school senior told ESSENCE after the event. “It’s really a blessing”
“My school does not stress HBCUs, they expect everyone to go to a SUNY or a CUNY school, but I learned about the Shawn Carter Foundation through one of my after-school program counselors,” Alexia Bernard, an 18-year-old senior said, adding that she too knew very little about HBCUs. “I came here, and I learned a lot of stuff about my Black culture. The experience was really great because you get to meet people and you get to network yourself.”
Both seniors are now heavily considering attending HBCUs, with Bernard saying that she is definitely planning to apply to one.
It’s this kind of ambition that drove Gloria Carter and her son, Shawn “JAY Z” Carter, to found the foundation in the first place in 2003.
“There are so many young kids who have a passion, they have a desire to seek higher education, but because of funding, they can’t do it. So, what made me feel like I had to do what I did, creating the Shawn Carter Foundation, is so that I can be the vessel like I said, to get them where they need to go,” Carter said.